LIMA, Peru – Though the Pan American Games Lima 2019 are not an Olympic qualifier for wrestling, USA Wrestling brought the best of the best to Peru and took home four medals at Miguel Grau Coliseum on Wednesday. Minnesota native Patrick Smith took home gold in the men’s Greco-Roman 77 kg. finals after defeating Wuilexis Rivas of Colombia by a 3-2 decision. Colorado native G’Angelo Hancock followed next with a silver medal in the 97 kg. finals after losing to Cuba’s Gabriel Rosillo by a 7-2 decision. Additionally, 2008 Olympian Ildar Hafizov and 2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman earned bronze through competing in the repechage bracket in the 60 kg. and 67 kg. divisions, respectively.
“It feels good,” said Smith. “The goal of the day was to be undefeated, and I was able to pull that out. So, it was awesome.”
Trailing 2-0 at the end of the first round, Smith found a way to break Rivas’ defenses. He was able to take down his opponent to tie the score, 2-2. Later, he used his competitive drive and endurance to push Rivas out of the playing area, earning the final point of the match.
“Hats off to him,” Smith said. “He wrestles really hard, high pace, just like I do. And at that point both guys are going all out. At some point, there’s a decision somebody makes, and they’re going to go a little less hard. And that’s when the other guy can capitalize. You train to be the guy that can go longer than everybody else.”
But while Smith found a way to finish, it wasn’t so for Hancock during his gold medal match. Hancock built a 2-0 lead in the first round thanks to two penalty points Rosillo received from faults. But after a hard four-point takedown by Rosillo in the early stages of the second round, Hancock appeared too fatigued to mount a comeback. Rosillo then managed to take Hancock out of the ring three more times before time ran out.
“I think every second you’re out there takes a lot out of you,” he said. “It takes a lot out of you mentally when you’re up on a guy, and you get down suddenly by one move. You’re like, ‘Wow, I’m working my tail off to earn these points by points,’ and you know, big moves happen. That’s just part of the sport.”
Nonetheless, Hancock says he hopes to face Rosillo again during the upcoming world championships. There, Olympic qualification begins.
“You never know how the lineup works,” he said. “But I’m hoping I do. The thing is, I want to face the guys who give me a challenge. I want to face the guys who are tougher.”
In Hafizov’s bronze medal match, he managed to score three successive two-point takedowns against Mexico’s Emilio Perez. From there, the Uzbekistan native was able to control the match and take an eventual 7-2 victory by point decision.
Of the four U.S. wrestlers who medaled, Coleman’s match was possibly the most exciting of the night. After trailing 1-0 for most of the match, the bronze medal appeared to be out of reach as he was directed to start on the bottom of the par tarre position. However, Coleman managed to hold his position without conceding a single point.
“For me, I’ve been working on that,” he said. “That’s been a big thing in the national level of wrestling, the par tarre. So, for me, I just have to keep working that, keep pushing that, and figure out what each person does, so I can be one step ahead of them as opposed to just going out there and defending for no reason, and not knowing what to look for.”
All four wrestlers expressed their desires to make it through qualifications and represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.
“Olympics [are] something crazy,” said Hafizov. “I’ve already won a medal from the Olympics. Now I’ve won a medal from the Pan Am Games. I need one more from worlds and the Olympics, definitely.”
“I went before in 2012,” said Coleman. “But it’s been quite a while, eight years later. It would be great for me. Kind of like my own Cinderella story.”
“It’s the biggest honor that I could possibly have in my life,” said Hancock. “It’s been a dream since I was a kid. For the longest [I’ve] imagined, I’ve wanted to be an Olympian.”
“That’s the goal,” said Smith. “I write down in my journal, ‘2020 Olympian’ every day – twice a day. So that’s what we’re focusing on, and that’s what we’re going for. I hope that I can bring it back for the USA.”