With the USA men’s freestyle Olympic Team Trials coming up this weekend, I’ll be taking a look at the field per each weight class to lay out the title picture. I focused on results from the past two years, as a lot can change in wrestling over a short period of time.
USA Men’s Freestyle Olympic Team Trials - 57 kg
Likely to be the favorite coming in, Senior Nationals and NCAA champion Spencer Lee will not be competing, due to injury.
Daton Fix - Qualified as the returning 2019 World team member. 2nd at 2021 NCAAs after beating Austin DeSanto and losing to Roman Bravo-Young. Went 2-2 at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone in Italy, where he lost to Thomas Gilman 2-1. At the World team wrestle-off in 2019, he beat Gilman two matches to one. The last time he wrestled the rest of the field was 2019 at the US Open, where he beat Gilman, Darian Cruz, and Vito Arujau. Fix does not appear to be in top form, but you can’t count him out.
Thomas Gilman - Qualified as a 2017 World silver medalist. Gilman has been busy in the past two years, competing at seven international tournaments and medalling at five of them. At the 2020 Matteo Pellicone he notched wins over Daton Fix and Joe Colon. Gilman also qualified 57 kg for the USA at the Pan-Am Qualifier, where he picked up an impressive win over U23 World champion Ortega of Cuba. The “pro event” season started well for Gilman, he took out Darian Cruz and Frank Perrelli early on. Things looked ugly when Gilman lost 4-4 on criteria against Seth Gross, but he bounced back when he defeated Sean Russell via technical fall. Gilman’s most recent result is his worst, he was pinned by Zach Sanders. His results against the top of the field bode well, but you have to wonder where he’s at right now. Penn State coaches are notorious for getting their wrestlers ready for the competitions that matter the most, we’ll see if Gilman’s move to the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club pays off.
Nick Suriano - Qualified by taking 4th place at 2019 Senior Nationals. There he lost to Vito Arujau via criteria, and on the backside he defeated Zane Richards, Darian Cruz and Nahshon Garrett before defaulting in the 3rd place match, which would have been against Arujau again. Suriano has not been active on the “pro” event circuit since he defeated Joe Colon at Beat the Streets, but he has been getting plenty of tournament experience. He took a loss to Seth Gross at the Bill Farrell Memorial in 2019, but also picked up solid victories over Zach Sanders, Zane Richards and Nahshon Garrett to take 3rd. Suriano returned in excellent form in 2020, taking first at the Henri Deglane in France, outplacing Gilman and Colon. I’m trying not to include results over foreign competitors, but Suriano picked up an outstanding victory over World top 5 Makhir Amiraslanov as well. Suriano had a strong performance at the 2021 Matteo Pellicone where he showed he was on the same level as some of the top competitors in the world. He has a lot of momentum heading into the trials.
The Rest of the Field
Vito Arujau - Qualified by taking 3rd at 2019 Senior Nationals, where he defeated Zach Sanders and Nick Suriano, losing only to Spencer Lee. Arujau also holds a technical fall victory over Sean Russell from February. He was defeated by Thomas Gilman at the Henri Deglane in France. Arujau also holds two wins over Nahshon Garrett and one over Darian Cruz from the RTC Cup in December. A Junior World silver medalist, Arujau has a lot of upside and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him jump levels here after sitting out the NCAA season for Cornell.
Seth Gross - Qualified as the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial champion, where he beat Nick Suriano, Darian Cruz, and Nathan Tomasello. Gross has been extremely active on the “pro” event circuit, losing a wild 21-15 match to Joe Colon, defeating Thomas Gilman via criteria, defeating Zane Richards 11-3, before moving up in weight to take on Joey McKenna in a losing effort. At the RTC Cup in December, Gross defeated Zach Sanders and Darian Cruz before losing to Nahshon Garrett. Gross made an impressive return in January over Ivan Yarygin champion Rustam Ampar. Gross is a huge 57 kg wrestler, his length can cause problems for anyone at the weight, we’ll see how he performs.
Nahshon Garrett - Qualified as the 2018 Final X champion at 61 kg, was unable to compete at the World championships due to injury. Garrett’s results have been up and down in the past two years. At the Bill Farrell Memorial, he was defeated by Zane Richards, but was able to pick up wins over Sean Russell and Darian Cruz on the backside, before losing to Suriano to take 4th. Garrett returned to action at the RTC Cup in December, where he looked a bit rusty at first, losing to Jack Mueller. He took two tough losses to Vito Arujau before picking up steam, defeating Zach Sanders and then Seth Gross in an excellent performance. In January he took on the challenge of moving up in weight to wrestle Joey McKenna at 65 kg, and was defeated by technical fall. If Garrett performs the way he did against Seth Gross, he has a shot against anyone at the weight.
Joe Colon - Qualified as the 2018 World bronze medalist at 61 kg. Colon has been active since his medal-winning performance at Worlds, his best result coming at the 2019 Pan-American Championship, where he avenged a loss to Yowlys Bonne Rodriguez. Colon concluded 2019 with the Beat the Streets loss to Nick Suriano, but came back strong to win silver at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone. There he defeated Stevan Micic and a very tough Ukranian before losing to Gilman in the finals 4-3. Colon will be one of the most experienced competitors in the field, but he’s coming off a long layoff. His last match was a September victory over Seth Gross.
