Any selection process is apt to be imperfect. For an ever-democratic process like USA Wrestling has implemented there are a number of tournaments to enter, plus the real possibility that the less internationally potent wrestler may happen to wiggle on to a spot. However, there is also no question that every wrestler is given a fair opportunity to make their world and Olympic dreams come true.
That is decidedly not the case in many, many countries. The Russian system is actually much better than it used to be, forcing most athletes to compete for their position. Notable exceptions like Abdulrashid Sadulaev are allowed to sit out given they’ve never lost in-country or at the continental championships and carry a number of promotional and leaderships responsibilities. Still, for the most part wrestlers must make their way through a fair (albeit winding) yearlong route to make the World Team.
Iran once had the cleanest selection process, with a single tournament determining the team. However, that was the follow-up to a system that was pure corruption with coaches taking all liberties to select the athlete they think would compete best internationally. With Rasoul Khadem no longer manning the federation, that system may soon be back in place.
Japan has two tournaments. If the winner isn’t the same in both tournaments they proceed to a one-match wrestle-off. It’s about as fair a process as you can have, though there are some complications to the system when top competitors are injured. In those circumstances, rules are sometimes manipulated to ensure that those athletes have a fair shot (not too dissimilar to the USA’s old rules on injured competitors).
The rest of the world is a hodgepodge, but for the most part they aren’t forced to compete at the national level if they’ve won international accolades. Why bother? There are other weights to fill and if you have someone capable of returning glory then don’t take the risk that a lifelong teammate can take them out.
To your questions …
Q: Thoughts on Jason Nolf’s move up to 74 kilograms? Do you view him as a serious contender to make the 2020 team?
— Mike C.
Foley: Word around the campfire is that Nolf had always wanted to be up at 74 kilograms, but that the decision was made to go 70 kilograms for the U.S. Open. After his loss, Nolf was further committed.
Do I think he is a contender? Of course. Any three-time NCAA champion has to be considered a threat to win matches at the national level, even in freestyle. The biggest hinderance Nolf faces in the 2019 season is that he’s significantly less experienced in freestyle than many of his top opponents, including but not limited to Jordan Burroughs.
At the U.S. Open there were a few instances where Nolf drove an opponent out of bounds for one point rather than look for the takedown on the edge. The risk on the edge is always reduced and from what I saw he could have attacked more in those positions. While he also showed incredible resilience and toughness in coming back against Alec Pantaleo, the mistakes that got him there need to get cleaned up, including defense that can threaten opponents from shooting all while not ceding too much ground; front headlocks and reshots gets the job done for most top-level guys.
One thing I think Nolf has more of than anyone else at 74 kilograms is a feel for scoring from entangled positions. On multiple occasions he’s turned near stalemate calls into positive points. If he can limit his defensive errors and increase his aggressiveness on the edge I think he’ll be someone who could show up at Final X.
Q: Which foreign wrestler has the most entertaining Wikipedia page?
I nominate Khetag Gazyumov.
“…truly equivalent to gold.”
Related, unrelated: If you want to see how deep Russia is in freestyle, particularly Dagestani and Ossetian Russians representing Russia or other nations, check out Kyle Snyder’s international senior results. Snyder, one of the best pound-for-pound wrestlers in the world, has suffered almost all of his defeats to Russians representing Russia or Azerbaijan. And most of these aren’t even to the same guy.
It takes nothing away from Snyder, but shows how deep they run over there. However, if he loses to any more people with ties to Russia, we’re going to have to start calling him Hillary Clinton.
— Nate S.
Foley: I see you’re trying to rile up the comment board.
The point on Snyder is well-taken, though I wonder if there are other international wrestlers at that weight who really compare. With some of the lighter weights, and even heavyweight there is a variety of regional talent. With 97 kilograms it’s pretty much three guys and as you noted they are Russian.
The number of Russians competing outside of Russia is one of the reasons that it’s now notably tougher to win a world title than it was in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s. The other reason being that the former Soviet Republics like Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Kazakhstan are now able to compete within their own national federations.
Related, unrelated: There is a good chance that we will see Khadzhimurat Gatsalov gear up for the 2019 World Championships … and not for Russia.
Helen Maroulis’ gold-medal victory over Saori Yoshida of Japan.
Bajrang never stops wrestling
Q: I’m planning on making my first trip to the World Championships either in 2019 or 2021. What does Nur-Sultan offer, other than the amazing wrestling sure to go down, to entice me to make it this year?
— Yellow Medal
Foley: Nur-Sultan, formerly Astana, is a relatively modern city. The nation was facing a lot of corruption in the mid-90’s so the president decided to build a brand-new capital city in the middle of the nation. That means the infrastructure is fantastic, the hotels are modern, and even the power lines are buried.
That, and great horse meat should be enough!
While the 2021 World Championships in Oslo will be fun, I don’t think the event will appeal to you as much as the Nur-Sultan version, if only because the 2021 World Championships are nowhere near as consequential. The top six finishers in Nur-Sultan all qualify their nation for the Olympic Games, whereas there are plenty of athletes who take off the entire 2021 season.
Also, I don’t know your circumstances, but chances are pretty good that you could accidently find yourself in Oslo in the future, whereas you need a lot of motivation to visit Nur-Sultan outside of a wrestling competition.
Q: What’s the deal with Helen Maroulis? Is she wrestling this year? Is she retired?
— Brian N.
Foley: No, she is not retired. Helen put out a tweet last week saying that she is getting better and that she would be back on the mats.
To answer this question I keep getting… I am not retired or retiring. I just had major shoulder surgery after the 2018 World Championships in November. Haven’t been cleared yet, but see you on the mat soon 🤼♀️
�” Helen Maroulis (@helen_maroulis) May 10, 2019
Will that be at the World Team Trials? I think so, but there won’t be final confirmation until the morning of weigh-ins.
For what it’s worth, I have no expectations for Helen. She deserves to pursue whatever makes her tick, and if that’s wrestling, then all-the-better. Helen is a warrior, and even as her life has been complicated by injuries and setbacks, I think it’s important to remember that she’s a Queen Slayer and will forever be known as arguably the most dominant wrestler for any three-year stretch (2015-2017).
Q: I noticed the Final X at Rutgers is scheduled to begin at noon. Any idea how long the event will go? Thinking about attending.
— Mike C.
Foley: Me too! I don’t get to too many USA Wrestling events, but with Final X so close to home I’d like to check out the action. One of the best (maybe THE best) freestyle wrestling nation in the world, and the team selection is only an hour away. I’d be a fool to skip it.
My guess is that the majority of the freestyle finals will be on the 7 p.m. ET card.
By the way, the Flo site mentions a BrewFest from 4-6 p.m. Interesting.