Here we go, previewing weights two at a time and just in time for Greco-Roman competition to start on August fifth.
Today we present to you the sixty and sixty-six kilogram weight classes. In this edition, we feature potential Iranian dominance, America's best shot at Greco gold, and air-borne tree-dwelling rodents.
Here, at sixty kilos, we will see if Ellis Coleman, the rising American Greco wrestling star is more than a single gimmicky move, as he squares off against more established competition at his first Olympic games. At sixty-six kilos, the American Justin Lester also arrives at his first Olympic games - but with two world bronze medals in tow. The paths of Coleman and Lester to Olympic gold likely go through their weights' reigning Iranian champions. Things are going to be tough, so let's see if Lester and Coleman are tough enough to get going.
Field of Competitors 60kg
Omid Noroozi, Iran Almat Kebispayev, Kazakhstan Zaur Kuramagomedov, Russia Ivo Angelov, Bulgaria Luis Liendo, Venezuela Jin-Yung Jun, Korea Hasan Aliev, Azerbaijan Matti Kettunen, Finland Jiang Sheng, China Ryutaro Matsumoto, Japan Lugones Meoque Ellis Colemen, USA Sayed Hamed, Egypt Tarek Bennaisa, Algeria Lenur Temirov, Ukraine Tarik Belmadani, France Rahman Bilici, Turkey Revaz Lashki, Georgia Stig Berge, Norway
2011 World Championships
1. Omid Noroozi, Iran 2. Almat Kebispayev, Kazakhstan 3. Zaur Kuramagomedov, Russia 3. Ivo Angelov, Bulgaria
2010 World Championships
1. Hasan Aliev, Azerbaijan 2. Ryutaro Matsumoto, Japan 3. Almat Kebispayev, Kazakhstan 3. Ji-Hyun Jung, Korea
2009 World Championships
1. Islambek Albiev, Russia 2. Dilshod Aripov, Uzbekistan 3. Vitaly Rahimov, Azerbaijan 3. Nurbakyt Tengizbayev, Kazakhstan
1. Islambek Albiev, Russia 2. Rahimov, Vitaly Azerbaijan 3. Vitaly Rahimov, Azerbaijan 3. Ruslan Tyumenbaev, Kyrgyzstan
Field of Competitors 66kg
Saeid Abdvali, Iran Manuchar Tskhadaia, Georgia Hyeon-Woo Kim, Korea Pedro Mulens, Cuba Frank Staebler, Germany Justin Lester, USA Steeve Guenot, France Edgaras Venckaitis, Lithuania Darkhan Bayakhmetov, Kazakhstan Tsutomu Fujimura, Japan Vicente Huacon, Ecuador Wuileixis de Jesus Rivas,Venezuela Mohamed Serir, Algeria Ashraf Elgharably, Egypt Tamas Lorincz, Hungary Pascal Strebel, Switzerland Aleksandar Maksimovic Atakan Yuksel, Turley Hovhannes Varderesyan, Armienia
2011 World Championships
1.Saeid Abdvali, Iran 2.Manukhar Tskhadaia,Georgia 3.Pedro Mulens, Cuba 3.Hyeon-Woo Kim, Korea
2010 World Championships
1.Ambako Vachadze,Russia 2.Armen Vardanyan, Ukraine 3.Vitaly Rahimov, Azerbaijan 3. Vasif Arzimanov, Turkey
2009 World Championships
1.Farid Mansurov, Azerbaijan 2.Manukhar Tskhadaia, Georgia 3.Pedro Mulens, Cuba 3.Ambako Vachadze, Russia
1. Steeve Guenot, France 2. Kanatbek Begaliev, Kyrgyzstan 3. Armen Vardanyan, Ukraine 3. Mikhail Semenov, Belarus
Random Thoughts on These Weights
Wow, I'd lost track of just how insanely good Iran is at Greco. They have one of the world's most dominant wrestlers returning at 55 KG, and two world champs returning at the 60 and 66, as well as a world bronze medalist back at 120 kilos. Granted, the remaining two Olympic qualifiers are pretty ordinary, but wow, we could be looking at three Iranians standing atop the podium in a row; this never happens in this day and age to nations not named "Russia".
Sixty kilos is an incredibly volatile weight. Not only is there great turnover in the medalists over the years, but there also seems to be surprising turnover in the representatives themselves; it seems fairly common at this weight for a wrestler to medal, and then be replaced by another wrestler the following year (this has happened at this weight in the U.S. after Joe Warren won his world championship, and then Diaz'ed himself out of competition). Most of the top finishers at this weight from the past two years are back at least, but I'd still hate to be put into a position where I'd have to pick a winner. Oh wait...
