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Finn: The best moments in wrestling show sportsmanship
Photo: Neither of these former multiple time All-Americans — Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman nor Michigan’s Stevan Micic (right) — placed in Detroit, but the Wolverine embraced a tearful Hawkeye who was forced to injury default at 141 pounds.
By Mike Finn
Shortly after the All-American parade and before the 2022 NCAA championship matches, Wisconsin’s Austin Gomez and Virginia Tech’s Bryce Andonian wanted to have a little more fun on the mat in Little Caesars Arena when the two rolled around for a few seconds before quickly departing with smiles on their faces.
Earlier in the tournament, that was not the case between these two wrestlers, who provided exciting matches in the quarterfinals and later in the third-place match at 149 pounds. And even though the Badger lost both matches, he took time to congratulate the Hokie, who in turn wished Gomez a happy birthday.
The odd part is that Andronian had never met, nor wrestled Gomez before the national tournament, yet knew his birthday.
“During the weigh-in line, I heard someone wish him happy birthday and felt I should do the same. I was going to do it on the mat, but that’s not something you do in a match,” said the Tech wrestler, who also talked about how the pressures of the sport nearly forced him to quit this season before he regained a new perspective and love for the sport.
The same could be said of Gomez, who quit the sport two years ago when injuries prevented him from continuing a career at Iowa State. But he got healthy and found another chance to compete for another former Cyclone in Badger coach Chris Bono. He spent much of this season saying how thankful he was to be back on the mat.
Frankly, the entire world has felt thankful after what the pandemic did to many of these elite wrestlers who were forced to pause their careers or take one last shot at stardom once the NCAA added another year of eligibility.
But not every wrestler who smiled in the past with All-American honors got to do that this season. That was never more apparent than during a consolation match between a pair of former NCAA finalists —Iowa’s Jaydin Eierman and Michigan’s Stevan Micic — where only the winner still had a chance to step on the All-American stand in Detroit. But midway through the match, the Hawkeye was forced to injury default and leave the mat one last time with tears in his eyes.
But before he did, Micic made a point of consoling his fellow All-American with a hug. One match later, the Wolverine also came up one victory short of All-American status, but that moment with Eierman spoke more about Micic than any of his past All-American moments.
What I saw was the sportsmanship of the sport and there has never been a time when we all need it more than now.
Yes, a national tournament at any level is hotly contested. But, there were so many moments where winning appeared to take a back seat to something even more important.
The only negative when it came to sportsmanship happened between coaches and officials, who verbally showed their frustration with a call, during or shortly after a match, if they felt the official wronged their wrestler. But, there’s a part of that which is coaches being loyal to their guys.
And of course, there are the fans, who think they know the rules better than the officials. It appears as though a few fans believe there is some conspiracy among the officials in that they might favor a better-known wrestler and want him to win.
Of course, such verbal assaults have always been part of the sport and probably always will. But sometimes, I wish there were better methods to dispute calls in addition to looking at them on videotape. Even then, coaches are not happy.
If the past two years have shown us anything, life is fragile and so too can be the people associated with this great sport.
It’s time to give everyone a break.
(Mike Finn, who became editor of WIN Magazine in 2003, has been covering amateur wrestling for the past 33 years. He can be reached at email@example.com.)