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By Bryan Van Kley
The night of Thursday, Aug. 9 will be a restless one for many in the U.S. wrestling contingent in London. That’s because it’s hard to sleep too well when you’re holding your breath.
Aside from Clarissa’s Chun’s bronze medal after a solid performance, things couldn’t be going too much worse for our “home team.” After Chun got a pin and then beat a former Olympic champion last night for bronze on Wednesday, it seemed the U.S. finally had a bit of momentum. That all ended Thursday with an 0-3 performance by Ali Bernard and Kelsey Campbell.
American athletes have certainly not benefited from favorable draws. Many of them couldn’t have gotten much worse. And there was the questionable call at the end of Campbell’s first wrestle-back (repechage) match. But this isn’t a group to make excuses, and I certainly won’t either.
The U.S. just flat out has not been wrestling well, nor up to potential. We have a lot of fairly inexperienced athletes on three teams. And many of them so far have seemed to go out tight and tentative. As the coaches have been saying over and over again, you’re not going to win many matches that way at the Olympic Games.
But the best is yet to come. The United States brings a very talented freestyle team to the mats Friday, which should do well. There was an aura of confidence and high expectations at the press conference a couple days ago from this group and the coaching staff. This team is not just “hoping” to go out there and win some matches and hopefully a medal here and there. They’re talking about contending for team titles and going toe-to-toe with freestyle wrestling king Russia.
I have full confidence the U.S. is on the right track in men’s freestyle to get back on top or near the top. There are four former World medalists in the top four weights. And defending World champ Jordan Burroughs starts off the group tomorrow.
This is a talented group who knows how to win matches. Sam Hazewinkel and Coleman Scott are probably the two youngest/most inexperienced of the group, but don’t count them out. Don’t count first-time World/Olympic Team member Jared Frayer either. He’s got a nasty front headlock and can score points quickly from that position. I’m predicting he will do well.
So tomorrow could be the day when the rowdy North Hall at Excel London has American flags waiving, and chants of U-S-A, U-S-A.
The key to success: Jordan Burroughs, no doubt about it. He must do well and provide a spark for the U.S. team. One risk there is for the U.S. team is that Jordan Burroughs is on the first day. If he should lose, it would be very, very bad for the rest of the team to follow that up.
It will not be as easy for him to win most likely as last year. Not that it was easy, but he’s obviously got a target on his back as the returning champ. (He jokingly disagreed with me in the press conference, saying the target’s the gold medal, not him.)
And there’s a lot more tape out there on him than before last year’s Worlds. Every competitor in the weight will have a coach telling him, “Now, look out for this guy’s double.”
But that’s also the reason I think Burroughs will win it. The Americans that have gone to the Olympics and the Worlds and have won it are usually the ones that have an unstoppable move. Even by the best in the world. Google John Smith’s low single, or Brandon Slay’s freight-train double which he took out Russia’s Buvaisar Saitiev with in the 2000 Olympics when people thought Saitiev was unstoppable.
But anything can happen at the Olympic Games with only 20 competitors per weight. And with money on the line like reportedly in excess of $1 million for gold medals in Russia and a $250,000 in the U.S., the will to win is high.
It’s America’s time to shine at this year’s Games. My prediction on medals: four, two gold, two bronzes. I think Burroughs and Dlagnev will win it, with Varner and Frayer medaling as well. Herbert has reportedly been nursing some injuries, but I wouldn’t count him or the Hazewinkel or Scott out from medaling either, as I referenced above.
Make sure you don’t miss a minute of it. WIN will send you match results, interviews and analysis right to your phone and computer. But it’s only available to members of our free eNews group. Sign up on WIN’s homepage to start getting the daily releases between now and the end of the Games.
And if you don’t currently have a print or digital subscription to WIN, now’s the time to subscribe. WIN will release our Souvenir Olympic Games edition in late August with start to finish comprehensive coverage of Team USA. That will include the coverage of the gold rush that starts tomorrow.
Here’s to some good sleep tonight!