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IOWA CITY, IOWA — Of the 11,171 fans who attended Sunday’s Challenge Tournament of the 2016 Olympic Trials in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, an estimated 5,200 had ties to the University of Iowa athletic program.
Thanks to former Hawkeyes Tony Ramos and Daniel Dennis, the old home crowd will get a chance to see one of them actually earn a spot on this summer’s Olympic team that will compete at the Games in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, Aug. 14-22.
The only problem for Hawkeye fans is who to cheer for, as Ramos and Dennis will have to beat his fellow Hawkeye alum at 57 kilos/125.5 pounds when the Best of 3 Championship Series of the final nine different weight classes begins at 6 p.m. in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“We both did our job on getting to the finals,” said the 29-year-old Dennis, who was a two-time All-American at Iowa, including finishing second at 133 pounds in the 2010 NCAAs. “I think that is what people are looking at this weekend and are probably excited to watch this matchup. I don’t want to say it’s historical, but for people who are looking forward to this match and to this weight class this is one of the bigger matchups they want to see.”
While Dennis defeated former Missouri All-American Alan Waters, 6-2, and Wisconsin’s former multiple NCAA placer Tyler Graff, 6-2, to advance to Sunday’s night’s Championship Series, Ramos had a much scarier route.
First the 2014 NCAA champion edged 2016 NCAA champ Nahshon Garrett of Cornell, 3-3, on criteria as the deciding point came when the Big Red senior was penalized for stalling in the closing seconds. Then the 25-year-old Ramos needed criteria again to win 4-4 against 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott, whose last second takedown was not enough to offset the fact that the Hawkeye had earlier scored a pair of takedowns.
Ramos, the two-time World team member, was forced to rally against both foes.
“These (opponents), they’re smart, they’re serious,” said Ramos, who qualified the weight class for the United States last month at the Pan Am Qualifier. “I am looking for great opportunities and I am trying to make more happen, you know this is the Olympic trials.
Ramos heads into the final Series with a spotless career record (36-0) in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It’s awesome. It’s just like being back home,” said Ramos. “I have had a lot of big wins at Carver, that (semifinal win) was another big one. I told Coleman after the match ‘Hey, great match, if you’re done with your career you’ve had a great one.’ He just told me, ‘It’s up to you now, go up there and win.’”
Meanwhile, two of the remaining three Championship Series in men’s freestyle matches will pit Challenge tournament winners against former World medalists.
At 74k/163 pounds, former NCAA champion Andrew Howe will meet 2012 Olympic gold medalist and three-time World champion Jordan Rogers in a rematch of the 2012 Olympic Trials finals.
The 97k/213 pound final feature a battle between 2012 Olympic champ — Jake Varner, who won the Challenge tournament — and 2015 World champion Kyle Snyder, who recently won an NCAA championship at heavyweight for Ohio State. This is the first time such a meeting has happened at the Olympic Trials since 1988 when 1984 Olympic gold medalist Randy Lewis met 1987 World champ John Smith the Olympic Trials final.
Meanwhile at 86k/189 pounds, Cornell’s former four-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake advanced the to finals with a 4-3 decision against Penn State’s two-time national champ David Taylor in a battle of former Hodge Trophy winners.
“(Taylor) is a great competitor,” said Dake, who is now 8-0 against Taylor in either folkstyle (including the 2014 NCAA finals) or freestyle, including the past few years when both men competed at 163 pounds. “I just have to keep getting better.”
Dake will face surprise finalist J’den Cox, the two-time NCAA champ from Missouri, who upset 2012 Olympian Jake Herbert, 8-1, then defeated another former World team member in Keith Gavin.
“We’ve talked about it my whole life but I never dreamed of anything really of this,” said Cox, whose NCAA titles came at 197 pounds. “It is a dream but to make it real I don’t know I have ever really taken the steps to do so. I have always been focused on folkstyle wrestling and to come out and just perform with some of these great wrestlers. It’s an honor and great talent I’m grateful to come out on top.”
Whoever wins the 86 kilo weight class will have to compete one or both of the final two qualifying tournaments: April 22-24 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, and May 6-8 in Istanbul, Turkey.
Meanwhile, there will be three Championship Series finals in women’s freestyle and two in Greco-Roman.
The lightest weight class — 48k/105.5 pounds — feature 2014 World team member Victory Anthony and Haley Augello, who upset four-time World team member Alyssa Lampe, 7-6, in a semifinal.
The 53k/116.5-pound final will feature a pair of 2015 World team members, Whitney Conder and Helen Maroulis, who dropped down to the lighter weight class after winning a gold medal at the 55k/121-pound non-Olympic weight last September at the World Championships.
The winner of both of these finals must also qualify the weight class for the United States over the next month in either Mongolia or Turkey, while the winner of Sunday night’s final at 175-pound — featuring three-time World champ Adeline Gray and Victoria Francis, who won the challenge tourney — after Gray already qualified the weight class.
There will also be two Greco-Roman finals.
2015 World team members Andy Bisek (a two-time bronze medalist, who sat out the challenge tourney) will take on Challenge tournament winner Gordon Speiller in the 75k/165-pound final, while three-time World team member Robby Smith (fifth in last year’s Worlds) will been Adam Coon, the three-time NCAA All-American from Michigan in the 130k/286-pound final.
Day 2 Best of 3 Championship Series of the 2016 Olympic Trials
April 10 • Iowa City, Iowa
48k/105.5 — Victoria Anthony (Titan Mercury WC) vs. Haley Augello (New York AC/OTC)
53k/116.5 — Helen Maroulis (Sunkist) vs. Whitney Conder (Army WCAP)
75k/165 — Adeline Gray (New York AC) vs. Victoria Francis (Titan Mercury WC)
57k/125.5 – Tony Ramos (Titan Mercury WC/Hawkeye WC) vs. Daniel Dennis (Titan Mercury WC/Hawkeye WC)
74k/163 – Jordan Burroughs (Sunkist Kids) vs. Andrew Howe (NYAC/SWC)
86k/189 — Kyle Dake (Titan Mercury WC) vs. J`Den Cox (Missouri Wrestling Federation)
97k/213 — Kyle Snyder (Titan Mercury WC) vs. Jake Varner (Nittany Lion WC)
75k/165 – Andy Bisek (Minnesota Storm) vs. Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets)
130k/286.5 — Robby Smith (NYAC) vs. Adam Coon (Cliff Keen WC)