The year after an Olympic Games is typically a huge year of transition for most sports, as many athletes retire or step away from competition.
That’s one of the reasons that the wrestling world championships are so intriguing this year.
Yes, there are a lot of new faces. But the United States also returns nearly all of its star athletes from the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Rio Olympic gold medalists Kyle Snyder and Helen Maroulis are back, along with bronze medalist J’den Cox.
Those athletes will all be on the mat during the world championships, set for Aug. 21-26 in Paris.
Here are six burning questions for the U.S. squad entering the world championships.
1) Is This The Year For An American Team Title?
The U.S. hasn’t won a world team title in men’s freestyle wrestling since 1995. That drought could end this year. This American world team includes two Olympic and world champions, a world champion, an Olympic bronze medalist, a world bronze medalist, a junior world medalist and a cadet world champion.
Traditional powers Russia and Iran look very strong once again, but they’re not unbeatable.
The U.S. has talked about reaching the top step of the team podium. This looks like the year it could become a reality under first-year American coach Bill Zadick.
2) Can J’den Cox Pull Off An Encore Performance?
J’den Cox came out of virtually nowhere, at least on the international scene, to earn an Olympic bronze medal in Rio. He nearly made the finals.
Cox finished his collegiate career with a third NCAA title for Missouri in March, yet most observers were picking David Taylor to beat Cox at the World Team Trials.
But Cox dug down, even after injuring his leg, to beat Taylor and make his first world team. Cox is very big and mobile for the weight class of 86 kg. and is a very tough matchup for his international opponents. If Cox is healthy, he can make a run at gold in Paris.
3) Will The Greco-Roman Team Bounce Back?
It’s been a struggle for the U.S. Greco-Roman program at the senior level in recent years. A subpar performance in Rio didn’t sit well with coach Matt Lindland, an Olympic silver medalist and world silver medalist.
The U.S. has a chance to bounce back in Paris with a veteran team led by Olympians Robby Smith, Ben Provisor and Ellis Coleman.
The U.S. had two finalists, including a champion in Kamal Bey, in Greco at the junior world championships earlier this month in Finland. Can the senior level athletes follow suit?
4) Will There Be More Odd-Year Magic For Jordan Burroughs?
Jordan Burroughs is the guy with the well-known “alliseeisgold” Twitter handle. But all Burroughs saw was devastation last year after the world’s top-ranked wrestler lost twice in Rio and failed to place.
The 2012 Olympic champion is back now and determined to capture his fourth world title at 74 kg. His first three world titles came in 2011, 2013 and 2015. It’s 2017 now, so will Burroughs even the score by striking gold in another odd-numbered year? He’s already a legend in the sport and could add to his legacy in Paris. He’s as motivated as anyone on this team to turn in a great performance.
5) What Will Helen Maroulis Do?
American Helen Maroulis became the biggest story of the Rio Games in wrestling when she scored a stunning upset of three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida of Japan in the women’s freestyle finals. But her days of wrestling at 53 kg. are likely over.
Maroulis has bumped up two weight classes to 58 kg., and she looks very strong and comfortable in her new division. She is cutting very little weight now, and placing all of her focus on techniques, tactics and training.
Maroulis won her first world title in 2015 at 55 kg. She took seven months off after Rio, but she’s an established star who obviously knows how to perform when the lights are brightest. The 58 kg. class isn’t exactly loaded with superstars, and that could bode well for Maroulis in France.
6) Snyder vs. Sadulaev: Who Prevails In The Battle Of Superstars?
Kyle Snyder vs. Abdulrashid Sadulaev of Russia. It’s the match everybody wants to see. Sadulaev is considered by many observers to be the best pound-for-pound wrestler on the planet. The wrestler known as the Russian tank has destroyed the competition at the world championships and the Olympics. Sadulaev has moved up a weight class to 97 kg., where Snyder is the reigning Olympic and world champion. Snyder is another very physical, punishing wrestler who never seems to wear down. That could be bad news for Sadulaev.
It could be the match of the tournament in Paris. Snyder and Sadulaev may be the two best wrestlers in the entire tournament regardless of weight class. You don’t want to miss it if they compete against each other.