Tyler Graff - Qualified as the 2019 World team member at 61 kg. After a strong 5th place performance at Worlds, Graff won the 2020 Pan-American Championship, albeit over a very weak field. He medalled at the 2021 Matteo Pellicone tournament at 61 kg, but again the field was extremely thin. Graff has been otherwise inactive, but he could play spoiler to some big names in this bracket.
Nathan Tomasello - Qualified as the 2019 Senior Nationals runner-up, he defeated Nahshon Garrett via technical fall before losing to Spencer Lee in the finals. Tomasello also made the finals of the 2019 Bill Farrell Memorial, where he defeated Sean Russell and Zane Richards before losing to Seth Gross in the finals. Tomasello’s last international look was the Cerro Pelado in 2020, where he took silver, only losing to the U23 World champion Ortega in the finals. We have not yet seen Tomasello compete in 2021, but his recent results do not suggest that he can be an Olympic team contender.
Zach Sanders - Qualified after taking 5th at 2019 Senior Nationals. He lost his first Senior Nationals match to Vito Arujau but fought back to the consolation semifinals, only to lost to Vito Arujau again. He defeated Nahshon Garrett for 5th. Sanders represented the US at the Intercontinental Cup and the World Cup in 2019, but was unable to produce significant results. At the RTC Cup, Sanders lost to Seth Gross and Nahshon Garrett. Sanders has been super active in the “pro” circuit, losing a close match to Zane Richards, being pinned by Spencer Lee, losing again to Vito Arujau, but somehow he pinned Thomas Gilman in February, so anything is possible!
Sean Russell - Qualified as the Last Chance Qualifier champion. Sean Russell hasn’t had great results against the field in the past, but he looked sensational at the Last Chance Qualifier. He beat Darian Cruz, Jack Mueller and Zane Richards to make the Olympic Team Trials. Hopefully he can carry that momentum into the trials.
Zane Richards - Qualified as the Last Chance Qualifier true 2nd. After losing to Russell in the finals, Richards wrestled off Jack Mueller for the “true 2nd” spot, winning by technical fall. Richards is 1-1 in his “pro” matches, defeating Zach Sanders and losing to Seth Gross. He’ll be a heavy underdog in this field, but the Illinois veteran has international experience that could carry him through some tough matches.
Roman Bravo-Young - Qualified as the 2021 NCAA champion. It is not confirmed if “RBY” will be competing at the Olympic Trials yet, but he has a ton of momentum if so. He defeated 2019 World team member Daton Fix in the NCAA finals with a full rideout and a sudden-victory takedown. He’s participated in the “pro” matches as well - defeating Jack Mueller and Shelton Mack. You may also remember he won an exhibition match over UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. RBY has been competing against the USA’s senior level athletes for a few years now, I wouldn’t be surprised if he could knock off some of the names in this field.
I’m going with Nick Suriano. Like in any sport, wrestlers often “turn it on” for the most important competitions, but I have to use the context of the past year first and foremost. The top contenders are rightfully Daton Fix and Thomas Gilman - but both have had some rough patches recently. Fix losing NCAAs was either a blow to his confidence, or it lit a fire under him. After all, he lost in the finals to Suriano in 2019 before making the World team! Gilman has been active, but after he was pinned by Zach Sanders I have to question where he’s at right now.
The man with the most momentum is Nick Suriano. He took the year off college wrestling and honestly, he may never return. He’s been training purely freestyle out in Arizona with former men’s freestyle head coach Zeke Jones, and the results have been fantastic. He looked dominant at the Henri Deglane, and he was right there with world #8 Nurislam Sanayev. Suriano is someone who can shut down the offense of any competitor and has great instincts for chasing opportunities when they present themselves.
If there’s a dark horse contender, it’s either a rising age-group talent like Vito Arujao or a proven veteran like Tyler Graff or Joe Colon. Graff hasn’t wrestled domestic competition since winning the spot in 2019, but he’s looked about as good as he ever has in his recent freestyle appearances. Joe Colon is in a similar spot - there isn’t anything big to point to recently in terms of results but he’s definitely still about as good as he’s been in the past year or so. The rest of the field will have to be on their game.
Vito Arujau is reasonably a top five contender, but some may look down on his chances due to a 6-2 loss to Gilman at the Henri Deglane. Freestyle scores can be deceiving, and I think Arujau has plenty of room left to grow. He’s had all year to focus on freestyle, because of the Ivy League’s decision not to compete at the NCAA level. If there’s someone who will break out and look like they’ve jumped levels, it’s got to be Arujau.
Although we are now missing Spencer Lee, this field is extremely competitive and the winner will surely be a medal threat in Tokyo. Now that the seeds have been announced, it looks like it will be Suriano vs. Gilman in the semifinals, and Daton Fix will likely face Vito Arujau. My official prediction is that the winner of Suriano-Gilman is going to make the Olympic team.