IOWA CITY, Iowa – You couldn’t blame Ben Provisor (NYAC) if he was feeling a little bit disrespected. After all, it’s not every day that a returning Olympian is relegated as an underdog while still in the prime of his career. Jordan Holm (Minnesota Storm) had wrapped his arms around the 85 kg division over the past couple of years and Jon Anderson (Army/WCAP) moved up in weight to become the primary challenger to Holm ever since that decision was made. But Provisor was simply lying in wait. Coming off a series of injuries and coaching changes, he was still there in the shadows hoping for the chance to remind everyone who he was.
On Saturday night, that mission was accomplished.
Ben Provisor upset Jordan Holm in the semifinal of the 2016 Olympic Trials by bullying through to a 3-0 victory. None of Holm’s patented attacks, including his vaunted front headlock snap-down, found their mark on the shorter Provisor, who managed to power out of trouble any time it arose. The tension increased as the match wore on. Provisor (Stevens Point, Wisconsin) nursed a late lead as Holm started to increase his own output. As the seconds ticked away, the crowd was sensing the drama unfolding before its eyes. Holm bore in on Provisor, who deftly re-engaged to pick up another two points to clinch his appearance later in the evening via a 3-0 score.
Jacob Clark (listed as unattached but had been a Minnesota Storm representative previously) entered the day as both the sentimental favorite and yet, a serious threat. Clark himself has had to deal with injury problems and took the better part of three years off before returning to competition last fall. A surprising US Nationals victory where he went un-scored upon meant he was at the Olympic Trials to do some damage, and that he did. First by breezing past Hayden Zillmer (CrosbyHay), and then by handing the aforementioned Anderson an 11-3 drubbing. Prior to the tournament much of the talk centered around Clark’s 36 years but after he cruised to the finals, the questions regarding his age were quickly forgotten. And with Holm out of the running and a previous victory over Provisor in the Open under his belt, Jacob Clark seemed to be sitting in the driver’s seat. That theory would be dismantled just a couple of hours later.
Both athletes marched to the first match appearing composed and ready. The crowd provided Clark with a sizable ovation as their names were announced. From the whistle, Provisor seemed set on establishing inside control on the taller Clark, who attempted to pivot out of any disconcerting tie-ups. If one thing was obvious at the beginning, it was that Ben Provisor looked to be the more powerful of the two. Any windows of space he didn’t want were quickly closed. A passivity call rang in, but the two re-set and got back to business. A short time later another passivity call was signaled which sent Provisor to par terre bottom. Clark came around for a front headlock attempt only to have Provisor grit and grind his way to a heavier station. The two came back to their feet. Clark found a body-lock shortly thereafter, but it was defended easily by Provisor, who then countered with a throw-by of his own. In what was a tight first period, both wrestlers failed to score.
Early into the second period, passivity was called on Clark. The Hawaii resident assumed bottom par terre, resulting in the turning point of the match. Provisor quickly locked around for a gut attempt and found the momentum he needed. Two points went up on the board and any reservations the audience had regarding the 2012 Olympian evaporated. He was becoming the favorite.
It was also starting to appear that Clark was tiring. Provisor increasingly pushed against his foe, doing everything he could to set up another scoring chance. Clark showed life by snapping into an arm-drag attempt, but it did not have enough traction. With the match winding down, Provisor didn’t feel it necessary to rest. Instead, he once again took the initiative and bullied his way to a step-out point which would close the first of the series 3-0 in favor of the Wisconsin native.
If the first match could be described as a prolonged battle of wills, then the second was a thunderstorm. It ebbed and flowed in similar fashion to start off, with Ben hulking in to find an opening and Jake waiting for any kind of chance to take advantage of a mistake. However, Provisor’s considerable strength advantage came to the forefront, as he pushed into Clark who then stumbled to the mat. Provisor quickly swopped around to get two confirmed and yet again, took an early lead.
The end wouldn’t be far away.
A passivity call and then another gave Clark the last opportunity he would have to take control. Provisor took par terre bottom and similarly to the first bout, Clark spun around to find a front headlock. Provisor shelled up, perhaps too much, and a two-point caution penalty was issued, which tied the match (and gave Clark a potential criteria advantage). It wouldn’t matter. In the same way a lion leaps out of the brush to snatch its prey, Provisor caught Clark by surprise and powered him to his back. The fans in Carver-Hawkeye Arena filled the space with noise while Ben Provisor held on for the fall and another shot at an Olympic medal.
Provisor, who left Colorado Springs in search of different voices to guide him, has had one constant through the years and that is three-time Olympian Dennis Hall. Hall was Ben Provisor’s youth coach growing up and has maintained a tight relationship with the 25-year old Olympian. The two still train together whenever in the same vicinity.
“Dennis has meant everything to me in my career”, Provisor said. “I’ve had a lot of great coaches alongside me but he was from my hometown. I was able to work with him almost every day. I’ve been blessed. I love him to death, he’s been like a father to me.”
With the weight previously qualified by Holm at the Pan Ams, Ben Provisor will now focus on getting prepared for the grueling next few months. “I’m just going to train as hard as I can every day and go to sleep knowing I did the best I can (each day) to become an Olympic champ”, said Provisor. “Leaving Colorado was huge. I came home and started working with Dennis and Joel Berrens with the core workout and then I moved to Florida to start training with Geordan Speiller and his coach J.D. Robbins. It’s been huge, it’s been a relief off my shoulders.”