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World Team Trials Offers New Sense Of Hope For U.S. Greco-Roman Team

By Craig Sesker | April 25, 2017, 6:22 p.m. (ET)

Ben Provisor (L) competes against Jacob Clark at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on April 9, 2016 in Iowa City, Iowa.

 

It was nearly a decade ago when the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team did the unthinkable, pulling out a dramatic one-point win over Russia at the 2007 world championships to win its first world team title.

In recent years, that victory has seemed more like 100 years ago than 10 years ago.

It has largely been a struggle for the American Greco program since then. The United States has been shut out in medals at the last two Olympic Games, and it won just a total of four world-level medals in the last nine years.

Can American wrestling reach that championship level again in Greco?

“We want to have the best team in the world — that’s what we’re all working for,” said U.S. coach Matt Lindland, an Olympic and world silver medalist. “Obviously, we’ve got to get a lot better. I believe in the guys we have and we need to develop more athletes and keep building for the future.”

Much of Lindland’s job of rebuilding the U.S. program is convincing American wrestlers to compete in Greco-Roman, a style considerably less popular in the United States than the other international style, freestyle.

That process continues with U.S. Senior Greco-Roman World Team Trials this weekend in Las Vegas. Champions in Vegas advance to August’s world championships in Paris.

Here are some storylines to watch in Greco this weekend:

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Dynamic Duo Of Bey, Hancock Make Splash At Early Age

Two gifted junior-age wrestlers won titles at the U.S. Open this season with Kamal Bey (75 kg.) and G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg.) leading a big youth movement in Greco. Bey and Hancock are big-time athletes with big-move arsenals. Both have the potential to one day land a spot on an Olympic or world podium.

“These guys are pretty new to our program and have just started wrestling Greco full-time,” Lindland said. “Hopefully, by just focusing on Greco we can see some good results down the road. But it’s a process. It takes time to develop these guys.”

 

One More Run For Robby

Colorful heavyweight Robby Smith, who narrowly missed winning a world medal in 2015, is back this season. Smith, a 2016 Olympian, can wrestle with anybody, and if the fire and hunger are at the level they have been in the past, look for him to contend for a medal.

Smith, who sports a bushy beard and fun-loving, outgoing personality, is a crowd favorite who pushes the pace and often breaks opponents with his superior conditioning. Smith has been a leader and a mentor to younger wrestlers in trying to rejuvenate the Greco program.

 

Plenty Of Depth And Talent At 59 Kg.

A tough and deep group of Americans is at 130 pounds, led by Olympian Jesse Thielke and talented Ryan Mango. Thielke and Mango have battled each other since they were in elementary school, and they could square off again with a world team spot on the line in Vegas. Thielke is a junior world medalist who also has placed in the top 10 at the senior worlds. Mango is the younger brother of two-time Olympian Spenser Mango.

 

Veterans Look For Breakthroughs

Ben Provisor has made the last two Olympic teams. Patrick Martinez has made two world teams. Now the two veterans are expected to meet at 85 kg. Both wrestlers are considered capable of making runs at the podium, and the first year of a new Olympic cycle is often a good opportunity to do that with a number of wrestlers retiring or taking a year off after the Games.

 

When Will The Medal Drought End?

The United States has won just two total medals, both bronze, in the last four Olympic competitions in Greco.

The last U.S. Greco wrestler to win an individual gold medal at an Olympic Games or world championships was Joe Warren, who won a world title in 2006. The last U.S. Greco wrestler to reach the finals at an Olympic Games or world championships was Dremiel Byers, who placed second in the world in 2009.

Lindland succeeded long-time coach Steve Fraser as U.S. Greco-Roman coach in the spring of 2014, and American Andy Bisek earned bronze medals at the 2014 and 2015 world championships. The program seemed to be making gains.

But 2016 didn’t turn out as planned. U.S. wrestlers fell short of qualifying for Rio in two of the six Olympic weight classes in Greco-Roman. And then a dismal showing in Brazil followed, with no Americans reaching the medal round.

Smith said the Olympic performance in Rio wasn’t indicative of the strength of the U.S. team.

“This team is way better than what we showed at the Olympics — way better,” Smith said. “We are a strong group of guys and we will come back even stronger. We aren’t about to give up.”

Craig Sesker is a sportswriter based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado. He has covered three Olympic Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.