The Rio Olympics might be months away but after this weekend, tell me that it doesn’t feel a whole lot sooner than that.
It’s not as if Frisco was a bust. That’s the furthest thing from the truth. There were plenty of strong performances and confidence-building matches that will likely make a difference later on. Jordan Holm saved the day with his dominating showing. Joe Rua seemed poised to get the job done and despite falling short in the semi-finals, offered a glimpse at the kind of fighting back he’s capable of. Even Ildar Hafizov, who didn’t find his way to the podium, showed he still knows how to score points.
The problem is in the process more so than the results. Qualifying weight classes for the Olympics is often a pressurized task. On one hand, wrestlers are there to win anyway. It isn’t as if qualifiers are filled with second-tier talent looking for experience. These aren’t exhibitions. Each country that sends a contingent is putting forth their strongest candidates, at least in most cases. But – when qualifying is on the line, whether it’s at the Worlds or the tournaments later on in the year, the responsibility shifts a little bit. It becomes as much about getting that weight certified as it does performing well. And for wrestlers looking to prove a point, that’s a whole lot of baggage to carry.
For the US Greco team, first thing is first, literally. 59 kg has to be settled. Spenser Mango, he of the Hall of Fame resume, has been forced to somehow contend with the addition of Hafizov to WCAP. Everyone got a good look at the awkward nature in which this is going to unfold back in December. Hafizov has fared well against Mango, at least when he wasn’t a US national and still with Uzbekistan. But this is different now. They operate in the same space, breathe the same workout room air. And after this weekend (and rightfully so) some are left wondering whether Mango would have been better-suited to represent at Frisco, in a tournament environment he’s done very well in during his career. Is this a mess? Kind of. Kind…of. But one that will hopefully be sorted out in Iowa City.
Skipping over 66 for a second, let’s just hit on 98 kg. This weight is going to get qualified. While no one can operate on the assumption that Rau is going to be the one to do it, at the same time, between Mongolia and Turkey, at one of these spots, 98 is likely to get sewn up, either by Williams or Rau. But getting back to Rau, this is one wrestler whose trajectory is pointing straight up. He had already established himself prior to this year and now without having to be dragged down by slogging his weight and drying out, he has nothing but wrestling to focus on. This is a gift; and one that Joe Rau seems to know how to work with. If he makes it to the Rio Olympics, he will be a favorite to snag a medal.
Whatever happens with 66 kilos is really anyone’s guess. In one of the deepest weights the US has to offer nationally, a number of contenders can rise up. But it’s not the trials or even the Rio Olympics people are paying attention to. Not following Frisco. Instead, it is Mongolia and figuring out who is going to be the one called upon to get this whole nasty business of qualifying out of the way. From a spectator’s perspective, this will make the 66 kg trials fascinating to watch. I just doubt the folks over in Colorado Springs see it that way. The guess here is that this is all a pretty significant headache.
Whomever winds up representing the US Greco team at the Rio Olympics is not immaterial by any stretch. Not even close. It is just that it’s hard to look forward when you don’t know what you’re looking forward to. Frisco could have been the place where this problem went away. Things didn’t turn out that way. Okay, no big deal. Lindland knows how to get the best out of his men. They just better be saddling up for more than one war, because that is what this is all going to take.