IOWA CITY, Iowa – The U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City mark the first opportunity for wrestlers to qualify for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team and Day 1 of the event contained all the usual drama and excitement that surrounds any Olympic qualification tournament.
Eighteen Olympic weight classes – six each in men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle and Greco-Roman – will be competed across Saturday and Sunday. Of the nine weight classes competing on Saturday, the U.S. has already earned Olympic quota spots for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in three.
The Olympic Trials winners in the remaining six weight classes will look to earn their births by competing later this month in Mongolia and, if necessary, in Turkey in May.
Elena Pirozhkova, Ben Provisor and Tervel Dlagnev - all 2012 Olympians - were the first athletes to qualify for the 2016 Olympic team.
Women’s freestyle 63 kg. champion: Elena Pirozhkova
Olympic experience: 2012 Olympic Games, 14th
Senior world championships experience: Eight-time world team member, four-time world medalist (2012, gold; 2010, silver; 2014, silver; 2013, bronze)
Olympic Trials journey: Pirozhkova was the No. 1-ranked women’s 63 kg. wrestler at Olympic Trials in the top-eight rankings. She had to win against four matches to qualify for her second Olympic team. She started out with a 10-0 technical fall over Olivia Seppinni before her 11-1 technical fall over Alexis Porter in the quarterfinal and 5-1 decision over Jennifer Page in the semifinal. In the championship match, Pirozhkova took on No. 2-ranked Erin Clodgo and took the first two matches to quickly qualify.
How the quota was earned: Erin Clodgo earned the Olympic quota spot for the U.S. by winning the Pan American Olympic Qualification event last month in Dallas.
On making her second Olympic team: "To make an Olympic team is awesome and exciting, but last time it was awesome just to make the team; this time I made the team and I’m thinking, it’s just a step in the way to make my goal."
Of note: At Olympic Trials, Pirozhkova sported purple streaks in her hair. She says "I think purple says something about me now. I think it makes me more edgy, I think it makes me more sassy."
Greco-Roman 85 kg. champion: Ben Provisor
Olympic experience: 2012 Olympic Games, 11th
Senior world championships experience: None
Olympic Trials journey: Provisor entered the Olympic Trials ranked fourth in the top-eight rankings. He had a bye in the first round, then won in a 4-1 decision over Patrick Martinez before taking No. 1-ranked Jordan Holm in a 3-0 decision in the semifinal. To win the Olympic Trials and claim a spot on his second Olympic team, Provisor overcame No. 3-ranked Jacob Clark in the first two bouts of the best-of-three championship match.
How the quota was earned: Team USA’s Olympic quota spot at 85 kg. was earned by Jordan Holm at the Pan American Olympic Qualification event last month in Dallas.
On how he will prepare for Rio: "I’m going to scout everyone who I’ll wrestle and I’m going to go 100 percent every day. That’s it."
Of note: Provisor is married to Leigh Jaynes-Provisor, a 2015 world bronze medalist for Team USA who failed to qualify in the women's 63 kg. class earlier Saturday after a first-round loss. "It definitely sucked that she didn’t achieve her goal," Ben said. "Of course I’m cheering for her to do her best, but she didn’t make weight so that’s also a big thing; she had to move up a weight class. It’s an unfortunate thing, but it’s going to be a positive for the Provisors today."
Men’s freestyle 125 kg. champion: Tervel Dlagnev
Olympic experience: 2012 Olympic Games, fifth
Senior world championships experience: Four-time world team member, two-time world bronze medalist (2009, 2014)
Olympic Trials journey: No. 1-ranked Dlagnev had a bye in the first round of Olympic Trials and would only need four matches (against three opponents) to win a spot on his second consecutive Olympic team. In the quarterfinals, Dlagnev won 10-0 over Connor Medbery in technical fall before a 5-1 decision over Dominique Bradley in the semis. Dlagnev wrestled No. 2-ranked Zach Rey, a 2015 Pan American Games champion, in the best-of-three championship match, winning the first two matches with 3-1 and 5-3 decisions.
How the quota was earned: Dlagnev earned the Olympic quota spot for his country at last month’s Pan American Olympic Qualification event in Dallas.
On making his second Olympic team: "You always want to walk away with the cool story where it’s like, ‘Yeah it was hard, I leaned on the Lord, and I won.’ My interview was going to be the same even if I lost. I’m glad I have an opportunity in Rio, but my perspective still hasn’t changed; it’s going to be hard."
Six more athletes won their weight classes Saturday night and will next aim to qualify their weight class internationally in Mongolia later this month. Those six athletes are Kelsey Campbell (women's 58 kg.), Tamyra Mensah (women's 69 kg.), Jesse Thielke (Greco-Roman 59 kg.), Frank Molinaro (men's freestyle 65 kg.), RaVaughan Perkins (Greco-Roman 66 kg.) and Josef Rau (Greco-Roman 98 kg).