As the days rapidly count down to the London 2012 Olympic Games, TeamUSA.org takes a closer look at some of the sports that will be contested there. In this edition, we explore 12 Things you might not know about wrestling.
AWAITING THE CHALLENGERS: At the U.S. Olympic Trials, which will be held April 21-22 in Iowa City, Iowa, the No. 1 seed in each of the seven men’s weight classes and four women’s weight classes will face the winner of the stamina-testing challenge round. The system for determining the No. 1 seed includes those who won medals at the FILA World Championships, U.S. Open champions or medalists at the U.S. World Team Trials. Winners of the final rounds at the Olympic Trials qualify for the U.S. Olympic Team, pending nomination by the United States Olympic Committee.
YOUNGEST TO WIN GOLD: The youngest U.S. wrestler to win Olympic gold, Henry Cejudo, will attempt to make his second Olympic team in the 55kg weight class in men’s freestyle. Cejudo was just 21 years old when he won gold at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. He is attempting to become just the fourth wrestler in U.S. history to win two Olympic titles. The other three: George Mehnert, 1904 and 1908; Bruce Baumgartner, 1984 and 1992; John Smith, 1988 and 1992.
GRECO-ROMAN: The Greco-Roman discipline goes all the way back to the start of the modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896. Olympic organizers believed it was important to include a sport that was popular in the Ancient Greek Olympic Games. The sport traces its Olympic roots all the way back to 708 B.C. In Greco-Roman, athletes may use only their arms and upper bodies to attack their opponents’ upper bodies. Only men participate in Olympic Greco-Roman competition. Rulon Gardner won the Olympic gold medal in 2000 in a match now known as “The Miracle on the Mat” in which he beat the legendary Russian Aleksandr Karelin in the super heavyweight division. Only two other Americans have won Olympic gold medals in Greco-Roman: Jeff Blatnick and Steve Fraser, both of whom won at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympic Games.
FREESTYLE: In freestyle wrestling, an athlete may use all parts of their body to put holds on their opponent or score takedowns. Wrestlers aim to pin their opponents to the mat, or score points with a throwdown or takedown. Freestyle evolved from “Catch as Catch Can,” a variety of wrestling made popular at festivals in the United States and Great Britain. Men’s freestyle made its Olympic debut at the St. Louis 1904 Olympic Games. Since 1920, freestyle has been a part of every Olympic Games. Women’s freestyle made its debut at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
THE EQUIPMENT: Besides a good bit of muscle, the only equipment you’ll see on a wrestler is a wrestling suit and wrestling shoes, and sometimes headgear. The shoes have no heels or studs. At the Olympic Games, all wrestling suits are red or blue.
ALL HE SEES IS GOLD: Two-time NCAA wrestling champion Jordan Burroughs has been anointed by many as the next great star in USA Wrestling, and it is easy to see why. He had two unbeaten seasons at Nebraska, and since graduating he has been unbeaten in eight international competitions. Included among those: a title at the 2011 FILA World Championships. Burroughs is the No. 1 seed at the U.S. Olympic Trials at 74kg/163 pounds. And, yes, all he sees is gold. His personal website is: alliseeisgold.com. His Twitter account: @alliseeisgold.
GOING FOR FOUR: Dennis Hall, who was a silver medalist at the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, is attempting to make his fourth Olympic team. He made his Olympic debut in 1992 and also competed at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. He’ll compete in the 60kg weight class in Greco-Roman. “I made the decision to come back and see if I can do it and give my four kids a chance to see me give it my all one last Olympic Cycle,” Hall said. A 10-time national champion, Hall is an assistant wrestling coach at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, and he also leads wrestling camps through World Gold Wrestling.
FROM RUSSIA TO USA: Elena Pirozhkova, a U.S. contender in women’s freestyle at 63kg, is a native Russian who moved to Greenfield, Mass., when she was just 3 years old. Since taking up wrestling in seventh grade when her older brother, Viktor, asked her to join his team, Pirozhkova has risen to the top of women’s freestyle. She has won gold at the Pan American Championships four consecutive years and won the U.S. Open title the last two years. At the Olympic Trials finals, she is likely to face one of the wrestlers she trains with at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. “A lot of the people that I’d most likely wrestle in the finals, I train with at the OTC. We all know each other pretty well,” she said.
THE OLYMPIC EVENTS: In all, 344 athletes will compete for medals in 18 events. There are seven weight classes in both men’s freestyle and Greco-Roman: 55kg, 60kg, 66kg, 74kg, 84kg, 96kg, 120kg. In women’s freestyle, there are four weight classes: 48kg, 55kg, 63kg, 72kg.
GRAPPLING AT THE EXCEL: All of the Olympic wrestling competition will be held at London’s ExCel, a multi-purpose facility that will also be used for several other Olympic and Paralympic events. The wrestling competition begins Aug. 5 and will end a week later.
MARATHON MATCH: The longest Olympics wrestling match took 11 hours to complete. At the Stockholm 1912 Olympic Games, Russia’s Martin Klein and Finland’s Alfred Asikainen battled for nearly half a day.
NORTHERN MICHIGAN CONNECTION: No college has more wrestlers in the Olympic Trials than Northern Michigan, which is located in the Michigan Upper Peninsula in Marquette. The university is host to one of the Olympic Training Centers. Thirty NMU wrestlers are in the Trials, including U.S. Open champion Spenser Mango at 55kg in Greco-Roman.
SOURCES: USA Wrestling, themat.com, london2012.com, olympic.org