Who Should Win These Weights
Neither of the returning Iranian world champs inspire much confidence in me. Noroozi is sometimes annoyingly passive, and Abdvali can be just a bit too aggressive, getting sloppy and giving up crucial points at inopportune times. But both Iranians won individual golds in the Greco World Cup in May, and neither has lost to a foreign opponent in the last year (while on weight), so they have to be considered the favorites coming into these games.
Noroozi last lost against a foreign opponent at 60 kilos at the 2010 worlds. There, the 2011 world bronze medalist, Ji-Hyun Jung of Korea took individual gold. This should mark Jung as a gold medal contender in London. Also watch out for the Kazak, Nurbakyt Tengizbayev, the only wrestler at this weight to earn medals at the last two world championships
At 66 kilos, Georgian, Manukhar Tskhadaia is the returning world runner-up and the last foreign wrestler to place above Abdvali at a tournament. He would have to be considered to have the second best odds to win Olympic gold, at least on paper.
How Will The Americans Do At This Weight
In 1999, the Greco program at the United States Olympic Education Center was founded and the landscape of American Greco wrestling has been different ever since. USOEC Greco took promising athletes out of high school and brought them to the North Pole (AKA Marquette, Michigan) to train Greco at a world class level and take college courses from Northern Michigan University. Since then, USOEC alumni played a big part in the U.S. achieving a Greco world team championship in 2007 (the greatest American sports triumph in history that nobody knows about), and this year a whopping five of the six American Olympic Greco wrestlers are USOEC products.
Two are going to be discussed in this post and I believe that the USOEC Greco program will be able to claim its greatest achievement yet after these games are over: an Olympic gold medalist.
The "flying squirrel" is quickly becoming Ellis Coleman's "Stairway to Heaven". Already a fantastic and very accomplished wrestler, Coleman's one most shining moment seems to be eclipsing the entirety of his body of work. It is an amazing move (go back up and watch the link titled "flying squirrel" if you haven't). Because of this notoriety, Ellis will likely never ever be able to hit the "flying squirrel" in a real high level wrestling match again and we will stop seeing the move during performances. Then, maybe we will be able to better appreciate this incredible wrestling propect.
I say "prospect" because I believe that Coleman's best wrestling is a few years in front of him, and the 2016 Olympics is where I suspect he will really make his mark. With two junior world bronze medals under his belt up at 60 kilos, Ellis's potential for big time world level achievement on the senior circuit is high. And though a medal at these Olympics is unlikely, talent like Coleman possesses always gives him a chip and a chair.
Justin Lester, America's 66 kilo representative, back when people called him Harry, should have been an Olympian in Beijing, but something happened. I don't know whether it was the hours of practice, the huge weight cut, the pressure, or a combination of all three, but somehow the sport got to him, and he was upset at the 2008 Olympic Trials by a high schooler. Before those trials, he was a back to back world bronze medalist, and looked to be the best shot for the US to get a gold in Greco in China. I think he is our best shot in London as well.
After the last Olympics, Lester talked about retiring, joined the army, moved up a weight, took a year off, and then returned to the sport for the 2011 World Championships back at 66 kilos. There he looked like he was back to his old form and narrowly missed a medal. I think these are the games where he takes his next big step in his career and does something truly incredible.
For some insight into just how talented Lester is, check out his surprisingly competitive OTC grudge match with Jordan Burroughs, in freestyle.
Dark Horses from Strange Lands
Can a defending Olympic champ be considered a dark horse? Steeve Guenot won gold in the 2008 Olympics at sixty-six kilos and proved that France is currently the Western European nation with the best program for developing world class wrestlers from scratch. Steeve's gold was no fluke: he lost in the bronze medal match of last year's World Championships. I do not know what method France is using to cultivate talent like Guenot, or Didier Pais on the freestyle side, but maybe countries like the UK or Spain could emulate it. They should try, at least; if France can generate world class wrestlers, anyone can.
My dark horse from a strange land at sixty kilos is Matti Kettunen, from Finland. I know I keep saying how Scandinavians are good at Greco and then acting like it is a weird thing, but... wait, are the Finnish Scandinavian? I can't get a straight answer on this question. Please, somebody, give me a hand here.
Sixty kilos: Noroozi over Jun
Sixty-six kilos: Lester over Tskhadia
Mike Riordan is a coach and unsuccessful collegiate wrestler. He is Bloody Elbow's writer on matters of collegiate and Olympic wrestling.