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Class By Class: Who To Watch At The Olympic Wrestling Trials

By Stuart Lieberman | April 05, 2016, 6:13 p.m. (ET)

The U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling will be the first of nine different sport trials featured on the networks of NBC in the months leading up to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. The two-day wrestling trials begin Saturday in Iowa City, where 18 weight classes will be contested, including six each in men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman. NBCSN will provide five hours of Olympic Trials coverage, beginning at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday and continuing on Sunday at 10:30 p.m. ET.

Here’s a look at who to watch in the nine weight classes in which Team USA has already earned Olympic quota spots. U.S. wrestlers will have additional opportunities to earn quota spots in May and June.

Men’s freestyle: 57 kg.

While the field for this event includes London 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Coleman Scott and Olympian Sam Hazewinkel, all eyes are expected to be on two-time U.S. world team member Tony Ramos, who has an undefeated record against domestic competition over the last two years. Ramos has earned international gold medals at the Grand Prix of Paris and Canada Cup, and also won the U.S. Open last year.

Men’s freestyle: 74 kg.

Arguably the best-known U.S. wrestler today, Olympic and three-time world champion Jordan Burroughs is a heavy favorite to win this category at the trials. Burroughs, also a favorite to follow on social media (@alliseeisgold on Twitter), will sit out until the best two-of-three finals as he looks to improve his astounding 122-2 record on the senior level. Team USA qualified for the 74 kg. category at Rio 2016 after Burroughs won the 2015 world title in Las Vegas last September. Topping his list of his challengers in Iowa City will be 2016 U.S. Open champion Andrew Howe.

Men’s freestyle: 97 kg.

This weight class is expected to be a two-horse race between London 2012 Olympic champion Jake Varner and 2015 world and Pan American champion Kyle Snyder. After London 2012, Varner took a break from the sport to welcome his first child, but has steadily been progressing back to form since his return. Twenty-year-old Snyder, meanwhile, burst onto the scene last year by earning three wins over Varner as well as his first world championships medal, which just so happened to be gold. Snyder also won the 2016 NCAA championships.

Men’s freestyle: 125 kg.

America’s top heavyweights in recent years have been 2012 Olympian and two-time world bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev, and past NCAA champion and Pan American Games champions Zach Rey. Dlagnev, last year’s U.S. Open and World Team Trials champion, was injured and couldn’t participate at the 2015 world championships, but should he qualify he’s expected to be one of the top U.S. medal hopes for wrestling in Rio.

Women’s freestyle: 63 kg.

This category could be a battle between 2015 world team member Erin Clodgo and 2012 Olympian and four-time world medalist Elena Pirozhkova. Earlier this year, Clodgo earned the U.S. spot for Rio by virtue of her first-place finish at the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier in Frisco, Texas. The 2015 Pan American Games bronze medalist will be up against Pirozhkova, who’s returning to this weight class and has been on every U.S. Olympic and world team since 2008. Pirozhkova competed at 69 kg. in 2015, but she is back down to 63 kg. this year.

Women’s freestyle: 75 kg.

Three-time world champion Adeline Gray, looking to make her first Olympic team, is the one to beat in this category. A resident athlete of the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Gray has the potential to become the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. She has won more than 35 straight matches — including the Rio 2016 Test Event in February — stretching back to July 2014. Gray's 2015 world gold medal automatically advances her to the best two-of-three championship series. Among the contenders to face Gray is Iris Smith, the 2005 world champion who at age 36 is the No. 3 seed at Olympic Trials.

Greco-Roman: 75 kg.

Two-time world bronze medalist Andy Bisek has made every U.S. world team this quadrennial, and last year he beat two past world champions en route to his third-place finish on the international stage. Courtesy of winning a 2015 world championship medal, he has automatically advanced to the best two-of-three championship series and will wrestle the winner of the challenge tournament bracket for the Olympic berth. That spot is favored to go to two-time world bronze medalist and 2012 Olympian Justin Lester.

Greco-Roman: 85 kg.

Jordan Holm has owned this weight class for the full Olympic cycle, having been a four-time U.S. world team member and won three straight U.S. Open titles. He placed second in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, so the five-year national team member is still looking for his first Olympic appearance. Holm’s toughest competitor in Iowa City is bound to be U.S. Army Capt. Jon Anderson, who was the 2015 Pan American Games champion.

Greco-Roman: 130 kg.

Top-ranked American heavyweight Robby Smith, a 2015 Pan American Games bronze medalist and two-time U.S. Open champion, has been the breakthrough athlete in this category since moving up from the 96 kg. division in 2013. The bushy-bearded heavyweight with the big smile and American flag socks has had a lifetime goal of becoming an Olympian, and he looks all lined up to do that next weekend. Smith finished fifth at the 2015 world championships, qualifying the weight class for Team USA in Rio.

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.