2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials preview for 66 kg in Greco-Roman

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | March 26, 2016, 10:17 a.m. (ET)
Bryce Saddoris of the USA drives for a fall at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. Photo by John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com

Competition Day: Saturday, April 9

Is Weight Class Qualified Yet for Olympic Games: No

The U.S. World Team member at 66 kg the last two years has been Bryce Saddoris of the U.S. Marines Corps. Saddoris won his first two matches at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas before losing to eventual champion Frank Staebler of Germany. In the repechage, he was ahead of Tarek Benaissa of Algeria when he suffered a severe injury to his face, ultimately losing 4-5.

The injury required surgery, but he was able to get back on the mat this winter, competing up a weight at the non-Olympic 71 kg, in both Croatia and Hungary. He also was the 71 kg Armed Forces champion this year. He has had some strong international efforts, including silver medals at the 2015 Pan American Games and the 2014 CISM Military World Championships. Saddoris was a two-time NCAA Div. I All-American for the U.S. Naval Academy, and has shown tremendous progress since joining the Greco-Roman circuit in 2014.

Placing second behind Saddoris at the 2015 World Team Trials was young star Alejandro Sancho of the New York AC, who claimed one of the three matches in their finals series. Sancho was fifth in the 2016 U.S. Open. A product of the Northern Michigan program, Sancho is fearless and willing to make throws against quality opponents.

2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman moved up to 66 kg after the London Olympics, and has returned to top form after winning the 2016 U.S. Open in Las Vegas. When Coleman moved up in weight, he won the 2013 U.S. Open, placed second at the World Team Trials and competed in the 2013 World Championships. Coleman was second at both the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials in 2014. An injury affected him for the 2015 season, but he is back on track now. The world knows him for his Flying Squirrel throw on the way to a Junior World bronze medal in 2011, but he has much more than some slick technique and is a major threat to make a second Olympic Team.

Placing second behind Coleman at the 2016 U.S. Open at 66 kg was Patrick Smith of the Minnesota Storm, who has moved down from 71 kg. Smith was second behind Olympian Justin Lester at the 2014 and 2015 World Team Trials at 71 kg, and has been second at the U.S. Open for three straight years. He is coming off a strong effort in winning the 2016 Pan American Championships at 71 kg.

A true contender at this weight is young star RaVaughn Perkins, who has been in the hunt on the Senior level during the last few seasons. Perkins was a 2014 U.S. Open champion and won the World Team Trials event, beating Saddoris, but lost that position due to a suspension for accidentally taking a banned substance, for which he accepted a six-month suspension. Perkins has been active in 2016, winning the Dave Schultz Memorial and competing in Hungary.

Perkins was the entry at the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier, but was defeated in his first match. That means the USA must still go to the World Qualifier in Mongolia in late April (and if necessary in Turkey in May) to get the weight class qualified. The Olympic Trials champion is expected to compete in Mongolia two weeks after winning in Iowa City.

A veteran who has shown improvement and growth has been Brian Graham of the Minnesota Storm, who earned his spot in Iowa City by winning a bronze medal in Finland this winter. Graham has placed third at the U.S. Open twice (2013, 2015) and has been a Greco-Roman All-American for four straight years.

Also advancing to the Olympic Trials by placing in the 2016 U.S. Open in Las Vegas are young Christopher Gonzales of the New York AC/NMU, who was fourth, and Devin Scott of the Minnesota Storm, who was sixth. The most recent wrestler to make the field was 2016 Armed Forces champion Michael Hooker of the U.S. Army, who showed his toughness by winning the 2015 Dave Schultz Memorial International. There will be one more athlete who earns a spot in the Olympic Trials, after winning the Last Chance Qualifier in Cedar Falls, Iowa, April 1.

Tons of questions at this weight class must be answered in Iowa City. Is Saddoris healthy and ready to retain his No. 1 place in this weight class? Will Coleman show the same exciting wrestling that helped him win the Olympic Trials in 2012? Will Smith continue to impress in his new weight class and peak when it counts? Can Perkins become the top man at this weight like he was during the 2014 season? It should be an intense battle when these athletes and others bang heads at the Olympic Trials.

U.S. OLYMPIC TEAM TRIALS QUALIFIERS as of March 22

Greco-Roman 66 kg/145.5 pounds

’15 World Team member – Bryce Saddoris, Sneads Ferry, N.C. (U.S. Marine Corps)
’15 Bill Farrell International silver medalist – Ellis Coleman, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP)
’15 Vantaa Cup bronze medalist - Brian Graham, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier runner-up – Patrick Smith, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier fourth place – Christopher Gonzalez, Bolingbrook, Ill. (NYAC/NMU)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier fifth place – Alejandro Sancho, Miami, Fla. (NYAC/NMU)
’15 Olympic Trials Qualifier sixth place – Devin Scott, Minneapolis, Minn. (Minnesota Storm)
’16 Dave Schultz Memorial champion – RaVaughn Perkins, Omaha, Neb. (New York AC)
’16 Interservice champion – Michael Hooker, Colorado Springs, Colo. (U.S. Army WCAP)
International tour medalist within one year -
’16 Final Olympic Trials Qualifier champion –

Over the next 18 days, leading into the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City, Iowa, April 9-10, TheMat.com will post one weight class preview each day. There are six weight classes in each style at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, and the previews will start with the lightest weight classes and go through the heaviest.