A Look Inside The Numbers As Wrestlers Vie For A Spot In Tokyo At Wrestling’s U.S. Olympic Trials
by Todd Kortemeier
Jordan Burroughs poses for a portrait during the Team USA Tokyo 2020 Olympics shoot on Nov. 21, 2019 in West Hollywood, Calif.
Inside the Numbers presented by DeVry is a series that gives fans a peek at the numbers behind what it takes to qualify for Team USA and other incredible facts about Team USA sports.
Athletes in all sports want to be No. 1. For the wrestlers taking to the mat at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling next month in Fort Worth, Texas, being the last one standing also means it’s their ticket to Tokyo.
There’s only one spot in each weight class available at the Games, where 288 total athletes will face off. Whether this is a wrestler’s first time at Trials or if they’re already an Olympic champion, they’ll all need to earn their place on the U.S. Olympic Team through Trials.
With Trials just around the corner and the Games themselves not far behind this summer, here’s a closer look at wrestling by the numbers presented by DeVry University.
Sure, wrestling was one of nine sports on the program at the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, but wrestling’s association with the Games goes back way further than that. It was a fixture of the Ancient Olympic Games, introduced in 708 B.C. Wrestlers were hugely popular athletes in their time, competing in a sport with few rules and using nearly any means necessary to subdue their opponents.
The only modern Games wrestling has not appeared in was the 1900 Paris Games. A 2013 proposal to drop wrestling for 2020 nearly came to pass before the sport’s leadership successfully campaigned for its readmittance.
Only men were allowed to participate in the Ancient Olympic Games. And until 2004, that was how wrestling operated at the modern Games as well. Four freestyle weight classes were contested in the first women’s meet, with Team USA’s Sara McCann taking silver at 63 kg. and Patricia Miranda winning bronze at 48 kg.
The circle where the action takes place in a wrestling match is just 9 meters (29.53 feet) wide. Wrestlers ultimately seek to pin each other, but also score points based on the effectiveness of their actions and the degree to which they put their opponent in danger. Competition is timed with two periods of three minutes.
Wrestling has two disciplines: freestyle and Greco-Roman. Greco-Roman is a discipline exclusively contested by men, while men and women compete in freestyle. These disciplines are similar but have several subtle differences, the main one being freestyle wrestlers can score points using their legs. Historically, Team USA has been much more successful in freestyle. The United States is the world leader with 118 freestyle medals all time compared to 15 total medals in Greco-Roman wrestling. Spots in both disciplines will be on the line in Fort Worth.
Fort Worth is the 10th city to host the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling since USA Wrestling was founded in its current form in 1983. Trials were originally scheduled for April 2020 in State College, Pennsylvania, but were postponed and later moved due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The action will take place at Dickies Arena, best known as the annual home of the world-famous Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. This won’t be the first wrestling Trials held in Texas, as Dallas hosted in 2000.
As of March 28, 221 athletes have qualified for the Olympic Trials, 65 in men’s freestyle, 85 in women’s freestyle and 71 in Greco-Roman. Among those athletes will be Trials first-timers as well as Olympic gold medalists such as Jordan Burroughs, Helen Maroulis and Kyle Snyder.
Some of the world’s very best will be at Trials, including five reigning world champions. At 76 kg., Adeline Gray’s 2019 title was her fifth overall. Tamyra Mensah-Stock, a world champion at 68 kg., recently bested Gray in an exhibition match. Jacarra Winchester won her first world title at 55 kg, two-time world champion Kyle Dake is the reigning champ at 79 kg. and Olympic medalist J’Den Cox won his second consecutive world title at 92 kg.
There are 18 weight classes that will be contested in Tokyo. Men’s and women’s freestyle have six weight classes each and Greco-Roman also has six. The men’s freestyle weight classes are 57 kg., 65 kg., 74 kg., 86 kg., 97 kg. and 125 kg. The women’s freestyle weight classes are 50 kg., 53 kg., 57 kg., 62 kg., 68 kg. and 76 kg. And Greco-Roman’s six classes are 60 kg., 67 kg., 77 kg., 87 kg., 97 kg. and 130 kg.
Team USA has earned Olympic quota spots in 15 of the 18 weight classes to be contested in Tokyo. The three weight classes that Team USA still has yet to qualify spots in are 65 kg. men’s freestyle, 77 kg. Greco-Roman and 130 kg. Greco-Roman. But all Olympic weight classes will be contested at the Trials in the event the U.S. does earn a quota spot later on in the qualifying period.
In classes where the U.S. has already earned a quota spot, the athlete who earned that quota spot goes right to a best-of-three final with the winner of the Trials meet. The winner of that best-of-three final earns a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team. One athlete in that position is Mensah-Stock, who earned the 68 kg. quota spot but will need to win at Trials to make that spot hers.
This year’s Olympic meet will take place Aug. 1 to Aug. 7, 2021. Wrestling will be one of several sports contested outside of Tokyo itself, with matches taking place at Makuhari Messe in nearby Chiba.