Thursday, August 18, 2016

Everything You Need to Know About USA Wrestling in the 2016 Olympics

The Olympics have now been underway for nearly two weeks, and if you have missed any of the action, don't worry; you still haven't missed much (Greco and Women's Freestyle wrestling did start earlier this week). That's because tomorrow starts the men's freestyle wrestling competition. It may last three days, but these are wrestlers, which just means that they only do two weight classes from start to finish in a day. Within about eight hours, you have to clean out the best in your division to earn a gold medal. It's beautiful, it's wonderful, and it's the only sport you need to watch in the Olympics. And judging by the demographics of this website, you're probably most interested in how the USA is going to do at each weight class, so let's break it down, starting with the lowest chances and working our way up to who has the best chance of claiming Gold in Rio.

65 KG - Frank Molinaro
Am I a Frank Molinaro hater? Yeah, pretty much. Even when he won a NCAA title at 149, it was against a fairly weak class that year. The fact that he tied two of his matches but won on criteria to get the US spot didn't inspire a lot of confidence (I was also bitter about that first tie taking out personal favorite, Brent Metcalf). Then he went to Turkey to qualify the US for the Olympics and lost a must-win match. So that was that, and the US will not have anyone in Rio at 65 KG.

But wait, he managed to get in because somebody else got busted for doping. And to be fair, he's wrestling way better than he ever has. Sure, a lot of matches, he's pulling something out of his ass, but you have to be incredibly good just to be in position to pull something out of your ass. I don't see that luck continuing, and I'd be surprised if he got a win this weekend.

57 KG - Daniel Dennis
You have no idea how badly I would like to put Daniel Dennis higher on this list, but I can't do it. If there is one American that even non-Americans could get behind, it's Daniel Dennis. The guy had the most hearbreaking NCAA Finals loss in history. I'm not talking about one of the most heartbreaking, it is the hands down winner for most heartbreaking loss.

I still get ill watching it; I cannot imagine what he went through when it happened. And that's not the craziest part of his story. He gave up wrestling for years where he lived in a trailer with no television or internet; that was a step up from the half year that he spent living in his truck. And somehow, after all of that, he came back better than ever. He had to beat his own teammate in the US Trial finals, and he went out and dominated. With a story like that, he's probably got a pretty impressive Wikipedia page. Well, here's a screenshot:
That's the entire thing. You don't even have to scroll down to fit it all in, and about half of that is the table of contents and references. This is the difference between wrestlers and other sports stars. Hell, The top E-Gamer at 57 KG in the US probably has a Wikipedia page 50 times this long (of course I'm pretty sure e-gamers only come in at 57 KG or super heavyweight, so maybe it's a bigger deal).

To make it to the Olympics from where he was is incredible. But I'm going to be pulling for an even greater climax in his story. He's not going to be favored, but I'm definitely not going to count him out.

125 KG - Tervel Dlagnev
I know he doesn't sound like an American, but trust me, he is, and he's definitely the best heavyweight the US has. He has constantly been in the mix at World Championships, but it seems like he kind of stalls out in that 3-6 range and can't quite make it to the elite of the elite. He has also struggled with some injuries over the past year, and the current rankings reflect that (currently #14) so I can't really see him taking a step forward. It's tough to envision him making the podium, but he's had far more international success than everyone but the top two guys on this list, so it wouldn't be crazy to see him wrestling for a Bronze.

86 KG - J'Den Cox
J'Den Cox is probably the biggest wildcard on Team USA (I mean, he's the only guy on the team with a shorter Wikipedia than Dan Dennis). He could easily be eliminated immediately, and that will be that. But he's also incredibly athletic, and also incredibly big for 86 KG. He's long and strong, so I guess he's down to get the freak shit on. But he's just such a different matchup from the other guys in this weight that he could cause some issues. His technique is not going to be nearly as polished as some of the Eastern European countries he'll be squaring off against, but if there's an American that can come out of nowhere to make it to the championship, this is the guy to pick.

As for winning the gold...um, no. Unfortunately for Cox, there's this Russian named Abdulrashid Saulaev. Even if Cox gets eliminated early, you should watch Sadulaev, because he is that awesome. He might be the best wrestler at any weight class right now, although I favor the guy at the end of this list.

97 KG - Kyle Snyder
Snyder won the World Championships last year at the age of 19. That is so stupidly impressive and amazing that I still haven't totally wrapped my head around it. He comes into these games ranked number four as he has had some close losses at international tournaments. Even those losses were questionable as the reffing at some of these international tournaments are...less than fair. Oh, and in between those international tournaments, he bumped up to heavyweight and won a National Title. What I'm trying to say is Kyle Snyder is really freaking good at wrestling. Even with that, when you search Wikipedia for Kyle Snyder, this is what you get:

The first result is a pitcher who played three seasons in the mid-2000s and had an ERA of nearly 6.00. He outranks the World Champion Wrestler.

Anyway, if I was betting on this weight class, I'd take Snyder. He's so young that he's constantly improving, and he was already good enough to win a World Championship. Without questionable officiating, I don't think anyone can knock him off, and he has the potential to become a generational talent.

74 KG - Jordan Burroughs
Speaking of generational talents, that is exactly what Jordan Burroughs is. He's accomplished so much in wrestling that it's absolutely stupid at this point. Some have referred to him as the Michael Jordan of wrestling, and that's not an outrageous statement. I mean, the guy once won a World Championship with a broken ankle. On top of that, he's an ideal ambassador for the sport as a whole. Sure, he's not quite as explosive as he was four years ago, but what he's lost in that area, he's gained in technique as he's far better at turning guys and racking up points on the mat. I can't explain Jordan Burroughs. He's the best wrestler in the world. but even that doesn't do him justice. No matter what the sport is, to watch someone special in his craft is a religious experience. Jordan Burroughs wrestles tomorrow. Don't miss it.

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