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2021 Olympic Trials Best-of-3 Championship Series Preview

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Updated: April 3, 2021

Photos: Among those competing for a spot on the 2021 Olympics, which take place this summer in Tokyo, are: (top left) high school junior Kennedy Blades, who beat Forrest Molinari in the women’s freestyle Challenge Tournament on Friday; top right, Jordan Oliver, who upset Yianni Diakomihalis at 65k in men’s freestyle; and Braxton Amos, who wrestled in both styles Friday and reached the finals in Greco-Roman at 97k. (Photos by John Sachs)

The following is a preview of the Best-of-3 Championship Series matches that will take place at 18 different Olympic weights; six in three different styles (Men’s Freestyle, Greco-Roman and Women’s Freestyle). Action will begin at 6:30 p.m. (CDT) in Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena.

  • – these athletes had already earned a spot in the Best-of-3 Championship series before the start of the Challenge tournament.

Men’s Freestyle

57 kg – Thomas Gilman (TMWC/ NLWC) vs. Vitali Arujau (TMWC/ Spartan Combat)

Gilman, 26, is a 2017 World silver medalist, who also competed in the 2018 Worlds but did not place; former All-American from Iowa, who decided to move to State College, Pa., and train with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club; native of Omaha, Neb.

Vitali Arujau reached the finals of the 2021 Trials with a 7-5 victory over Daton Fix, the 2019 World Team member and Oklahoma State All-American. (John Sachs photo)

(Vito) Arujau, 22, is a 2016 Cadet silver medalist and  2019 Junior silver medalist and is and a sophomore at Cornell, where he placed fourth in 2019. He took an Olympic redshirt in 2020 and his college season cancelled by Ivy League in 2021; native of Syosset, NY. His father, Vugar, was a Russian two-time freestyle wrestling world champion and an Olympic bronze medalist of Azerbaijani heritage. He competed in both the 1992 Summer Olympics, where he competed for the Unified Team, and the 1996 Summer Olympics, taking third and fourth respectively.

These two met at the 2021 Henri Deglane Grand Prix, where Gilman won 6-2.

65 kg – Joseph McKenna (TMWC/ PENN RTC) vs. Jordan Oliver (Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club)

Both of these Americans upset higher seeds to advance to the Best-of-3 Series as McKenna defeated No. 1 Zain Retherford, 8-5, and Oliver beat #2 Yianni Diakomihalis, 4-4 (criteria) in the semifinals.

McKenna, 25, is a former All-American from Stanford (2016) and Ohio State (2018, ’19); native of Towaco, N.J.; 2014 Junior World silver medalist; 2018 U23 World bronze medalist.

Oliver, 30, 2019 Senior Nationals champion (where he also beat McKenna, 10-0); two-time (2011 and ’13) NCAA champion from Oklahoma State; native of Easton, Pa.; current an assistant coach at North Carolina, where he is trained by Coleman Scott

74 kg – • Jordan Burroughs (Nebraska WTC/Sunkist Kids) vs. Kyle Dake (TMWC/ Spartan Combat)

This is the first time that these two World champions have met for an Olympic berth, but have wrestled three times in past World Team finals: 2013 (7-0, 8-6 ot), 2015 (6-3, 14-4) and 2017 (Dake won first bout 6-6, before Burroughs clinched spot with two wins, 8-4 and 6-2.)

Burroughs, 32, qualified for best-of-3 Series by medaling in 2019; 2012 Olympic gold medalist; four-time World champion (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017); 3-time World bronze medalist (2014, ’18, ’19). Burroughs, a native of Camden, N.J., won two NCAA titles and a Hodge Trophy at Nebraska.

Kyle Dake reached a Best-of-3 Championship Series matchup with fellow World champ Jordan Burroughs when the former Cornell star won two bouts by technical fall, including a Challenge tourney final win over former Penn State star Jason Nolf. (John Sachs photo)

Dake, 30, is a two-time (2018 and 2019) World champ at 79 kg; competed at 86k in 2016 Olympic Trials and lost to J’den Cox in Champ Series; former four-time NCAA champ (at four different weights) from Cornell; native of Ithaca, NY

86 kg – David Taylor (TMWC/ NLWC) vs. Bo Nickal (TMWC/ NLWC)

This is a battle between two multiple NCAA champions and Hodge Trophy winners from Penn State, where they train together with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

Taylor, 30, is a 2018 World champion, who was unable to compete in 2019 because of injury; finished third at 2016 Olympic Trials, where he lost to Kyle Dake. Taylor is a native of St. Paris, Ohio, where he was a four-time state of Ohio champ at Graham High. Was a four-time NCAA finalist and two-time champ (2012 and ’14) when he also won Hodge Trophies those seasons.

