From a big picture perspective, American wrestling got a huge boost from an unlikely source. Helen Maroulis of Maryland not only became the first American woman to win a gold in Olympic wrestling, she did so by beating 13 consecutive world champion and Japanese flag bearer in the 2012 London games, Saori Yoshida. Although Yoshida is 33 years old, few thought she was susceptible of not winning gold in Rio.
Women’s success in wrestling is certainly a shot in the arm at so many levels including the new found publicity, advancing the perception and continuing to give growth to women’s collegiate wrestling, which in the end can only help the men’s game.
But in the moment, the Rio games so far have been a vast disappointment. Not much was expected from the American Greco team, and indeed, not much was delivered. The team was shut out from a medal perspective.
But freestyle was a different story. While Daniel Dennis was not perceived as a threat to win gold, his story is compelling and he certainly had a shot at a medal. Dennis is a man with a winning gut wrench–just ask Tony Ramos. However, in not much more more than a minute into his opening match with Dubov of Bulgaria, he was taken down and quickly turned four times for the loss on technical superiority. When Dubov squandered a four point lead in the semis, it appears 28 year old Dennis’ Olympic career is done.
More shocking however was the failure to medal for defending Olympic and world champion Jordan Burroughs. Burroughs perhaps spent more time getting blood cleaned from his head than wrestling, but whatever the cause, he started slowly. A first period shot clock point was the difference in a 3-2 loss to Aniuar Geduev of Russia.
The crazy random seeding of the Olympics (it is my understanding a computer generated random bracket number is given to each wrestler as they weigh in) had No. 1 Burroughs going against No. 2 Geduev. When Geduev overcame his own 4-0 deficit to win 5-4 in his semi match, medal hopes were high for Burroughs. However, he was completely dominated in his repechage match, losing by technical superiority.
Hope is not lost. Missouri senior J’Den Cox has done extremely well on the international circuit since his surprise win at the Olympic Trials–he went out and qualified the class by himself. Where the blind draw may have hurt Burroughs, on paper it lines up very favorably for Cox. I would not be surprised to see him standing on a podium tomorrow night.
But now is time for the Ohio Regional Training Center to flex. Also up tomorrow is long-time American heavy strong man, Tervel Dlagnev. Dlagnev, who will become an Ohio State assistant coach once the Olympics end, has sat out of international competition much of the last two years so as to not reinjure a troublesome back.
Indeed, in the most recent eight nation World Cup in Los Angeles, the US placed second to Iran by tie-breakers. While Jake Varner did a valiant job wrestling up at heavyweight, the US certainly could have benefited from a healthy Tervel.
Dlagnev’s absence has him ranked a mere 14th in the latest UWW rankings, but that is likely very misleading. A two time world bronze medalist, Dlagnev is fully capable of medaling in Rio.
That being said, Dlagnev’s draw is brutal. He likely will open with the reigning world silver medalist. If he could forge his way to a win, he would face the survivor of a bracket of death which contains the No. 1 and 2 ranked wrestlers in the world and a 2014 silver medalist.
The task ahead is brutally difficult for Dlagnev but he is fully capable of the surprise.
Saturday will be an interesting day. My calendar says Sunday is the following day, and that is when the second half of the Ohio Regional Training Center dynamic duo, Kyle Snyder, takes the stage.