'The Qualified 9'
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'The Qualified 9'

Part 1 on the 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team

'The Qualified 9'
Daryk Cochran

Winner Take All

April 9th-10th, the 2016 USA Wrestling Team was determined at the Olympic Team Trials. Of the 18 weights contested, 9 had been previously qualified for the Rio Games in August: in Greco-Roman: GR75KG, GR85KG, GR130KG; in Women’s Freestyle: WFS63KG and WFS75KG; and in Men’s Freestyle: MFS57KG, MFS74KG, MFS97KG, and WFS125KG. When competitors in these weight classes entered Iowa’s Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the OTTs, they knew they were wrestling for a spot in the Olympic Games and that if they won, they would be a part of The Qualified 9.

On Saturday the 9th, 2012 Olympian for TeamUSA at then-weight class GR74KG, Ben Provisor, returned to form and took the Olympic berth at GR85KG. Provisor beat the 3x-incumbent World Team member Jordan Holm 3-0 in the semi-finals to make it into the best-of-3 championship final against veteran Jake Clark (who made World Teams in 2006 and 2010!). There Provisor sealed up his summer plans, beating Clark by 3-0 and fall in two-straight matches.

At MFS125KG, Tervel Dlagnev, 2x World Bronze Medalist (2009, 2014) and 3x World/Olympic 5th (2011-2013), returned from a back-injury that kept him sidelined in 2015. In the finals, Dlagnev met a familiar opponent in Zach Rey, the 2015 World Teamer for the US. In the 2015 World Team Trials, Rey lost to Dlagnev in the best-of-3 final 1 win to 2 wins. In 2016, Dlagnev widened the gap, winning 3-1, 5-3 to sweep Rey and make his 2nd Olympic Team.

Also wrestling for a trip to the Olympics was the WFS63KG weight class. 2x University World Gold, 2x World Silver, 2012 World Gold, and 9x World Teamer Elena Pirozhkova returned to the WFS63KG weight after being the World Rep at WFS69KG in 2015. Pirozhkova met the incumbent at 63KG, Erin Clodgo, in the best-of-3 championship final. Clodgo was a 7x National Teamer coming into the tournament. Pirozhkova iced her claim to the WFS63KG throne, topping Clodgo 3-1, FALL in two-straight matches.

On Sunday, two of the most interesting weights were wrestled. At GR130KG, 2x CA HS State placer, 3x World Teamer, and returning World 5th, Robby Smith smashed his way to the finals on the back of a 39-sec fall and an 8-0 Tech Fall. He would meet 2x 285lbs NCAA All-American, 2014 Junior World Dual-Style Bronze Adam Coon of the University of Michigan. To reach the finals, Coon rattled off 9-1, 10-0 Tech Falls. In the finals, Smith’s experience and technique were too much for the talented Coon, as Smith swept Coon 4-1, 7-2 to lock up his spot on the Rio team in what may be a meeting of the present and future of USA Greco at 130KG.

At MFS57KG, 2x-incumbent World Teamer, 2014 133lbs NCAA Champion for the University of Iowa, Tony Ramos reached the finals via two criteria wins, the first over 2016 133lbs NCAA Champ Nahshon Garrett 3-3, the second over 2012 Olympic Bronze Medalist at MFS66KG Coleman Scott 4-4. On the other side of the bracket, 2010 133lbs NCAA Runner-up (also for Iowa) Daniel Dennis reached the finals trumping 2x NCAA All-American Alan Waters 9-2 and 2013 133lbs Runner-up Tyler Graff 6-2.

In match one, Ramos and Dennis wrestled to a 2-1 match, with Dennis the victor (though no offensive points were scored). In match two, however, Dennis wasted no time, getting a quick go-behind takedown and gut-wrenching Ramos to earn his trip to the Olympics via 10-0 Tech Fall.

“You have to take it from him.”

Immortal words by 1984 Olympic Champion Jeff Blatnick perfectly describe the next weights of The Qualified 9. In these weights, a competitor earned an automatic berth to the championship series by virtue of earning a World medal at the weight in 2015. Wrestlers waited in the finals were 2x World Bronze (2014, 2015) Andy Bisek (GR75KG), 4x World/Olympic Champion (2011-13, 2015) and 2014 World Bronze Jordan Burroughs (MFS74KG), 3x World Champion (2012, 2014, 2015) and 2x World Bronze (2011, 2013) Adeline Gray, and the youngest World Champion in USA history Kyle Snyder (MFS97KG) who struck Gold in 2015.

“The ‘Stache” Andy Bisek met University of Central Florida (NCWA affiliated-team) undefeated National Champion Geordan Speiller, who made the finals via 10-2, 13-2 tech falls alongside a 7-0 shut-out win. Speiller entered the Trials off a February win over 2014 World Champion Peter Bacsi (Hungary). Not to be outdone, the 2x World Bronze beat Speiller two-straight, 6-2 and 4-0 to make his 5th World Team and become a 1st-time Olympian at GR75KG.

At MFS74KG, living-legend Jordan Burroughs met the familiar Andrew Howe (who Burroughs beat to make TeamUSA in 2011, 2012), a 4x National Teamer and 2009 Junior World Bronze. Prior to wrestling Burroughs, Howe topped Minnesota High School phenom Mark Hall 10-0, 2016 165lbs NCAA Champion and Hodge Trophy winner Alex Dieringer 5-2, before beating 2014 MFS70KG World Teamer and the only American to beat Burroughs, Nick Marable, 2-1.

In the finals, Howe (“the second best wrestler in the world” by Burroughs’s measure) took it to the champion, but JB was too much. JB won 9-3 in the first match, then won the second in quick and dominant fashion, 10-0, to make his 6th-straight World/ Olympic team.

Defending World Champion Adeline Gray, the only wrestler to match Jordan Burroughs in medal percentage across 2011-2015 at 100%, met Victoria Francis, a 3x WCWA Finalist and 2x Champion (2015-16) in the championship series at WFS75KG. Francis powered through the tournament to make the finals, winning 11-0, 9-0, slipping through 2-2 on criteria, and 10-2. Similar to Burroughs at MFS74KG, though, Gray proved too much, shutting-out Francis 11-0, 10-0 in straight matches to become a 1st-time Olympian.

2x CA HS State Champion, 2x 197lbs NCAA Champion (2009-2010), 2011 World Bronze, 2012 Olympic Champion Jake Varner made his return in a strong manner, going unscored upon prior to the finals. He won 11-0 in the opening round, 4-0 over 2015 197lbs NCAA Champion Kyven Gadson, and 6-0 over 2011 197lbs NCAA Champion, 2013 Runner-up, 2014 University World Silver Dustin Kilgore. Waiting for him would be 2015 197lbs NCAA Runner-up, 2016 285lbs Champion, 2015 MFS97KG World Champion Kyle Snyder.

In match one of the MFS97KG finals, Varner continued his winning ways, beating Snyder 4-4 on criteria. However, Snyder would turn it on, beating a fatigued Varner 4-0 in match two to force a deciding match three. There, Snyder left no doubt, winning 6-1 as the defending World Champion beat the defending Olympic Champion for a chance to represent the USA in Rio.

(Artwork by Daryk Cochran/ @Mocs190. Used with permission.)
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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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