The United States wrestling roster is starting to take shape for the 2012 London Games, but the U.S. will have to hope that this past weekend's winners will now be able to bring home some Olympic medal.
Following Rulon Gardner's decision to not weigh in for the event after his highly anticipated comeback, Saturday's action turned to future Olympic stars Jordan Burroughs and the other eight winners from that day.
The other half of the field was decided on Sunday, as 2008 women's freestyle Olympian wrestler Clarissa Chun led the day's action.
This was just the first stepping stone, but the true test will come over the pond.
121 lbs. - Sam Hazewinkel
132 lbs. - Coleman Scott (pending Olympic World Qualifier result)
145.5 lbs. - Jared Frayer
163 lbs. - Jordan Burroughs
185 lbs. - Jake Herbert
211.5 lbs. - Jake Varner
264.5 lbs. - Tervel Dlagnev
121 lbs. - Spenser Mango
132 lbs. - Ellis Coleman
145.5 lbs. - Justin Lester
163 lbs. - Ben Provisor
211.5 lbs. - R.C. Johnson (pending international eligibility)
264.5 lbs. - Dremiel Byers
105.5 lbs. - Clarissa Chun
121 lbs. - Kelsey Campbell
138.75 lbs. - Elena Pirozhkova
158.5 lbs. - Stephany Lee
Spenser Mango (Blue)
After finishing eighth at the 2008 Beijing Summer games, 163 lbs. Greco-Roman wrestler Spenser Mango is getting a shot at redemption as he will represent the U.S. in the 2012 games.
According to STLToday.com's Katheleen Nelson, Mango has been competing on a whole other level since leaving Beijing.
Since then, he has owned the weight class in the States, winning four national titles. He finished ninth in the 2009 world championships and 19th in 2010. Last year, he won his fourth U.S. Open championship and finished seventh in the Grand Prix Finals.
Starting out the trials with two byes, Mango defeated Isaiah Varona (2-0,6-0), Nikko Triggas (3-0, 5-0) and finally Max Nowry (1-0, 1-0) in the finals.
Mango looked promising in his trial run in Iowa City, but he will need to continue to perform at such a level to have better results than the first time around.
Mango seems ready, as he told Roger Moore of TheMat.com:
“The first time, I’ll admit, I surprised myself,” said Mango of his win in the 2008 Trials. “I knew I could do it, but I hadn’t done it yet. This time it was all business.”
Dremiel Byers (Red)
Another man ready to take another shot at Olympic glory is Dremiel Byers, as he will be representing the United States in the 264.5 lbs. Greco-Roman competition.
Byers came in seventh at the 2008 Olympic games but plans on making a run at Olympic gold for his late grandfather. Byers told Tim Hipps:
I just want to make sure I get the medals that nobody said I could get, and especially the one I promised my grandfather ... Chase the medals, and the right one will come. That’s our philosophy with the Olympics.
I want it to be gold. I’ve always wanted it to be gold, and he wanted it to be gold. He would have been proud no matter what I brought home, but gold is why I was going. I’ve got my promise coating that medal. It’s the one that has eluded me. I understand both sides of that coin, I definitely do, but I just need my coin to be gold.
At 37 years old, Byers doesn't have a ton of time left to accomplish his lifelong goals, so hopefully he will be able to come away with gold at this year's games.
Byers won the 2011 U.S. Open for his class, so there is no reason to doubt what he can do in London in 2012.
Justin Lester (Red)
Justin Lester had much to prove after his 2008 Olympic trials collapse, and he did just that as he punched his ticket to the 2012 games to represent the U.S. in the 145.5 lbs. Greco-Roman wrestling field. As Tim Warsinskey of cleveland.com wrote:
A Trials record crowd of 13,750 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena gave Lester a standing ovation for punching his London ticket, and also perhaps for his four-year rebound from a devastating loss at the 2008 Trials. He was the gold-medal favorite that year, and his semifinal loss to 18-year-old Jake Deitchler remains perhaps the biggest upset in Trials history.
Now he has a chance to redeem his 2008 failure with a chance at 2012 Olympic medal. Lester is excited to finally be here, but he knows there is still work to do before he can be fully ready to take the podium. He said (via TheMat.com):
I’m definitely glad to tack that on to some of my accomplishments but this is only the first part ... We’ve got a lot to do before we get to London. I’m pretty much eight years deep into it. That’s a pretty long time to be in to it compared to some of the guys like C.P. who’s studied for two or three years.
