Bryant: U.S. has two years to prove its World value

Updated: October 8, 2010

Jason Bryant

By Jason Bryant

When studying the kinesics of U.S. National coaches Zeke Jones, Steve Fraser and Terry Steiner following the 2010 World Championships in Moscow, you’d know that a look, in this case, was worth more than a thousand words.
In case you were napping during your non-verbal communication courses in college (I sometimes was), kinesics is the interpretation of body language, such as facial expressions, posture, gestures and things of the like.
You didn’t even have to ask to know what they were thinking. As the final anthem blared of the sound system of the cavernous Olimpyskiy Sports Complex in Moscow on September 12, it was apparent to every U.S. wrestling fan that things didn’t go according to the plan each coach had set out.
But while the medal count, or lack thereof, was on the minds of many back in the U.S. and in the minds of tired souls flying back in upwards of 26 hours across the Atlantic, it could have been worse.
How could it have been worse? We didn’t bring home any medals in men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman and only got two on the women’s side.
Let’s look at this from the broader perspective. Sure, Greco failed to earn a medal for the first time since 2003 and men’s freestyle didn’t medal for the first time since Gerald Ford was President (1975 if you were wondering), but the fact the dismal performances took place in 2010 instead of 2011 made the jobs of Fraser, Jones and Steiner much less difficult for the next year.
Each coach has an Olympic cycle. They look ahead four years and plan accordingly. World medals are a focal point. Olympic medals are a bigger focal point. Every four years, new heroes are crowned from the Olympic Games, not from a World Championship. It’s the medals around the necks of athletes with five interlocking rings that make a difference to the American public.
If swimmer Michael Phelps won however many medals during the 2007 World Championships, great. It would have probably made USA Today in some way, shape or form. But Phelps had a monstrous feat in front of a worldwide audience at the Olympic Games.
World medals are important, but Olympic greatness doesn’t come every year, like World Championships do.
What am I getting at? It’s simple. If there was a time for the U.S. to have its worst wrestling weekend, it would rather have been now, in 2010, than it would in 2011.
If this happens in 2011, then the U.S. contingent tries to jet set around the world to try to qualify weights for the Olympics. Some folks might not realize there is a qualification system for the Games. The country has to qualify the weight. The first qualification is placement at the previous year’s World Championships.
For the 2012 Games, the top six placers at the Worlds (bronze medal match losers, so the two fifth placers) qualify their nations. The next qualifiers are the Continental Championships and two Olympic qualification tournaments.
It’s typical that the Olympics will have no more than 21 wrestlers in a given weight. In Beijing, for example, the largest weight class across all three styles was 21 (66kg and 74kg in freestyle).
So while 2010 was bad, if this happened in 2011, it would be worse. If this were 2011, only two weights would be qualified: women’s freestyle at 55kg and 63kg.
So as we all become armchair quarterbacks, second-guessing the national staffs and its leadership as a whole, there’s one thing to realize. We, as a country, can improve. If you look at the faces of Jones, Steiner and Fraser, they’re not happy. Jones said in his post-tournament interview that changes needed to be made and “everything is on the table.”
For Fraser, he’s trying to help the Greco-Roman team regain the form from the 2007 World championship they won in Baku, Azerbaijan.
For Steiner, it’s more improvement. The U.S. women went from no medals for the first time in history in 2009 to two in 2010 with another weight wrestling for bronze.
For Jones, who falls under the most scrutiny in the eyes of the American wrestling fans following the men’s freestyle team, he still believes we have the talent to not only win medals, but win gold medals and become the best wrestling country in the world.
I think all three coaches have that goal in mind. No, I don’t think, I know they all have that goal in mind.
As an artist looks at a canvas, paints something, and realizes it’s not good enough, Fraser, Steiner and Jones are staring at a fresh canvas. The previous artwork wasn’t suitable to hang in any gallery. There might have been execution of great brushstrokes, but as a whole, the picture wasn’t suitable for hanging.
The work has already begun. World Team and Olympic hopefuls are speaking on building off their performances, whether they be good or bad. They’re looking towards next year. Looking to see what they can do to peak for the 2011 World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, which will be the most important Worlds before this Olympic cycle.
No, the U.S. teams didn’t accomplish what they set out to do. As the tournament closed and several people gathered in the lobby of the monstrous Hotel Cosmos, Tom Brands walked by with a simple comment.
“You can either get tough, or cry.”
So what’s next?
Based on the facial expressions and gestures of Jones, Fraser and Steiner, I think the answer is very clear.
It won’t involve Kleenex.