By Mike Finn
In last week’s WIN eNews, we listed five of the Top 10 moments — numbers 6 to 10 — by American freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers over the past year. Here are the Top 5 moments and entire list.
For on that second Tuesday in February, the executive board of the International Olympic Committee proposed that wrestling — one of the original sports in the first modern Games in 1896 — be dropped as one of the 25 core sports of future Olympics, following the 2016 Games in Rio.
That proposal, which is be voted on again in late May by the board and in September by the entire IOC Congress, provided a shock wave all over the world. Since then, FILA made drastic leadership changes and many countries have been organizing “Save Olympic Wrestling” events, where many fans and athletes pose for group photos in hopes of changing the minds of the IOC board.
2. Burroughs & Varner win Olympic gold in London — Few American wrestlers in freestyle have enjoyed quicker international success than Jordan Burroughs. The 2011 Hodge Trophy winner and two-time NCAA champion from Nebraska has not only qualified for the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics but won gold medals in both events at 163 pounds in less than two years since graduating from college.
Burroughs extended his spotless international record when he won all four matches in the ExCel Arena, including a quarterfinal win over former Stanford All-American Matt Gentry, representing Canada, before needing three periods to beat Russian Denis Tsargush and Iranian Sadegh Goudarzi in the gold medal match.
But what made the American effort in London last August even more impressive was that 211.5-pound Jake Varner joined Burroughs on the highest step of the medal stand when he rallied to beat Georgi Gogshelidze (Georgia), 0-2, 1-0, 1-0, in the semifinals before blanking Valeri Andriitsev (Ukraine), 1-0, 1-0, for the gold medal.
This marked the first time since 1996 that the U.S. came home with two gold medals.
3. Beat the Streets brings Russia & Iran to NYC & LA — In world politics, the United States has been on opposite sides of Russia and Iran. But when it comes to wrestling, the countries appear to be on the same page and proved it in two separate events on both geographic sides of the U.S.
On May 15, both Russia and Iran competed against the American freestyle team as part of the Beat the Streets event — Rumble on the Rails — in Grand Central Station in New York City. In the exhibition in NYC, the U.S. beat Russia 9-1 in a combination of matches in men’s and women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman, while Iran defeated the American squad 6-1, with the only win coming from Kyle Dake who won his first international match at 163 pounds.
Four days later, May 19, a team from Iran traveled across the country to Los Angeles for the “United 4 Wrestling” event in the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
4. Bill Farrell passes away — The United States freestyle teams have competed on the World stage in wrestling since 1904 — when 21 Americans won medals at the St. Louis Olympics — and then added 38 more Olympic medals through the 1960 Games in Rome where three U.S. wrestlers won gold medals.
But then came a drought in 1964 and ’68, when the U.S. only managed three total medals.
Fortunately, that void lasted only a decade, as Bill Farrell became the head coach in 1972 and led the Americans to six medals — three gold by Dan Gable, Wayne Wells and Ben Peterson — in Munich, West Germany. For a man who never wrestled in high school or college, he was considered a visionary — including in public relations — for USA Wrestling.
On June 9, 2012, the 82-year-old Farrell passed away in Long Island, N.Y.
“Our sport lost an icon today, someone who was truly personally responsible for the development and growth of wrestling worldwide,” said USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender. “We truly celebrate Bill’s involvement and leadership in wrestling. His legacy will last forever.”
• Here are moments 6-10 that were published in WIN’s May 16 eNews.
6. Pirozhkova and Gray win World gold medals — The summer of 2012 did not end on a high note for Elena Pirozhkova or Adeline Gray, former World medalists, who failed to make an impact at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Pirozhkova competed in just one match and lost at 138.75 pounds, while Gray did not make the team at 158 pounds (one of just four Olympic weights for women and up one weight from where Gray normally competed).
But fortunately, FILA offered a World Championship in women’s freestyle in late September in Sherwood, Canada, where each wrestler won a gold medal.
Gray, a World bronze medalist in 2011, pinned Canada’s Dorothy Yeats in the finals at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. Pirozhkova, a World silver medalist in 2010, downed Bulgaria’s Taybe Yusein 2-1, 2-5, 1-0 in the finals at 63 kg/138.75 lbs.
7. Ellis Coleman’s Flying Squirrel illustrated in ESPN The Magazine — It was a move — where a wrestler leaps over the head of his opponent and grabs his foe with a reverse gut on the way down — that Coleman executed at the 2011 Junior Worlds in Greco-Roman. Over a year and a half later, ESPN The Magazine illustrated the move by the 2012 Olympian — combining a series of photos — and published the move in their January 24, 2013 issue.
8. Unseeded Kellen Russell wins U.S. Open — No wrestler won more matches at the 2013 ASICS U.S. Open in Las Vegas than Kellen Russell, the former two-time (2011 and ’12) NCAA champion from Michigan. Because he was not seeded, he first had to win three matches in the qualifying tournament on April 18, then added four more wins on April 19, including a 0-1, 2-2, 1-0 victory in the finals against Jordan Oliver, the former two-time NCAA champ from Oklahoma State. Oliver reached the finals with a 1-0, 0-1, 1-0 victory over former World Team member Brent Metcalf.
9. Doctor & Marine win U.S. Open in Greco-Roman — It wasn’t the first time John Wechter and David Arendt competed at the U.S. Open before capturing titles at 211.5 pounds and heavyweight, respectively, at the 2013 Nationals in Las Vegas.
Wechter, a former Michigan State collegiate wrestler, had not competed at the U.S. Open since 2009. Between then and now, he spent his time as a 33-year-old orthopedic surgeon resident in Minneapolis … where he eventually started training again for the Minnesota Storm club which excels in preparing Greco-Roman wrestlers.
“One thing I’ve learned is that it is a really big mental game,” said Wechter, who defeated Ryan Halsey for the title. “I had to have a plan and stick to it. Once I started thinking about all those things like who remembers or respects me, that’s when it gets bad. I trust in God and everything I do with my plan, everything will turn out well.”
Meanwhile, Arendt spent two tours of duty in Afghanistan since last competing at the 2009 World Team Trials.
“I love the opportunity that I can do this,” said Arendt, who defeated Erik Nye — who upset 2012 Olympian Dremiel Byers earlier in the tournament — in the finals. “It shows the people serving overseas are good but don’t have the opportunity to do this. I do this for those guys … so they have someone to look to and say, ‘He’s been here too and comes back and succeeds on the mat.’ ”
10. McKnight, Keddy and Rey win Pan Am freestyle golds, as the USA takes the team title in Panama — The United States had three individual champions and six medalists, and won the team title at the Pan American Championships in men’s freestyle on April 7, 2013.
Claiming individual titles for Team USA were Mark McKnight (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC) at 55 kg/121 lbs., Phil Keddy, Iowa City, Iowa (Hawkeye WC) at 84 kg/185 lbs. and Zach Rey, Hopatcong, N.J. (Lehigh Valley AC) at 120 kg/264.5 lbs.
“The guys did an awesome job today. They wrestled hard and smart. We were very close to having seven finalists. Coach Mike Duroe and I are extremely proud of these guys. It has been a pleasure being a part of this great group of young men,” said U.S. coach Chris Bono.