Lester has the experience, but the Olympic stage will be completely different. He has defeated many of life's challenges, so this next stop in his life travels shouldn't be one to faze him.
It likely wasn't easy for Chas Betts, but he made it through to the finals despite the route he had to take.
According to the Pioneer Press, Betts had to defeat his Minnesota Storm teammate in Jordan Holm to claim the top spot in the 185 lbs. bracket in Iowa City.
This will be Betts' first Olympic appearance, but he has been seeing his performance on the mat continue to get better with age.
Betts, 26, earned his first Olympic berth. He placed fourth in the 2008 trials. A state champion in 2004 while wrestling at St. Michael-Albertville High School, he also competed at Northern Michigan.
He will be heading to London with a lot of pressure, as according to the Star Tribune's Rachel Blount, Gettis is representing a rich tradition of Minnesota Olympians:
Betts ensured that Minnesota's streak of Greco-Roman Olympians will continue. The state has put at least one wrestler on every Olympic team since 1968, and he was thrilled to be the one to keep it going - especially when so many of his fans made the trek from Minnesota to see him.
Well, now his cheering section should be a little bigger. Hopefully he will be able to deliver once again.
Coleman Scott entered Carver-Hawkeye Arena likely with some rooting against him, but the former Oklahoma State Cowboys wrestler came away with a spot on the 2012 Olympic team.
Both Iowa and Oklahoma State are rivals, and as Scott told the Des Moines Register's Andy Hamilton, he isn't all that fond of his former competition, but ultimately enjoyed the event:
I don't like Iowa, but you come here and it's awesome - there's nothing (bad) I can say about it ... Iowa did an awesome job hosting this thing so far. … We doubled (the 2008 Olympic Trials attendance) here. That's pretty cool to me.
Scott's battle to be an Olympian isn't over just yet, as his weight class was the only one Saturday that didn't have an automatic bid.
According to OKState.com, Scott may have to take on either Reece Humphrey or Shawn Bunch if either qualify at World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in China:
The top-two ranked wrestlers in the class, Reece Humphrey and Shawn Bunch, did not wrestle at the event because they will try to qualify the United States for the class at the World Olympic Qualifying Tournament in China from April 27-29. Scott will enter a tournament with both wrestlers at a later date should they qualify the class.
He has already defeated the rest of the field, so he will need to keep the mentality alive if this one last obstacle comes his way.
Perhaps the biggest attraction at this year's event is freestyle wrestler Jordan Burroughs, who has been dominating the world of wrestling the past two years.
Burroughs will be representing the U.S. in the 163 lbs. group, wrestling to finally add that Olympic medal to his mantle.
He already has two NCAA titles, but taking the top spot at the Pan American, US Open, US World Team Trials and, most impressively, the World Championship, has Burroughs looking like the true American hope for Olympic gold in wrestling in 2012.
Expectations are clearly high for the former Husker, but after everything we have seen these last two years, there is no reason anyone should be expecting anything less than Olympic gold from him this year.
Joining Jordan Burroughs on this year's freestyle roster is another two-time NCAA champion in Jake Varner, who wrestled at Iowa State.
As stated in a piece by the AP, expectations for Varner are high, especially after he came away with the bronze at the 2011 World Championships:
Varner, a former two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State, beat Tommy Rowlands 2-0, 1-0 to reach the Olympics for the first time in 96 kg freestyle. Varner, like Burroughs, will carry high expectations to London.
Varner will be one to watch in 2012, as it was made clear in this piece by Andy Hamilton of Indystar.com that he has aspirations for Olympic gold or bust in 2012. Varner said:
I’m going there to win the gold medal or I wouldn’t be doing this ... It’s kind of cool to say you’re an Olympian, but I want to be an Olympic champion.
Fans have to love the motivation, and hopefully it will pay off at this year's games.
Kelsey Campbell may have proved this Saturday that she could be the next big thing in women's wrestling, as the former Arizona State Sun Devil took the top spot in the 121 lbs. freestyle event.
