Gable: Gross and Zillmer succeeded because of their focus

Updated: June 27, 2022

Photo: Both Seth Gross and Hayden Zillmer rallied to beat a pair of former World medalists, Daton Fix and Nick Gwiazdowski, earlier this month to earn their first World Team berths. (Photos by John Sachs and Justin Hoch)

Note: Dan Gable, who won both a World and Olympic championship before coaching for over 20 years on the college and international level, recently spoke to WIN Editor Mike Finn about the recent qualification process of determining the 2022 U.S. World Championship Team.

WIN: What are your thoughts about the recently-completed process of determining the 2022 U.S. World Team?

GABLE: I wonder if we are going about this in a good way. Sometimes, it was confusing because there were a lot of people that wrestling was dealing with, especially now that wrestling has three styles — men’s freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle — and there are 30 different weight classes. Some fans probably couldn’t even tell you who some of these wrestlers are, nor the different weight classes. At one point, men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman used to have the same weight classes and that’s what needs to happen now. That would be less confusing for our sport.

It does get a little more widespread. If you can keep things together, just like the same weight classes for men, it will help keep the process simpler. I also think the process of determining the team was too long and it was difficult to follow. There are people who follow this closely, but for the sport to expand, the process needs simplification.

This Gable Q&A appeared in the recent issue of WIN Magazine that was printed on June 16. Click on cover or call 888-305-0606 to subscribe to WIN.

WIN: Hayden Zillmer and Seth Gross provided the biggest surprises in men’s freestyle, respectively upsetting former World medalists Nick Gwiazdowski and Daton Fix. What did you think about that?

GABLE: There was plenty of potential in those two guys. Their development has dealt with consistency in certain times of their careers and that they mentally felt good about themselves that they could really make this year’s World Team.

They probably knew what they were capable of but had not been able to do it. When someone has ability to do something good, you should be able to repeat it. It’s just a matter of being able to stay in the match focused and have the mind strong enough to a point where the wrestler won’t say: I don’t belong here. I could see that development in both of those guys and that is was real.

WIN: Gross nearly lost his first match at the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. And both wrestlers lost the first match in the Best-of-3 Final X but found a way to rally and win the second and third bouts. How could they develop confidence from early setbacks?

GABLE: Wrestlers are going to make mistakes. They can’t make them in a row, which would negatively affect a wrestler. Gross might have made a mistake early, but he followed that with several good things like coming back to pin the top seed Nico Megaludis.

I was recently watching a high school baseball game and a player came out to pitch. He threw something like 12 balls in a row and had to be pulled. I had seen him pitch before and he was considered really good. What was the difference? He later said he didn’t know he was going in. That shows that an athlete, including wrestlers, must be ready to compete. I’m not sure Gross was (ready) at the start of the Challenge tournament but made changes fast.

WIN: Are you saying a wrestler’s focus plays a big part in winning more matches?

GABLE: The mental development that caused their focus to stay longer and helped them be more confident because of close matches allowed them to keep that concentration longer into (recent) matches.

I would say there was more development by the winners during this World Team qualification process. There was something about the wrestlers who didn’t win; whether it was doubt or hesitation. It was progress for the winners. Regarding Gross and Zillmer, I’m not sure they had enough of that progress before this year’s Trials. That development takes time and most of the development is between a wrestler’s ears.

WIN: Zillmer got in deep against Gwiazdowski in the first match but could not lift and score against him. But, he was able to do so late in the second and third matches. How does that happen?

GABLE: He either did not believe in his ability or was not where he needed to be in the first match to handle that situation. A good coach sees his wrestler’s potential and can communicate it, and I believe that is what happened with Zillmer and Gross.

WIN: Now that Gross and Zillmer have qualified for their first Worlds, how do they duplicate in Serbia what they showed in the qualification events, especially since the Worlds are not for three months?

GABLE: Even though you may call it their first World Championships, they have been wrestling guys who have done well on the World stage. They showed signs and can say, “I can go with these guys.” All along, I’ve seen this potential to say they are strong enough to be a World competitor.

