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By Mike Finn
The Iowa City, Iowa, area certainly has hosted its share of historic wrestling events, whether it’s the many college tournaments or dual meets at the University of Iowa, including a record 42,000-plus fans to an outdoor event in 2015 or playing host to a World Cup and/or Olympic Trials for international-style events.
The Hawkeye state and Iowa City area will again host a high-profile event this weekend when the Xtream Arena & GreenState Family Fieldhouse in Coralville, Iowa, — which is located next to Iowa City — plays host to USA Wrestling Senior Nationals this Friday through Sunday, October 9-11.
“We want to own wrestling so we have laid it out to catering to the wrestlers and fans,” said Josh Schamberger, President, ThinkIowaCity, who brought Nationals to Coralville.
Of course, this is also happening in the midst of a worldwide COVID pandemic that has basically shut down all national wrestling events, starting with the NCAA Championships in three divisions last March as well as the Olympic Trials in April as well as the Olympic in Tokyo and Junior/Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D., in July that were cancelled.
Since then, some wrestling events have been held outside, other have had fewer athletes and others have been simply one-day events.
But when this weekend’s event is held in three different international styles — men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman — in 18 total weight classes, there will be nearly 350 athletes competing to earn USA Wrestling’s national championship.
Pete Isais, USA Wrestling National Events Director, believes the governing body’s “Return to Mat” guidelines will allow them to hold this year’s event in a safe fashion for wrestlers, coaches and spectators.
“We checked with all of the health authorities and state governments to do this,” said Isais. “We had a successful event (Western State Championships in Farmington, Utah) in July to give us some insight. We had positive reviews with our Return to Event protocols, the cleanliness of how we are running our events and fortunately COVID did not happen. That event that had almost 700 kids. This event has about 350 athletes and we feel with the layout that this is a great venue and allows for social distancing for athletes who are totally separated from spectators.”
USA Wrestling is also trying to separate the three different tournaments over three days as each style will need one day for completion. Greco-Roman will only take place on Friday, women’s freestyle will split its six weights in two and compete on either Friday or Saturday – with finals happening both nights — and men’s freestyle will take place on Saturday and Sunday (when those finals will take place).
Notable athletes competing includw World/Olympic medalists like Kyle Snyder in men’s freestyle and Sarah Hildebrandt, Alli Ragan and five-time World champ Adeline Gray in women’s freestyle. Greco includes two former World Team members in Pat Smith and Joe Rau.
Wrestlers and coaches will not be tested for COVID, but will be screened to check temperatures before entering the building. Those with high temperatures will be quarantined outside and given recommendations on what they need to do.
“We are trying to keep all of those groups as separated as possible,” said Isais. “We hope to have good screening of athletes and foggers as they leave the mat and of course all the PPP that are involved.”
Once wrestlers and coaches – one per corner – enter the building they will warm up in the nearby fieldhouse before entering the Arena, where there will be four mats. Wrestlers and coaches must all wear facemasks, while officials will have both facemasks and shields during matches. Once a match is completed, the official will simply point to the winner, rather than raise the winner’s hand.
Spectators will be capped at 1,800 per each of the six sessions, but they will not be screened before entering the building that was just opened this past year. All of the matches will also be streamed on Flowrestling.com.
USA Wrestling officials admitted that nothing is fool-proof when it comes to holding this event and are asking both competitors and fans to show some responsibility.
“Ultimately, it’s up to the coaches and athletes if they feel safe,” said Cody Bickley, the High Performance Manager for USA Wrestling. “Based on what we are providing and the guidelines in place, from the time that they walk in the facility, we feel confident we are doing the best job that we can. The best thing they can do is follow the guidelines that are in place, stay strict to them and ultimately let people make decisions on what they are comfortable with. We are providing an opportunity for athletes. It’s been a long time coming and we feel it will be a positive experience.”
Bickley admitted that high number of COVID cases could also jeopardize the event and possibly shut it down.
“It’s always a fear in this environment,” Bickley said. “We don’t want anything like that, but the people who know our sport. We are going to be safe. We want to be safe and do the right things. With 350 athletes, it’s not real big and it’s a great venue. I don’t think you can completely get away from that. People have to make decision on what’s best for them.”
USA Wrestling, which will also hold the 2021 Olympic Trials in April, hopes that other wrestling governing bodies learn from this experience.
“We are at the tip of the spear with many college age wrestlers so I believe they will be following along,” Isais said. “We want to be a leader in holding events and making sure we are doing it right. I’m hoping that we do have great success here, including for the sake of the NCAAs and the Olympic Trials. God-willing this virus will be done by then, but if we still have to have events in this environment, we can do it in a safe fashion.”
Friday, Oct. 9 / Greco-Roman (6 weights) and Women’s Freestyle (3 lower weights)
10 a.m. – Prelims to Quarterfinals
4:30 p.m. – Semifinals and Finals
Saturday, Oct. 10 / Women’s Freestyle (3 heavier weights) and Men’s Freestyle (6 weights)
10 a.m. – Prelims
4 p.m. – Quarters, Semis and Finals for WFS; Quarters and Semis for MFS
Sunday, Oct. 11 / Men’s Freestyle (6 weights)
10 a.m. – Consolation and Placement Matches
12:30 p.m. – Finals
Top seeds at 2020 USA Senior Nationals