The most entertaining Olympic wrestling preview is back with the first Greco-Roman entry.
Here, we preview the fifty-five kilogram weight class. What does this mean? It means a bunch of really light, really strong men, are really throwing each other around on a mat. Nobody is sure who will win gold, but one certainty is that somebody is going to be lifted high in the air for the entertainment of all.
At this weight, we see if one of the world's very best can regain his old form, and finally win Olympic gold. We will also discover if the U.S. Army's Spenser Mango can prevail, and truly embody the American Dream. And lastly, we will find out if China is finally going to put its stamp on Olympic wrestling, establishing itself as Greco wrestling's new force to be reckoned with.
Olympic Wrestling Previews
Men's Freestyle 74kg| Men's Freestyle 84kg
Read after the jump for all you need to know about the Greco-Roman fifty-five kilogram weight class in the 2012 London Games
Greco-Roman wrestling is a funny thing. I’ve heard it described as no-gi judo, this is very wrong. I’ve it described as the wrestling the Helenistic Greeks practiced at the original Olympics. If you’ve read the Illiad’s depiction of the funeral games of Patroclus, and viewed wrestling illustrations of that era, you would know that this is most likely wrong as well. Most often, it is explained as freestyle wrestling where leg attacks, either in the form of a shot, or a trip, are prohibited. This is close to the truth, but there are some additional differences in how the match is administered (The IOC is supposedly putting pressure on FILA to deepen the distinction between Greco and free). I’m not going to sit here and explain the rules of Greco, but I can link to an article that does.
Previous readers of my previews may notice that I left "thorough" out of the title. This is simply because that level of detail won't be present for my Greco previews. My relationship with Greco is different than with other styles of wrestling. I'll toot my own horn and claim to have a Mel Kiper-like knowledge of division one NCAA wrestling, along with a fairly impressive command of freestyle facts. Also, due to my experience as an athlete, coach, and student of the sport, I've developed a scientific understanding of the mechanics of those styles of wrestling.
On the other hand, I've never coached Greco, and have only dabbled in it as a wrestler. This being the case, the sport's tactics, set ups, and progressions can be somewhat alien to me. I'm a fan of Greco in much the way I'm a fan of hockey; I know who is good, I know why they are good, but some of the intricacies of what they are doing are lost on me.
For this reason, and due to intrusions of real life into my wrestling writing "career",these Greco previews will feature less content than freestyle.
Greco competition starts on the fifth. Give it look if you can, while it can certainly be boring and frustrating to watch, it can also be one of the most impressive sports to watch, period. The sport is kind of like Sonic Youth's musical catalog; there's lots of material that is inaccessible and hard to appreciate from a casual audience perspective, but sprinkled in is some stuff that really, really kicks ass
Field of Competitors
Rovshan Bayramov, Azerbaijan
Elbek Tazhyieu, Belarus
Shujin Li, China
Mingiyan Semenov, Russia
Peter Modos, Hungary
Won Chul Yon, North Korea
Hakan Nyblom, Denmark
Aleksandar Kostadinov, Bulgaria
Kohie Kasagawa, Japan
Hamid Sourian, Iran
Gustavo Balart, Cuba
Spenser Mango, USA
Halima Abou, Egypt
Fouad Farjari, Morocco
Gyu-Jin Choi, Korea
Ayhan Karakus, Turkey
Elmurat Tasmuradov, Uzbekistan
Vyugar Ragymov, Ukraine
Arsen Eraliev, Kyrgyzstan
2011 world championships
1. Rovshan Bayramov, Azerbaijan
2. Elbek Tazhyiev, Belarus
3. Shujin Li, China; Bekhan Mankiev, Russia
2010 world championships
1. Hamid Sourian,Iran
2. Gyu-Jin Choi, Korea
3. Roman Amoyan, Armenia, Nazir Mankiev, Russia
2009 world championships
1. Hamid Sourian,Iran
2. Roman Amoyan, Armenia
3. Rovshan Bayramov, Azerbaijan; Hakan Nyblom, Denmark
1. Nazir Mankiev, Russia
2. Rovshan Bayramov, Azerbaijan
3. Roman Amoyan, Armenia; Eun-Chul, Park, Korea
Who Will Win This Weight
Five time world champ, and only twenty-seven year old Hamid Sourian is back to reclaim this weight after taking last year off. I don't know why he was absent from the sport last year, but it appears it was a voluntary sabbatical. Since coming back, there are murmurs that maybe some of the magic has worn off, and that he isn't quite the same as he used to be. But Sourian is a true champion, and still has to be considered one of the world's very best pound for pound wrestlers, and sometimes all it takes is an Olympics for as great a competitor as he to snap back into form.
With Sourian, the co-favorite would be returning world champ Bayramov of Azerbaijan, and after him is a host of excellent, medal capable wrestlers in an extremely deep weight class. Keep an eye on Shujin Li of China, one of the bronze medalists from last year. The Chinese keep making big strides in this sport, and this might be the place where they finally break through for a gold medal.
How the American Will Do
American Greco wrestling is good enough at this point where long time domestic dominance usually portends world level medals (as opposed to, say, when Dan Henderson was on two Olympic teams). Spenser Mango is wrestling in his second Olympics, and has been the country's best wrestler at this weight for a while, but has not been able to break through on the world level; I am not sure why this is the case. He is so good that he essentially drove Sam Hazewinkel out of Greco and into freestyle, and Sam is now the freestyle Olympic rep at fifty-five kilos. It isn't like this is a weak weight for the United States. Americans have had recent success at this weight on the world level; Spenser's predecessor, the recently departed and fondly remembered Lindsay Durlacher, won a world silver medal in 2006.
What is more, Mango is a freaking beast. I think that pound for pound, he is one of the most powerful and explosive athletes on Earth. His highlight reel is jaw-dropping.
Mango is a great story as well. He grew up in a rough part of St. Louis, and his father was fatally shot while Spenser was in kindergarten. His brother is currently entering his senior year at Stanford where he is a two time All-American. The Mangos are a real wrestling success story, and I am desperately hoping that Spenser can bring home a medal, preferably gold, his is a story that really ought to be told with a Costas voice-over.
Dark Horse From a Strange Land
Greco is even more predictable than freestyle when it comes to the countries of origin for the sport's best. The biggest difference is that Greco seems to see fewer elite competitors from Japan, and makes up for that with world-class Scandinavians. So I guess my pick here as a dark horse from a strange land is the Dane, Hakan Nyblom, though it really is not that strange to see an elite competitor from any Scandinavian country. Nyblom is a former world bronze medalist, and has been a consistent world-level medal contender for some time now.
I've watched extensive tape on Nyblom, and here is my scouting report: he is short, strong, and good at pushing people around. Weird, I have the same report for everyone at this weight.
Li of China over Bayramov of Azerbaijan. A Chinese wrestler is going to win gold at some point, why not here and now.
Mike Riordan is Bloody Elbow's writer for Olympic and college wrestling. He was a really bad college wrestler many years ago.