WIN: There is always criticism about the international rules and the way officials call them. How does the sport and athlete overcome this?

GABLE: I feel like you have to put points on the scoreboard right away to keep the referee out of the matches. Wrestlers must take matters into their own hands and not rely on an official’s call.

When wrestlers start to hang out, there is going to be a verbal warning and eventually a shot clock in freestyle. All these rules should tell us something that the athletes should determine the actual points instead of the officials. What I don’t like is that it appears officials warn both wrestlers in a close match and sometimes put both wrestlers on the clock so they both have a chance.

If I was wrestling with these rules, I wouldn’t be thinking of a shot clock. I would be in charge of the match because I would be the guy initiating.

2022 USA Men’s World Freestyle Team

The following wrestlers will represent the United States at the 2022 United World Wrestling World Championships this September in Belgrade, Serbia. This includes their wrestling clubs, age, hometown and current residence … as well as any past World/Olympic/NCAA experience.

57k/125lb — Thomas Gilman (Nittany Lion WC/TMWC), 28, Council Bluffs, Iowa/State College Pa.

• Fourth World Team (gold in 2021, silver in 2017, and competed in 2018)

• 2020 Olympic bronze medalist

• Three-time NCAA All-American at Iowa

61k/134.5lb — Seth Gross (Sunkist Kids/Wisconsin RTC), 26, Apple Valley, Minn./Madison, Wisc.

• First World/Olympic team

• 2018 NCAA champ/2-time AA at South Dakota State/Wisconsin in 2020

65k/143.5lb — Yianni Diakomihalis (Spartan Combat/TMWC), 23, Rochester, N.Y./Ithaca, N.Y.

• Second World Team/also competed in 2021 Worlds

• Current senior at Cornell, where he has won three NCAA titles

70k/154lb — Zain Retherford (Nittany Lion WC/TMWC), 27, Benton, Pa./State College, Pa.

• Third World Team/also competed in 2017 and 2019 (both at 65k)

• Three-time NCAA champ/two-time Hodge Trophy winner from Penn State

74k/163lb — Kyle Dake (Spartan Combat/TMWC), 29, Ithaca, N.Y./Ithaca, N.Y.

• Fourth World Team/also competed and won titles in 2018 and 2019 at 79k and another at 74k in 2021

• 2020 Olympic bronze medalist

• Four-time NCAA champ from Cornell, 2013 Hodge Trophy winner

79k/174lb — Jordan Burroughs (Penn RTC/Sunkist Kids), 33, Philadelphia, Pa./Sicklerville, N.J.

• Ninth World Team/won gold in 2011, 2013, 2015, 2017 (all at 74k) and 2021 (79k)/bronze in 2014, 2018 and 2019 (all at 74k)

• Two-time Olympian/won gold in 2012 and also competed in 2016 (both at 74k)

• Two-time NCAA champ and Hodge Trophy winner (2011) from Nebraska

86k/189lb — David Taylor (Nittany Lion WC/TMWC), 31, St. Paris, Ohio/State College, Pa.

• Third World Team/won gold in 2018 and silver in 2021

• 2020 Olympic gold medalist

• Two-time NCAA champ and two-time Hodge Trophy winner from Penn State

92k/203lb — J’den Cox (Cliff Keen RTC/TMWC), 27, Columbia, Mo./Colorado Springs, Colo.

• Fifth World Team/won gold in 2018 and 2019/bronze in 2017 (86k) and 2021 (92k)

• 2016 Olympic bronze medalist

• Three-time NCAA champ from Missouri

97k/213lb — Kyle Snyder (Nittany Lion WC/TMWC), 26, Silver Spring, Md./State College, Pa.

• Sixth World Team/won gold in 2015 and 2017/silver in 2018, 2019 and 2021

• Two-time Olympian/won gold in 2016 and silver in 2020

• Three-time NCAA champ from Ohio State

125k/275.5lb — Hayden Zillmer (Gopher WC), 29, Crosby, Minn./Minneapolis, Minn.

• First World Team

• Reached 2018 Final X at 92k (lost to J’den Cox)

• 2015 All-American (184 pounds) at North Dakota State