Nickal, 25, is a  U23 World champion and finished second at the 2019 US World Team Trials, where he lost to J’den Cox). Nickal is a native of Allen, Texas. An NCAA runner-up in 2016, Nickal then won three straight NCAA championships for Penn State, including 2019 when he also earned the Dan Hodge Trophy.

97 kg – • Kyle Snyder (Nittany Lion WC/TMWC) vs. Kollin Moore (TMWC/ Ohio RTC)

This is a battle between two wrestlers who first made their names while wrestling for Ohio State, where Moore continues to train. Snyder left Columbus for State College, Pa., where he now trains with the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club.

Snyder, 25, 2016 Olympic gold medalist and two-time (2015 and ’17) World champ automatically qualified for best-of-3 Final X; Also claimed silver medalist in the 2018 and 2019 World Championships. Snyder was a four-time NCAA finalist and three-time NCAA champ from Ohio State (2016-18), He is a native of Silver Spring, Md., where he did not wrestle as a high school senior and chose to train at the OTC before competing at Ohio State.

Moore, 23, won a 2020 Senior Nationals championship; three-time All-American from Ohio State; missed chance to compete in cancelled 2020 NCAAs; 2019 U23 World silver medalist; native of Burbank, Ohio.

125 – Nick Gwiazdowski (TMWC/ Wolfpack WC) vs. Gable Steveson (Gopher Wrestling Club)

These two met in the finals of the 2019 World Team Trials where “Gwiz” defeated Gable, twice on criteria, 4-4 and 3-3.

Gwiazdowski, 28, is a two-time World bronze medalist (2017 and ’18). He also wrestled at 2019 Worlds where he lost his only match. Is a two-time NCAA champ (2014 and ’15) from NC State and lost to Kyle Snyder in 2016 NCAA finals (also placed another year at NC State and Binghamton before transferring to Raleigh. He is native of Duanesburg, N.Y.

Steveson, 20, is a two-time Cadet (2015, ’16) World champ; 2017 Junior World champ; finished second to Gwiazdowski in 2019 World Team Trials; recently won NCAA championship at Minnesota, where he placed third in 2019 and seeded No. 1 in both the 2020 and 2021 NCAAs; 2021 co-winner of Dan Hodge Trophy; native of Apple Valley, Minn.

Greco-Roman

60 kg/132 lbs – • Ildar Hafizov (ARMY WCAP) vs. Ryan Mango (ARMY WCAP)

Hafizov, 33, whose only Games experience came when he was still a native of Uzbekistan when he finished 11th in 2008. He also competed in three World Championships for his native country (2007, ’09 and ’11) before immigrating to this country. As a member of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program Hafizov has represented the U.S. in the 2017 and ’19 Worlds.

Mango, 29, represented the US at the 2019 World Championships at 63 kg, where he split two matches; native of St. Louis, Mo. His brother Spenser competed in the 2008 and ’12 Olympics. Ryan finished third in 2016 Olympic Trials.

67 kg – • Alejandro Sancho (U.S. Army WCAP) vs. Ellis Coleman (ARMY WCAP)

Sancho, 27, earned a spot in best-of-3 Final X; qualified the weight for US at 2020 Pan Ams where he earned bronze. That only happened because Coleman was unable to represent the US at the Pan Ams because of an injury. Sancho,  native of Miami, Fla., where he started to wrestle at 15, finished third in the 2016 Olympic Trials. He has competed in two age-group Worlds – 2014 Cadets and 2017 U23s — but did not place.

Coleman, 29, is a 2012 Olympian and four-time World team member (2013, ’17, ’18, ’19); split two matches in 2019 Worlds; 2010 and ’11 Junior World bronze medalist; Coleman finished fourth in 2016 Trials. The native of Chicago became famous for executing the “Flying Squirrel” move – where he jumps over the top of the opponent and then locks onto his back on the way down and eventually scores back points – at 2011 Junior Worlds.

