Klingman: Think of America’s Olympic stars who avoided today’s limits

Updated: July 14, 2017

Photo: John Smith won Olympic gold medals in 1988 and ’92 at 136.5 pounds. If the current Oklahoma State head coach wrestled today, he would have to cut to 125.5 pounds or move up to 143.5 pounds.

By Kyle Klingman, WIN Columnist

(Note: This column was originally published in the July 7 issue of WIN.)

The summer Olympics currently only has six weight classes for freestyle wrestling and that is a tragedy. During its apex, international wrestling had 10 weight classes, which allowed all countries four additional opportunities to showcase its best wrestlers.


The following nine wrestlers would have faced an Olympic-sized dilemma if the existing Olympic weight classes were in place when they competed.  The current Olympic weight classes (in pounds) are 125.5, 143.5, 163, 189, 213.5 and 276.

Bobby Weaver, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, 105.5 pounds

Weaver would have been an Olympic tragedy. There is zero chance he could have moved to 125.5 pounds — currently the lightest international freestyle weight class — and defeated 1984 Olympic silver medalist Barry Davis at the Olympic Trials.

Zeke Jones, 1992 Olympic silver medalist, 114.5 pounds

Jones was a dynamic wrestler for our sport, so the prospect of losing his legacy to a higher weight class is hard to imagine. Brad Penrith (1991 World silver medalist), Kendall Cross (1992 Olympian and 1996 Olympic gold medalist) and Terry Brands (1993 and 1995 World champion and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist) were all competing while Jones was in his prime. All three were too good and too big for Jones.

John Smith, 1988 and 1992 Olympic gold medalist, 136.5 pounds

Smith would have faced the ultimate decision: go down to 125.5 pounds or move up to 143 pounds for the Olympics. The Oklahoma State star wrestled at 126 pounds as a freshman but moved up to 134 pounds for the remainder of his college career. Moving up to 143 pounds seems like the ideal option, but 1984 Olympic gold medalist Randy Lewis would have been even stronger at the higher weight during the 1988 Olympic Trials. Moving down to 125.5 pounds may have worked for the Olympics, but the cut would have been brutal. Wrestling at 136.5 pounds was the ultimate fit for Smith to win six World and Olympic titles in a row.

Nate Carr, 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, 149.5 pounds

Carr struggled to make 149.5 pounds, which makes it very unlikely that he could make 143 pounds. That would have forced him up to 163 pounds where he would faced Dave Schultz and Kenny Monday, 1984 and ‘88 Olympic champs. Carr was pinned by Schultz in 1987 and Monday told Carr he better move down in 1988 so they both could make the team. Carr was a bit short at 163, but the current 154-pound weight class for the World Championships would have been the ideal fit for such an explosive and dynamic wrestler.

Townsend Saunders, 1996 Olympic silver medalist, 149.5 pounds

Decisions. Decisions. Move to 143 pounds to face Tom Brands or move to 163 pounds and face Kenny Monday?

Ed Banach, 1984 Olympic gold medalist, 198 pounds

What does this former Hawkeye great do? Move down to 189 pounds to face Mark Schultz, 1984 Olympic gold medalist at 180.5 pounds, who beat Banach in the 1982 NCAA tournament finals  … or move up to 213.5 pounds and face his fraternal twin brother, Lou, who also won a gold medal at 220 pounds in 1984. Banach’s best option would have been to move up a weight for a brother against brother slugfest.

Ben Peterson, 1972 Olympic gold and 1976 Olympic silver medalist, 198 pounds

Older brother John, silver medalist in 1972 and gold medalist in 1976, won the wrestle-off for the right to wrestle at 180.5. The Petersons would have battled it out for the current 189-pound spot. Ben may have been the tragedy if his brother could duplicate his win.

Chris Campbell, 1992 Olympic bronze medalist at 198 pounds

Wrestling may have lost one of its most inspirational stories if today’s Olympic weights existed in 1992. Campbell won an Olympic bronze medal at the age of 37 after winning a World title in 1981 at 180.5 pounds. Campbell would have been better off wrestling at 213.5 pounds to face Mark Kerr rather than move down to 189 pounds and face 180.5-pound Olympic champion Kevin Jackson.

Chris Taylor, 1972 Olympic bronze medalist, unlimited 

Taylor weighed 414 pounds and would not have made the 276-pound classification.