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Former Olympic champion Rulon Gardner will not compete in Greco as Trials set to begin
By Mike Finn
There will be three different styles of wrestling taking place at the University of Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena this Saturday and Sunday for the 2012 Olympic Trials.
But there was one common phrase used by both coaches and wrestlers 24 hours before the start this year’s Trials, including from U.S. National coach Terry Steiner: “What those people are going to see.”
“What those people are going to see is wrestlers who can perform skills at a high level,” said Steiner, who once earned an NCAA championship and All-American honors at the University of Iowa in the 1990s. “Hopefully, they can open up their minds and heart to that.”
The people Steiner was speaking about during a Pre-Trials press conference in nearby Coralville, Iowa, on Friday was the record-number of fans who are going to attend the Trials in Iowa City.
According to Josh Schamberger, the president of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitor Bureau, at least 12,000 tickets have been sold for each day of this year’s Trials.
And while those are record-setting number for this event held every four years, many of these fans — who make up perhaps the largest fan base for their beloved Iowa Hawkeyes — are more familiar with folkstyle that wrestled on the high school and college level.
On Saturday, the following weights will be decided:
• men’s freestyle — 132, 163 and 211.5 pounds;
• women’s freestyle — 121 and 158 pounds;
• Greco Roman — 121, 145.5, 185 and heavyweight.
On Sunday, the following weights will be determined:
• men’s freestyle — 121, 145.5, 185 and heavyweight;
• women’s freestyle — 105.5 and 138.75 pounds;
• Greco-Roman — 132, 163 and 211.5 pounds
Does USA Wrestling need to actually educate those in attendance about freestyle and Greco-Roman that will be wrestled by 220 individual vying for one of 18 spots: seven in both men’s freestyle and Greco and four in women’s freestyle?
“That certainly is part of our production, but I would not sell these people short on their knowledge on the overall sport of wrestling,” said Rich Bender, the executive director of USA Wrestling. “What they don’t understand they will catch on quickly. We have a very education wrestling audience.”
There are at least five wrestlers competing who once donned the black-and-gold singlet, including two-time NCAA champion Brent Metcalf, who is considered one of the favorites to capture the 145.5-pound weight class.
“The biggest difference is the rules that people will get confused,” said Metcalf, reminding fans that matches are actually those wrestles who win two out of three periods, with each period lasting two minutes. And unlike a college match, lasts as much as seven minutes, there are no escapes nor riding time in freestyle wrestling. Also, there is not as much scoring and the wrestler who scores last in a tied period wins the period.
Those rules were enough to tell Metcalf that he had change his style of wrestling when it came to freestyle.
“For me, it was learning to score on a guy when he is fresh,” said Metcalf, whose NCAA titles came in 2008 and 2010. “I liked to say that I could do that before, but the truth is that a lot of my wrestling was a grind-it-out sort of thing.
“In college, I’d be up by 3-4-5 points and then blow it open in the third period.
You don’t really have that luxury any more. I had to learn to get to my offense early because two minutes is not a large window.
“The way the sport is that when you are up by one point, and there is 15 seconds to go. You are not going to dive in on a shot because a guy could lift you and score an exposure point against you.
“You don’t have to be defensive. You have to have defensive skills where you know a guy is coming and being able to stop what he is throwing at you.”
Gardner will not compete in Trials
Rulon Gardner, the two-time Olympic medalist, announced on Friday that he would not compete for the heavyweight spot in Greco-Roman wrestling.
According to a USA Wrestling statement, “Early Friday afternoon, 2000 Olympic champion Rulon Gardner (Logan, Utah/Sunkist Kids) decided not to weigh in and enter the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. in Greco-Roman. The weigh-in for his weight class was scheduled for 3:30p.m. CST at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City, Iowa.”
The 40-year-old Gardner, who won gold in 2000 and bronze in 2004, had announced that he wanted to compete in this year’s Trials but would be forced to lose quite a bit of weight to make the 264.5-pound weight limit. Gardner’s story earned even more national attention when he appeared on NBC and told his story, which included him participating in the network’s “Biggest Loser” program where he weighed as much as 475 pounds before the start of the show.
“In the past year, Rulon Gardner decided to make a comeback in wrestling. We applaud him for his gallant effort and for his commitment to living a healthier lifestyle. The fact that he has become involved in our Greco-Roman program again has strengthened our national effort. He is a great champion and will continue to be an asset for USA Wrestling and Team USA through the Olympic Games and beyond,” said Rich Bender, USA Wrestling Executive Director.
“USA Wrestling respects his wishes not to speak about this matter today. More information on Gardner’s availability will be provided when available.”
Speaking of comebacks
Besides Gardner, at least three other former World or Olympic champions were expected to compete in this year’s Trials: three-time Olympian Dennis Hall and 2006 World champion Joe Warren in Greco and 2008 Olympic champion Henry Cejudo in freestyle.
For Cejudo, this Trials will be his first official competition since winning a gold medal at 121 pounds in Beijing nearly four years ago.
“Him and I had an agreement back in 2008,” said U.S. National coach Zeke Jones, who took over the program after the Beijing Games. “I wasn’t going to bother him about wrestling, but told when and if you come back then we will help you.
“I can’t tell you where he was in 2008 because I didn’t observe him every day. Right now, it’s a big question mark because he has not been measured. The only way to measure him is seeing him compete.
Jones said USA Wrestling was trying to find ways of keeping top-notch wrestling competing in more than one four-year cycle. Besides Cejudo, who is 25 years old, the only other member of the 2008 team still competing is heavyweight Steve Mocco.
“That is something that we are talking about now; how we are keeping out medal hopefuls continuing and hopefully we will have some of those answers this summer and keep guys on the path,” Jones said.
“You can talk about the money but it’s really motivation. Brent Metcalf is not going to stop wrestling, neither is the likes of Jake Herbert or Tervel Dlagnev or Jake Varner. I don’t care if they don’t win a gold medal. It’s not in their makeup.”
Herbert wants to ruin summer, his way
Jake Herbert, the three-time NCAA champion from Northwestern and 2009 World silver medalist, said he wants to “ruin” any normal summer plans when most people are relaxing because he wants to spend the months of May, June and July preparing to compete in the 2012 Olympics, held August 5-12, in London, England.
Besides Herbert already knows about having a summer ruined when it comes to wrestling. That’s what happened to him last year when he was beat out by 2004 Olympic champion Cael Sanderson, who came out of retirement, for the 185-pound weight class on last summer’s U.S. team that competed at the World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey.
“I was real disappointed,” who lost to Sanderson in the finals of the 2011 World Team Trials in Oklahoma City. “After being on the team the last couple years and having someone like Cael Sanderson, who was retired and hadn’t trained full time for seven years, that really hits you hard.
“I wanted to compete and was looking forward to it. I thought it was my year to get a World title. It seems like everyone has beat everyone at that weight. I have beaten the top guys in the world.”