According to The Washington Times' Patrick Borzi, Campbell's defeat over Helen Maroulis was the first of her career. Maroulis is a three-time U.S. Open champion, so this win for Campbell is definitely a stepping stone in the right direction.
Campbell's trip to the Olympics wouldn't have happened without a little pressure from schoolmates during her high school days, as ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs tells how Campbell was actually dared to join the wrestling team. Clearly, she has defeated those initial doubts:
It all started as a bet. During her senior year of high school in Milwaukie, Ore., a group of guy friends insisted Campbell wouldn't last two weeks on the wrestling team. She had earned letters in basketball, soccer, cross country and track. She had danced. But they didn't think she could stomach life as a wrestler.
"It was a big joke," she said. "I didn't even know girls wrestled."
Campbell has a chance to continue to defy the odds of this situation, and if Saturday's results indicated anything, the U.S. may have a threat ready to keep things rolling in London.
Stephany Lee didn't look like she had a real shot at heading to London after having to get through a tough bracket, but she took down the country's strongest women contender for the 158.5 lbs. group in Kristie Davis.
While Davis had never qualified for the U.S. team since the sport became official in 2004, this win for Lee is a huge triumph for what was without a doubt a difficult obstacle to overcome.
The one cause for concern with Lee is her history of injuries, as Brian Gomez of Gazette.com points out that she has fought a long battle with herself to get here today:
And Lee rallied through four concussions and a torn quadriceps that slowed her last year. “I’m finally healthy and just getting my stuff together,” Lee said.
If she can stay healthy, perhaps she will be able to continue to dominate the field.
Sam Hazewinkel didn't have the easiest matchup to make his way to London for 2012, but defeating Nick Simmons should give him some motivation to represent his country.
Simmons' defeat over 2008 gold medalist Henry Cejudo was probably one of the biggest turn of events at this year's trials, but even more so as the loss "pushed the youngest American Olympic champion into retirement."
While Cejudo's decision may surprise some, it is now Hazewinkel's time to shine.
He will have some big shoes to fill, as Cejudo was the only American wrestler to grab a medal at the 2008 freestyle events.
Who knows if Hazewinkel would even be here if Cejudo would have made it through, but for now all he can do is be happy to finally be an Olympian.
According to ESPN.com's Wayne Drehs, Hazewinkel was shocked to finally make it after two previous failed attempts.
Sam Hazewinkel thought he was finished. Again. The 29-year-old, who had never won an NCAA championship and finished third and second at the past two U.S. Olympic wrestling trials, figured he was set to become wrestling's version of the Buffalo Bills.
Drehs shares quite a tale on Hazewinkel's path to success, as the former Greco-Roman wrestler has found true success this time around in his switch to freestyle wrestling.
It will remain to be seen though if his recent conversion will get the best of him in London.
Jared Frayer will finally be representing the United States at this year's Olympic games, as the former Oklahoma Sooner-turned-coach will be fighting for a gold.
According to SI's Stephen Boyle, this defeat for Frayer was against huge odds, as his final opponent in Iowa Hawkeyes great Brent Metcalf had never lost a match in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Frayer defied the odds though, coming back to shock the wrestling world after a two-year absence:
After being the runner-up at the 2006 and 2009 World Team Trials and placing fifth at the 2008 Olympic trials, Frayer was finally able to put it all together in Iowa City. Being an Olympian has been Frayer's dream since he watched John Smith win gold on television as a 10-year-old, but before this year the closest he's been to that dream is traveling with Team U.S.A. as a practice partner. Now it's his turn.
Frayer is finally living his dream, but at this point in his career, he likely won't be happy to leave London without a medal. At 33, who knows if he would ever get another chance like this again in his lifetime.
Another man who will be making his way to London in 2012 is Jake Herbert, who came away on top of the 185 lbs. field.
This was a big win for Herbert, as the Detroit Free Press' Jo-Ann Barnas states he became the overall favorite after Cael Sanderson withdrew from the trials.
Herbert's win over Travis Paulson wasn't a walk in the park, as he dropped the first of the three matches. He came back strong, walking away with the final two matches to claim his Olympic berth.
People may point out that Sanderson's absence is the only reason Herbert is where he is, but he should use that to prove himself to the world.