77 kg – Peyton Walsh (All-Marine Wrestling Team) vs. Jesse Porter (New York Athletic Club)

These two are competing at a weight that has NOT been qualified for Tokyo. The winner will compete at the World Olympic Qualifier, May 6-9, in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Walsh, 28, reached the best-of-3 finals by beat top-seed and former World Team member Jake Fisher, 4-1, in the Challenge tourney semifinals. The native of Glen Allen, Va., was a three-time NCAA qualifier for the Naval Academy before joining the Marines and finished as high as second in both the 2018 and ’19 World Trials Challenge tournament.

Porter reached the Best-of-3 Series by beating two-time World Team member Pat Smith, 5-3, in the semis. Porter qualified for the 2021 Trials by finishing second at the Last Chance qualifier held a week ago; losing 10-2 to the Austin Morrow in the final. The native of Albany, N.Y., has represented the United States in the 2017, ’18 and ’19 U23 World Championships, but has not placed. Also qualified for 2020 U23s that were cancelled.

John Stefanowicz (left) surprised many when he upset Cuban-native Alan Vera in the semifinals of the Greco-Roman challenge tournament at 87kg (John Sachs photo)

87 kg – • Joe Rau (Titan Mercury) vs. John Stefanowicz (All-Marine Wrestling Team)

Rau, 30, actually made the 2016 Olympics at 98 kg, but the U.S. did not qualify the weight class for Rio. Rau qualified for best-of-3 Final X after placing at 2020 Pan Ams; also was member of 2014 and 2019 World Teams; split two matches at 2019 Worlds; also has competed in freestyle and reached the finals of the 2017 World Team Trials; native of Chicago, Ill., 2013 NCAA Div. III champ from Elmhurst.

Stefanowicz, 29, competed in 2019 Worlds at 82k; second in 2017 and ’18 World Team Trials; member of Marines; attended Kennard Dale HS in Pa. He reached the Best-of-3 Series by beating top-seed Alan Vera, the native of Cuba, who come to the US in 2016.

 

97 kg – • G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist Kids) vs. Braxton Amos (Wisconsin RTC)

Hancock, 23, automatically qualified for best-of-3 Final X; has qualified for three World Teams 13th at 98k in 2017; 23rd at 97k in 2018 and 15th at 97k in 2019; 2016 Junior World bronze medalist; native of Ft. Carson, Colo., where he was trained by 2008 Olympian TC Dantzler.

Amos spent first year at Wisconsin (where he is expected to compete at heavyweight) training with the Wisconsin RTC and will enroll this fall. He reached the Best-of-3 Series when he beat Lucas Sheridan, 8-6, in the semifinals. The native of Parkersburg, West Virginia,  qualified for the Olympic Trials by winning the Last Chance Qualifier, held a week ago. He also qualified for the men’s freestyle tournament but lost to Kollin Moore in the first round.

130 kg – Adam Coon (NYAC/CKWC) vs. Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club)

Even though Coon captured a silver medal for the United States in the 2018 World Championships, the U.S. still has not qualified this weight for Tokyo. That final chance will come May 6-9 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Coon, 26, also competed in 2019 Worlds, where he went 0-1. The heavyweight was a three-time All-American from Michigan. The native of Fowlerville, Mich., was also a 2011 Cadet World champ and 2014 Junior World bronze medalist.

Schultz, 20, finished second to Coon in 2019 World Team Trials. The native of Colorado has the following international honors: 2017 Cadet World champ; 2018 Junior World bronze medalist; 2019 Junior World silver medalist. He is currently a member of the Arizona State wrestling team where he finished fourth.

 

Women’s Freestyle

50 kg – • Sarah Hildebrandt (New York AC) vs. Victoria Anthony (ASU RTC/Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club)

Hildebrandt, 27, is a native of Granger, Ind., who dropped down from the non-Olympic weight of 53kg/116.5 pounds, where she won a World silver medal. She is a three-time World Team member, placing 10th at 55kg in 2016 and 10th at 53kg in 2019. She wrestled in King University (in Tennessee) where she won two college championships.

Victoria Anthony (top) reached the Olympic finals a second time when she won three bouts with bonus points and defeated Alyssa Lampe, 7-6, in the Challenge semis at 50 kg. (John Sachs photo)

Victoria Anthony, 29, was a runner-up in 2016 Olympic Trials at 48kg, where she lost to Haley Augello. The native of Huntington Beach, Calif., finished fifth in the 2013 World championships. She now trains at Sunkist Kids in Tempe, Ariz. She reached the Best-of-3 Series by first beating former World Team wrestler Alyssa Lampe and then pinned Amy Fearnside in Challenge final. 2009 and ’10 Junior World champ.

