Brent Metcalf has been waiting for his moment for a while -- five years to be precise. Since Metcalf won his second national championship in three years and graduated from Iowa in 2010, he's been focused on winning the top prize at the next level. That next level is international freestyle competition and the top prize available is a gold medal -- from the World Championships or (especially) the Olympics. The Olympics, of course, only come around every four years; the World Championships, fortunately, come around much more often -- every year without an Olympic competition.
Metcalf missed his chance to compete for an Olympic gold medal in London in 2012 after being edged out for a spot on the U.S. team at 65 kg, even though the Olympic qualifying tournament was hosted in Iowa City, the same environment where Metcalf had dominated in college. Metcalf will get another chance to chase an Olympic medal next year (in Rio), if he can navigate the Olympic qualifying tournament (once again being held in Iowa City, his old pinning grounds). That quest is a story for another day, though.
Today's story is about the World Championships (taking place this week in Las Vegas), which has been a frustrating venue for Metcalf since his Iowa career ended. This is Metcalf's fourth appearance at the World Championships -- and his third consecutive appearance. He's been here in 2010, 2013, and 2014. They haven't been happy experiences. In those three tournaments, Metcalf has gone a combined 1-3 and never come close to the medal stand. Metcalf's struggles at the World Championships have been so baffling not just because he was so dominant at the college level (freestyle is a very animal than the folkstyle he wrestled in college, and the quality of the opposition is lightyears better), but because he's enjoyed success at several other international events.
Metcalf has medaled at wrestling's World Cup the last two years, he's won several medals at the Ivan Yarygin Golden Grand Prix event, and he's brought home a gold medal at the prestigious Heydar Aliyev Memorial event in Baku in 2014. Just this summer he won gold at the Pan American Games. To be sure, the quality at the Pan American Games is not quite the same (to say the least) as the quality at the World Championships. But Metcalf has beaten several top international opponents at 65 kg, some in the above-mentioned events and some in one-off events like the Beat the Streets outdoor wrestling competitions held in Times Square.
In fact, Metcalf has enjoyed so much success against his peers at 65 kg that he's risen to #2 in the latest rankings. The mechanics of the rankings are confusing and complicated, but ascending to the #2 ranking is still an impressive accomplishment for Metcalf. He's widely recognized as one of the top wrestlers in the world at his chosen weight -- now he just needs a World medal to validate that standing. Metcalf obviously wants one medal above all others -- gold -- and I dearly hope he's able to achieve that goal. It would be a tremendous achievement for him and deeply satisfying to see him finally attain a goal he's been chasing for so long. That said, I'd also be satisfied to see him claim a medal of any color -- gold would be great, but any medal would be nice after the past frustrations.
Any medal would be especially satisfying given the difficult draw that Metcalf has been handed:
Bottom side at 65 kg includes wrestlers ranked No. 1, 2, 3, 5 and 6 in the World rankings. Brent Metcalf opens vs. unranked Hungarian.— Andy Hamilton (@Andy_Hamilton) September 10, 2015
Yikes. That could be a brutal trek just to get to the gold medal match. If you're wondering how four of the top six ranked wrestlers at a weight could be drawn into one half of the bracket instead of being spread out more evenly throughout the bracket... unfortunately, that's just the way things work out sometimes at the World Championships. The draw isn't seeded -- those rankings are not a factor at all in how the bracket is set up. That's a frustrating approach, to be sure, one that the organizers have taken because (in their view) there isn't enough competition between wrestlers across the globe to fairly rank (and seed) them accordingly. If a Canadian wrestler dominates opponents in his corner of the globe and a Mongolian wrestler does the same in his area, but they never meet (and have few common opponents), who's to say which one is better and deserves to be ranked higher? That is admittedly a thorny issue and one that the World Championships organizers simply punt on resolving in favor of a random draw.
Metcalf will openwith Hungary's Norbert Lukacs, an unranked opponent. If he wins, Metcalf would likely face Turkey's Mustafa Kaya (ranked #6 in the world) in the next round. That match would be an opportunity for revenge for Metcalf -- Kaya ended Brent's World Championships experience last year. Get by him and Metcalf would likely face Iran's Sayed Mohammadi (ranked #1 in the world) in the quarterfinals -- yikes. If Metcalf can get by him and make it to the semifinals, he could see Azerbaijan's Torgul Asgarov (a former Olympic champion ranked #3 in the world) or Italy's Frank Chamizo (ranked #5 in the world) or Puerto Rico's Franklin Gomez (who Metcalf beat just a few months ago at the Pan American Games). The path to the medal matches is daunting... but we're not about to start doubting Metcalf now. Go get that medal, Brent. This is what you've been training for.
Competition in Las Vegas begins tomorrow at 12 PM Central (10 AM Pacific) and all matches are being streamed by United World Wrestling for free. (ESPN2 will also be airing edited coverage of all the men's and women's freestyle action on Sunday night at 7:30 PM Central. They're airing edited coverage of Greco Roman and women's freestyle action tonight at 7 PM Central.) I'll be updating Metcalf's results in the comments here as well.