“It was a good year, it was a good year, but I fell just short of my goal, you know? So I’m going to take that momentum into 2017.”
Jesse Thielke might not have accomplished all he set out for in 2016, but that doesn’t make his year any less outstanding. Earlier today, Thielke was officially named the Five Point Move Athlete of the Year and presumably, a big reason why is because of what the 24-year old gave to American Greco Roman wrestling fans, which was breathtaking action when the pressure couldn’t be higher.
2016 had the potential to be a breakout year for Thielke and an early indication of that came when he placed third at the US Nationals in December of 2015 at 66 kilograms, a weight class higher than where he would eventually land once the Olympic year heated up in full. Even he had an inclination something was coming. “I knew before the year even started after I left Madison,” admits Thielke. “I had a chip on my shoulder and I knew it was time to put everything together.”
His ascension to the front of the wrestling consciousness in the country began at the Olympic Trials in April. It was there where Thielke defeated US Greco icon Spenser Mango in the semifinals, leading to Mango’s retirement from the sport. He then dominated 2008 Olympian Ildar Hafizov in two straight matches to clinch his spot on the Olympic Team, although one crucial step still remained.
With 59 kilograms still not qualified for Rio, Thielke was forced to travel over to Mongolia and Turkey for the last two attempts to nail the spot down for the Americans. Mongolia didn’t pan out but in Istanbul, Thielke went on a historic run that included victories over two previous Olympic medalists back-to-back. In all, the Wisconsin native won four matches on the day — two via technical fall, one pin, and an exciting point-scoring bonanza against 2012 Olympic silver Revaz Lashkhi of Georgia. It was an incredible showing of both talent and guts, put together at the right time and place. But to Thielke, his performance came with the job description and he sees it that way even now, some seven and half months later.
“For me, it seems like just another tournament, another job I had to get done so I was able to compete at the Games,” Thielke says. “There were no other options, there was no other choice. When you back a badger into a corner, it’s going to bite.”
The Rio Olympics were next. A dominating first-period technical fall over Mehdi Messaoudi of Morocco opened up the Olympiad. In his second bout, Thielke fell to 2011 World Champion Rovshan Bayramov (AZE). Bayramov, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, was turned back by Shinobu Ota (JPN), eliminating a chance for Thielke to take third.
With the calendar just about ready to turn over and escort in another year of promise, it is likely natural for all athletes to look back on the previous 12 months and take stock of what transpired in their careers. Hopefully when Jesse Thielke looks back at 2016, he realizes that while he might not have conquered all of his objectives, he did make some new fans and provided a spark for the style it doesn’t always receive. And that is exactly what this sport needs.