Riordan's Roundup: August 28, 2013

Aaron Pico makes it three individual FILA Cadet World champions in three years. Not too bad if I do say so myself. The future of American wrestling is bright. I found Pico's championship run to be particularly reassuring; after watching him trounce domestic competition, much of it older than he, I would have been pretty frightened were he not the best 16-year-old wrestler at this weight in the world.

Pico's World championship tournament did not allow him to cakewalk his way to a gold medal, which makes his performance impressive in its own way. Dominance always wows us, but Pico's triumph, which saw him pushed hard in his last matches, should inspire almost the same level of amazement. Pico's first World championship in wrestling at any level saw him exhibit remarkable grit and composure, and he needed in overcoming stiff challenges from some very good competition. In particular, the Japanese wrestler he faced in the finals was tougher than microwaved spare ribs, and Aaron handled him with a professional level of composure.

If you have followed Pico's career thus far, you have probably heard his accompanying detractors complain about his age. He will turn 17 early in his sophomore year of high school this fall. These complaints would certainly become more audible in a couple of years if he were to win a fourth California state championship at 19 and a half years old. This looks more and more like it will become a non-issue for two reasons. First off, Pico just proved that he is the best 16-year-old wrestler at his weight in the world, not someone who merely takes advantage of superior physical development.

Aaron Pico with his coach Valentin Kalika
Second, if I were a betting man (I'm actually not, my vices are limited to beer, cheese, and red meat), I would put my life savings that Pico will not be winning four California state championships because he won't be wrestling in high school as a senior. In fact, if I were Aaron, I'd be on the next bus to Colorado Springs. Pico's semifinals and finals matches at the Cadet World Championships, and the competition they offered, are exactly what he needs; only he needs it every day, and in every practice. Don Bosco has a great program, but I will go ahead and guess that it does not offer him a chance to compete against a variety of world-class opponents on a daily basis. Pico needs to train in a room where he might get beat up a bit, anything else could stunt his growth, and that would be a shame.

After watching this and last week's wrestling I have come to the conclusion that the Olympic wrestling styles will never be easily understood by a casual audience, no matter how much the rules get tinkered with. In light of this, I've realized that the most important potential person for the future of Olympic wrestling broadcasts could be its color commentator. Olympic freestyle and gymnastics suffer from a similar problem as wrestling-important differences in scoring hinge on highly subtle criteria which the uninitiated would never possibly understand. Luckily, if you have the chance to watch broadcasts of these sports, you will notice their accompaniment by an articulate and knowledgeable analyst who skillfully illuminates much of the sports' murky scoring elements. Wrestling needs someone like this … only better. We need a bona fide genius who understands the ins and outs of Greco and freestyle, and who can impart his knowledge to a mass audience in concise and easy to digest manner, all while succeeding at not boring the viewers to tears.

This person will not be easy to find, but whoever is in charge should start looking now, and if they are smart, they should expand the search beyond wrestlers who stood on an Olympic podium. We need acumen and verbal/mental dexterity, and the person who has this might not have the best wrestling credentials. (For an analogue in another sport, see boxing's Max Kellerman.)

In the absence of this analytical miracle worker, who should be found and groomed ASAP, the Olympic channel flipper will see little more than two guys in spandex rolling around earning points with no sense of rhyme or reason. Also, in cases where officials administer score without rhyme or reason, we need the credible analyst to confirm our suspicions and hold the judges accountable.

I make this recommendation in the full knowledge that the exact opposite outcome will almost assuredly occur. But hey, here's to hoping.


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Rio2016 (1) about 4 and a half years ago
The OTC sounds great but the only problem is they have know partners there as well. From what I have watched his development from year to year seems to be going pretty well!
Muir (1) about 4 and a half years ago
As long as wrestling is reinstated, I say leave Pico where he is to shatter a few HS/NCAA records by the time he's our Olympic rep in 2020. Was Cejudo's route much better than Burroughs?
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 and a half years ago
i agree. most of our olympic gold medalists were high school and NCAA standouts (dan gable, tom brands, cael sanderson, jordan burroughs, jake varner just to name a few). plus, it's not like pico isn't being challenged in high school. he lost a few matches last year and was close in some others. i don't really understand the concentrate only on olympic style wrestling mantra that's going around these days (kyle snyder and ben whitford also come to mind). the evidence of folkstyle champions also becoming olympic champions is pretty overwhelming.
mlantz (1) about 4 and a half years ago
Easy, Shane Sparks. I buy my headset at the NCAAs and tune it to his mat for the weekend.
matman133 (1) about 4 and a half years ago
Pico said a few weeks ago in an interview he will not be attending high school in CA, but will in Colorado Springs.....
spencerszewczyk (1) about 4 and a half years ago
the interview i read (i think here on intermat) was that he would be taking classes but wrestling in international tournaments only (which means freestyle). not really sure why you would leave arguably the second best state in the country for high school wrestling to move to colorado if you wanted to continue wrestling scholastically. maybe i read it wrong.
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