The sport of wrestling is as old as, well, the Olympic movement itself. It wouldn't be a stretch to even hearken back to the days of the Roman Coliseum, to see two gladiators rolling about in a death throw or two before a huge crowd looking for blood and an emperor waiting to give a thumbs up or thumbs down.
These days, challenges to reach an Olympiad are much more genteel, with no less dedication but certainly a little less blood being spilled. Unless, of course, if you are a fan of the UFC, but that’s another story.
So. with that in mind, it should come of great interest that the folks at USA Wrestling, along with the great regional not-for-profit wrestling group “Beat The Streets,” used a little luck and a lot of planning to pull off what could be the grandest stage for Olympic qualifying since maybe the days of the Coliseum.
It was announced this week that as part of “Grapple In The Apple,” a major fundraiser which will already pit the US Olympic wrestling team against the storied Russians, there will also be a “wrestle off” between three hopefuls, with a spot on the London 2012 team on the line live in “The Crossroads of the World.”
Because of an anomaly in the qualifying process, three elite athletes, Shawn Bunch, Reece Humphrey and Coleman Scott, will now have a chance to grab Olympic glory in a venue far removed from where their other potential teammates qualified, in Iowa City, Iowa, earlier in the spring.
The U.S. Olympic team wrestle-off became necessary because the United States had not yet qualified to compete at the London Olympic Games at 60 kg/132 lbs. in men’s freestyle prior to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
According to the Olympic Trials procedures for men’s freestyle wrestling, USA Wrestling could hold athletes out of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in order to participate in Olympic games qualifying events. Bunch and Humphrey were chosen to train for the Olympic games qualifiers. By the procedures, the winner of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials at the weight class would also become eligible for the secondary Olympic Trials if the United States was able to qualify the weight class. Scott was the champion at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.
On April 27, Bunch placed third in the World Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament in Taiyuan, China, which qualified the United States to compete in the London Games at 60 kg/132 lbs. At that event, the top three athletes in each weight class qualified their nation to participate in the Olympics. As the athlete who qualified the USA for the Olympics, Bunch moves directly into the best-of-three championship series for the Olympic berth.
The addition of the “Wrestle Off” raises what already was an elite competition, arguably the last showcase for athletes of any sport in New York before London, to yet another level. The Russia versus U.S. matchup as a tune-up for a young American team was already enough incentive, according to USA Wrestling coach Zeke Jones.
“Anytime you wrestle the Russians, you have to be ready. They are very good, very deep and you can’t look past anyone. We are just coming off of the Freestyle World Cup, and we need our Olympians to compete again. But this is not just about preparation for the Olympic Games. It is an important match that has been on our schedule and we are looking to win.”
It will be the third time that “Beat The Streets,” whose mission is to expand and develop wrestling in the New York City metropolitan area from the youth through the Olympic level, has put together an over-the-top event to showcase the sport and raise dollars.
Two years ago, the organization, chaired by successful Wall Street entrepreneur Mike Novogratz, held an event on the deck of the USS Intrepid, and last year it created the first-ever wrestling event in Times Square. Adding the Olympic team and the qualifier to a mix, sponsored by Asics and also including high school wrestlers and a mix of celebrities (Matthew Modine, Rashard Evans and Ashton Kutcher all were in the crowd to show support last year) will again take the annual fundraiser to another level.
“We are extremely excited to bring wrestling to Times Square again. Last year was amazing and this year is only going to be better. Providing Team USA a true send-off for the London Games is a dream scenario. I can't imagine a better way to honor them and raise awareness for USA Wrestling, Beat the Streets, and our great sport,” said Novogratz.
The U.S. lineup will already feature Olympic Trials champions Sam Hazewinkel (55 kg), Jared Frayer (66 kg), Jordan Burroughs (74 kg), Jake Herbert (84 kg), Jake Varner (96 kg) and Tervel Dlagnev (120 kg). Competing in the dual at 60 kg will be Olympic Trials runner-up Logan Stieber.
So while other sports hold their complete trials in locations from Oregon to Florida, wrestling has a chance, through a fluke in the schedule, to jump to center stage in the Olympic world in the media capital of the world.
The event is open to the public, so anyone from The Naked Cowboy to tourists to theatergoers and businesspeople will have a chance to take part in a true Olympic experience, maybe for the first time in their lives. The event will also be shown on the largest video screen in the area, again making the event truly larger than life.
A spectacle fitting the Olympic movement of today, one that even the Roman Emperors would have approved of, even without the lions, slaves and blood.
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