Photo of Ildar Hafizov and Leslie Fuenffinger battling at Final X: Lincoln by Tony Rotundo.
During an Olympic year, the number of weight classes in all styles drop from 10 to six. The consolidated talent makes for some absolutely killer brackets.
60 kg in Greco-Roman is one the brackets that wrestling fans should be drooling over. Not only is there no clear favorite, but the depth of the bracket is absolutely insane. There could be eight current National Team members and three current World Team members.
Current National Team members expected to compete at 60 kg:
No. 1 at 55 kg – Max Nowry
No. 1 at 60 kg – Ildar Hafizov
No. 1 at 63 kg – Ryan Mango
No. 2 at 55 kg – Brady Koontz
No. 2 at 60 kg – Leslie Fuenffinger
No. 3 at 55 kg – Dalton Duffield
No. 3 at 60 kg – Taylor LaMont
No. 3 at 63 kg – Sammy Jones
The incumbent World Team member at 60 kg Ildar Hafizov has a bye to the Olympic Team Trials finals, a huge advantage he earned by qualifying the weight class for the Olympic Games for Team USA by making the finals of the Pan Am Olympic Qualifier in March.
Hafizov, who was an Olympian for Uzbekistan before immigrating to the United States, was also a Senior World Team member in 2017. In 2016, Hafizov finished runner-up at the Olympic Team Trials at 59 kg.
Jesse Thielke was the 2016 59 kg Olympic Team Trials champion and represented Team USA at the Rio Olympic Games. In 2018, Thielke made the World Team competing at 63 kg. His most recent competition was the 2019 Dave Schultz Memorial International, where he placed fourth at 67 kg. It seems unlikely that Thielke attempts to drop to 60 kg for the Trials.
No. 1 at 63 kg Ryan Mango was No. 3 at 59 kg at the 2016 Olympic Team Trials. Last year, Mango made his first Senior World Team and finished seventh at the World Championships in Kazakhstan. Since dropping to 60 kg, Mango has won the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial International and finished sixth at Senior Nationals, a tournament where he defaulted out after making the semifinals.
Max Nowry, No. 1 at 55 kg, was the highest finisher on the U.S. Greco Team at the 2019 World Championships, placing fifth. While Nowry won the 2020 Pan Am Championships and placed second at both the 2019 Haparanda Cup and the Matteo Pellicone International, he competed at 55 kg for all three events. At the Bill Farrell Memorial International, Nowry bumped up to 60 kg and made the finals. After losing a game of rock, paper, scissors he forfeited the finals match to his teammate Ryan Mango.
It should be noted that Hafizov, Mango and Nowry all compete for the Army World Class Athlete Program, and training in the same room should make them incredibly familiar with each other.
Another WCAP wrestler to look for is Leslie Fuenffinger, who is currently No. 2 at 60 kg. Fuenffinger was the 2019 Senior Nationals champion, defeating No. 3 at 63 kg Sammy Jones in the finals. He also won the 2019 U.S. Open and finished runner-up at the 2018 U.S. Open. Most recently, Fuenffinger placed second at the Pan Am Championships.
No. 3 at 63 kg Sammy Jones and No. 3 at 60 kg Taylor LaMont are both qualified for the Olympic Team Trials and should not be counted out. Jones, a 2014 University World bronze medalist, placed second at Senior Nationals and third at the Bill Farrell since dropping to 60 kg. LaMont, a seven-time age-group World Team member and 2016 Junior World bronze medalist, finished third at Senior Nationals.
No. 2 at 55 kg Brady Koontz and No. 3 at 55 kg Dalton Duffield have not yet qualified for the Olympic Team Trials. Both have made age-group World Teams with Koontz competing on the 2019 U23 World Team, the 2018 Junior World Team and the 2015 Cadet World Team and Duffield representing the U.S. at the 2018 U23 World Championships.
Dalton Roberts, while not currently on the National Team, is a dark horse to pay attention to. Roberts was the 2018 Senior World Team member and finished fourth at the 2019 World Team Trials Challenge Tournament. Roberts is a two-time U23 World Team member (2017, 2019) and a two-time Junior World Team member (2015, 2016). He finished fifth at Senior Nationals.
A potential young talent in the bracket that shouldn’t be overlooked is Alston Nutter. Qualifying for the Olympic Team Trials via a 2019 Junior World bronze at 63 kg, Nutter has shown significant improvement in the last year. Nutter, a member of the 2018 Junior World Team as well, could compete at either 60 kg or 67 kg.
How this bracket shakes out is anyone’s guess, but without a doubt it will provide for some entertaining battles.