After winning the 2011 U.S. Open, Tervel Dlagnev proved yet again why he is the best in the 264.5 lbs. freestyle class as he has made his way to the 2012 London games.
Dlagnev defeated Les Sigman without dropping a match in the finals at the Iowa City U.S. wrestling trials:
The former Nebraska-Kearney standout shut down his Nebraska-Omaha counterpart 3-0, 4-0 and 1-0, 2-0 Sunday evening in the best-of-three-match finals at the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials. With the victory comes membership on this year's U.S. Olympic Team and a shot at competing at 120 kilograms (264.5 pounds) in freestyle at the London Games in August.
This will be Dlagnev's first time competing in the Olympic games, and if the 26-year-old proved anything this past weekend, he may be just getting around to his best stuff.
Ellis Coleman was already famous, but now he will be even more so that he is an Olympian.
Coleman is most famous for his highlight reel takedown back in 2011, which was dubbed "the flying squirrel."
Now he will be able to take his athleticism to London, where he will be the youngest person on this year's wrestling roster, according the Chicago Tribune's Phillip Hersh:
The 20-year-old from Oak Park High School became the youngest member of the 2012 U.S. Olympic wrestling team Sunday night in Iowa City.
Coleman beat Chicagoan Joe Betterman 2-0 in the finals of the Greco-Roman 132-pound class at the Olympic trials without needing the move ESPN ranked third on its Best of the Best Highlights for 2011.
There is a ton of potential, and many will recognize him for his famous moment, but now is the time for Coleman to separate himself from one-hit wonder to Olympian star.
After dropping the first match in his final, Ben Provisor had much to overcome against Aaron Sieracki to win the final two games to earn his Olympic berth.
According to the Journal Sentinel's Gary D'Amato, the situation is still sinking in for Provisor.
"I made the team, but I truly don't know what it means yet," Provisor said moments after walking off the mat. "Right now I'm just going to enjoy it. All my family is here. I can't be any happier than I am right now."
Provisor is just 21 years old, making this his first time heading to the Olympics after failing to qualify after his loss at the 2008 trials.
This wasn't the first time these two competed, as D'Amato points out Sieracki took down Provisor in the U.S. Open a year ago.
Sieracki beat Provisor at the 2011 U.S. Open but his career ended in disappointment, which has been a family theme.
He will now have his chance to shine on the main stage, and it looks like he is moving into the right direction with his performance on Sunday.
Another fighter still waiting to see if he will actually make it to London is R.C. Johnson, who won the Greco-Roman 211.5 lbs division this past Sunday.
According to Kare11.com's Eric Perkins, the problem that stands before Johnson is that he must qualify for the tournament on a World level.
For the first time in his career, R.C. Johnson has won his weight class at the Olympic trials.
The problem is, USA Wrestling hasn't qualified in the 96kg division of Greco Roman wrestling on a world level.
Now, he must await for an American wrestler to win an international match in that weight division, and then, and only then will he become an Olympian.
It hasn't been said if Johnson will compete on the international level to lock up his own spot in the Olympics, but he desperately needs something to happen for him lock up the spot he has earned.
Otherwise, this Sunday's performance won't mean anything when it is all said and done.
The United States won't have too many familiar faces from the 2008 games in London, but one who will be returning is women's freestyle wrestler Clarissa Chun.
Chun finished at the 2008 games in fifth place, something she is sure going to want to best this time around.
There is no doubt that she will like to place higher this second time around, something she must take advantage of given her experience in the Olympic atmosphere.
While the sport hasn't been commissioned by the IOC for that long, Chun is the first ever woman to qualify for the Olympic wrestling team twice, according to Wombat Sports.
Now it is time to make some history of her own, perhaps to finally claim a medal at the games.
Elena Pirozhkova (Blue)
Elena Pirozhkova will be heading to the Olympics for the first time in her career, and she will have to hope that she will be able to dominate the field as easily as she did Adeline Gray in her final match.
There is definitely some potential for Pirozhkova, as the BostonHerald.com points out that she has had some success at the World Championships.
A 2010 World silver medalist and fifth place finisher at the 2011 World Championships, Pirozhkova has recently been training in Colorado Springs, home of the U.S. Olympic Training facilities.
While it is clear she regressed from her medal performance in 2010, this weekend's results are hopefully a sign of things to come for the first time Olympian.