(L) J'den Cox celebrates after competing in freestyle at World Championships in Oct. 2018 in Budapest; (R) celebrates after competing in Greco-Roman at World Championships in Oct. 2018 in Budapest.
There are two styles of wrestling contested at the Olympic Games – freestyle and Greco-Roman. While similar, the two disciplines are still quite different.
There are also a few other styles, such as folkstyle, which is practiced at the high school and college level, and beach, which is gaining popularity and will be contested at the inaugural World Beach Games later this year.
“A lot of fans know about folkstyle wrestling but aren’t too familiar with Greco or freestyle since they only watch it every four years during the Olympics,” said Dalton Roberts, a Greco-Roman wrestler and member of last year’s world team.
Both men and women compete in freestyle, while Greco-Roman is men only. All three U.S. teams will be in action this week at the Pan American Championships in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where they will compete for quota spots for Team USA at the Pan American Games in Peru later this year.
Before the tournament gets underway, here’s everything you need to know about the differences between Greco-Roman and freestyle.
Legs vs. Upper Body
One of the main differences between these two styles of wrestling is the ability for athletes to use their legs in one, but not the other. In freestyle, wrestlers can use their legs to attack or defend opponents. Greco forbids scoring below the waist.
“I fell in love with Greco because it was different for me,” said Roberts. “When you’re wrestling folkstyle and freestyle it’s normal and they are very similar, but with Greco it’s just a different feeling. It’s like a different puzzle, and I had never done that puzzle before and I wanted to figure it out.”
Adam Coon was on last year’s national team for both Greco-Roman and freestyle – the only athlete to compete both at the national team level – and won a silver medal in Greco at the world championships.
“Greco is all upper body and focuses a lot on positioning,” Coon explained. “You are trying to get your hips lower than your opponents to help with throws and have a better center of gravity.”
But freestyle has a very different approach.
“Freestyle is very similar to folkstyle because you can attack legs,” Coon said. “You are farther away from each other and not locking onto each other to try to throw your opponent. In freestyle, you’re crouched down and hunched over to keep your legs from being attacked.”
There is also a lot more freedom when it comes to freestyle wrestling.
“Anything goes and nothing is off limits in freestyle,” said Nick Gwiazdowski, a 2017 world bronze medalist in freestyle.
“You can utilize more of your body and more of your opponent’s body because you can make more contact,” said J’den Cox, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist in freestyle, “whereas with Greco, it can be deceiving because we say it’s all upper body, but when you’re going at someone all your power comes from your legs. Your legs are still important.”
Positioning Your Body
The other main difference comes with positioning and contact.
“[In Greco] you’re trying to create as many contact points as you can to be able to throw the guy,” said Coon. “You have to try to get below their center of gravity to throw them or pin them.”
Freestyle wrestlers can throw an opponent and regain contact after to pin them to the ground; however, in Greco you must maintain contact with your opponent throughout the entire takedown in order for it to count and not be penalized.
“Greco does tons of moves I never do and they are in positions I’m never in, and I get into positions they would get penalized in so there are lots of big differences there,” said Gwiazdowski. “Those [Greco-Roman] guys are good. Really good.”
How To Train
Training also changes from discipline to discipline.
“Greco goes over a lot of throws and they focus a lot on their hips and being explosive to get into positions fast,” said Cox. “With freestyle, transitions are more important. We try to be more fluid with our movements.”
However, from time to time Cox trains with the Greco team.
“They teach me a lot of things that can transfer over back to freestyle and vice versa,” he said.
Wrestling Is Wrestling
Even though the disciplines are different, wrestlers recognize the importance of both and how it has helped shape them.
Cox won his first national title in Greco-Roman, where he competed against Kyle Snyder, now an Olympic and world gold medalist in freestyle, for the first time.
“I just thrived on freestyle because I practiced it more, but I’ve always loved Greco,” said Cox.
At the end of the day, it all comes back to one thing – wrestling.
“Once you are engaged with your opponent, wrestling is wrestling,” said Coon. “I’d like more people to try Greco or try freestyle because you’ll become a better wrestler because of it. There are so many different lessons you can learn from each one.”