53 kg – • Jacarra Winchester (Titan Mercury WC) vs. Ronna Heaton (Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club)

Winchester, 28, qualified for the best of 3 Champ Series after winning a World championship at 55 kg (she dropped down to 53 kg, the weight that produced USA first woman gold medalist in Helen Maroulis. Winchester also finished fifth in 2018 World Championships. She is a native of San Lorenzo, Calif., and a 2015 college national champ at Missouri Valley.

Heaton, 22, advanced to the Best-of-3 Series when she pinned a pair of higher-seed women: Dominique Parrish and Katherine Shai. She is a native of Brookings, S.D., originally the first girl of South Dakota to qualify and twice placed at her boy’s state tournament. She was a 2015 Junior World champ and 2016 World silver medalist. In 2020, she won a U23 national championship.

57 kg – • Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids) vs. Jenna Burkert (ARMY WCAP)

Maroulis qualified for Best-of-3 Series by winning Pan Am Qualifier last year. She made history in 2016 when she won USA first women’s Olympic gold medal at 53 kg, but then dealt with injuries (including concussions) that removed her from competing since 2018 Worlds where she failed to place.

Maroulis, 29, also was two-time World champion (2015 and ’17); also won World silver in 2012 and World bronze in 2014. She is a native of Rockville, Md., and became the first girl of her state to qualify for boy’s state tournament. Spent her senior year at the USOEC in Marquette, Mich.

Burkert, 27, advanced to the Best-of-3 Series by pinning World medalist Alli Ragan in the Challenge Tournament final. She is a member of US Army World Class Athlete Program. She is a three-time World team member (finished 15th in 2014, ’18 and ’19) at three different weights. She also competed in three Junior World Championships. She is a native of Rocky Point, N.Y.

62 kg –  • Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids) vs. Macey Kilty (Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club)

Miracle, 25, already qualified for best of 3 Series. She finished 8th in 2019 World Championships and also  competed in two Cadet Worlds (silver in 2012), three Junior Worlds (bronze in 2014 and 2016); silver medalist in 2019 U23 Worlds. A native of Culver, Ind., she was a four-time college champ at Campbellsville, where she was coached by her father, Lee Miracle.

Kilty, 20, qualified for Best-of-3 Series by beating Maya Nelson, 5-0, in the finals of the Challenge Tournament. She is native of Strattford, Wisc., and now trains at North Carolina RTC. She was a 2018 Cadet World champion; 2018 and ’19 Junior World silver medalist; 2019 U23 World silver medalist.

68 kg – • Tamyra Mensah-Stock (Titan Mercury WC) vs. Kennedy Blades (Sunkist Kids Wrestling Club)

Mensah-Stock, 28, qualified for Best of 3 Final X after winning 2019 World championships. She also earned World bronze in 2018 and placed 9th in 2017. ,She was a three-time Yarygin (Russia) champion; from Katy, Texas; two-time college champ from Wayland Baptist.

Blades, 17, earned a spot in the Best-of-3 Series when he dominated former World Team member Forrest Molinari in the Challenge Tournament final. She currently attends Wyoming Seminary (with sister Korina). She is a native of Brookfield, Illinois. Was a member of 2019 Cadet World team and finished seventh. She recently won Last Chance Qualifier

Kyle Welker, a high school junior from Wisconsin, held off a late charge from Victoria Francis to win the 76-kg Challenge Tournament final. The No. 14 seed will now face Adeline Gray in the Best-of-3 final. (John Sachs photo)

76 kg – • Adeline Gray (New York AC) vs. Kylie Welker (Titan Mercury WC)

No USA wrestler, man or woman, has won more World championships than Adeline Gray. She is facing a 17-year-old from Burlington (Wisc.) High School in Welker who won the Challenge tournament as a No. 14 seed.

Gray, 30, already qualified for Best of 3 Series after winning 2019 World championships. He other World titles came in 2012 at 67k, 2014 at 75k, 2015 at 75k, 2018 at 76k.) and is 31-3 in all-time World/Olympic competition. 2016 proved to be very disappointing to Gray, who was considered the favorite but split two bouts. She is a native of Denver, Colo.

 

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