Known as the "toughest wrestling tournament in the world," the Yariguin usually features a concentration of Russian talent only duplicated at their national tournament. Add in a few Olympic champions from surrounding countries and tough guy Brent Metcalf, and what you have is one very, very impressive three days of wrestling.
The Yariguin is not only the first tournament of the season, but the first tournament since the wrestling world recovered from its collective #SaveOlympicWrestling hangover. It's the perfect time to reflect on what was gained during the 209-day campaign.
In Krasnoyarsk, the sport of wrestling never has been more popular with children. Already the favored sport in much of Siberia, the local clubs in Krasnoyarsk have seen an unprecedented swelling of their rolls. According to three-time Olympic champion Buvasair Satiev, "We have never had more new wrestlers in our schools. This decision was the best thing to happen to our sport in terms of enrollment."
That's a favorable way to look at wrestling's past struggle. In the vein of "any press is good press," the IOC's decision to cut wrestling was a $10 million recruitment campaign.
Numbers soaring and interest in the sport at its highest in decades, wrestling now needs to take advantage of its opportunity (outside of the various professional organizations). We need to grow the sport at home and develop a set of talking points that we can use to recruit new athletes. Something you can do today, if you haven't already, is sign up for the National Registry 4 Wrestling in America.
No matter where I am in the country I talk up the sport and tell anyone who'll listen, from cab drivers to lawyers -- anyone who is foolish enough to engage me in the topic. I tell them why they need to put their child in wrestling, and how wrestling, compared to other sports like football or baseball, can help build real life skills and a mental toughness that'll take them farther than even the most incredible gridiron glories. My sales pitch doesn't always land, but when it does it feels like those two or three extra students will matter to the long-term health of the sport by growing our base of participation and understanding.
Let's keep up the momentum and make sure that wrestling once-again becomes the showcase sport of the Olympics.
To your questions ...
Q: In one of the most upset-laden seasons we've had in a long time, how surprising is it that Pittsburgh beat Oklahoma State?
-- Nicholas B.
Foley: Surprising, but mostly just impressive. Pitt has been a program on cruise control for years. This summer they elevated longtime assistant coach Jason Peters to the head job, and in his first-ever matchup with John Smith, he manages a 19-18 victory. Pitt can finish in the top ten for the first time in several years.
Jason Peters is in his first season as Pitt's head wrestling coach (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)There is something to all these upsets, but it's too early to tell if this is a blip on the radar, or an early taste of what wrestling has become. I tend to believe that the talent gap in wrestling is shrinking, in part thanks to a better transmission of information, and an earlier specialization in amateur sports by youth athletes. Thirty years ago to be the best wrestler in the country meant learning techniques from Dan Gable and his staff. Today, a quick Internet search by wrestler or coach can impart that same knowledge. While the grit and intangible of coaches like Gable can't be delivered over Wi-Fi, the techniques and match-planning that helped make them successful are very much accessible.
Congrats to Pitt and Coach Peters on a job well done, but I'm still pulling for my Wahoos this weekend.
Q: Penn State just feels too good. Does lack of parity hurt wrestling? Also, after Taylor and Ruth graduate do you think they'll have the firepower to win in 2015? If not, what team will take over as the favorite for 2015 when they don't have the 40 or so tournament points those guys rack up?
-- Brandon J.
Foley: Lack of parity? Say whaaa?
All seven returning NCAA champions from 2013 have lost this season. None of those seven are top-ranked in their weight class, and last weekend the No. 2, No. 4 and No. 5 teams in the country all lost.
Penn State could dominate the NCAA tournament. Last year they had the firepower to put on a 40-plus point differential, but remember that even last year they needed a win in the finals at 197 pounds to finish the job. Also, if this season has taught us anything it's that we can never assume an outcome, individual or team. Ed Ruth was untouchable until Gabe Dean handled him in the finals of the Southern Scuffle.
Penn State will be geared up for a battle in Oklahoma City. They are aware that as the No. 1 program in the country, wrestlers from every team will give their best performance. That competitive energy will result in upsets. The talent level between wrestlers and programs is thin. While Penn State has escaped an upset, nothing is guaranteeing that they won't be bested by a nation of wrestlers all clamoring for top prize in Oklahoma City.
As for 2015, there is plenty to suss out. Penn State might well open as the preseason No. 1 team in the country, but that honor might belong to any number of teams, from Iowa to Ohio State to Cornell.
Q: I was watching the Saitiev video for the fifth time and was astounded watching his throws. A thought came to me: why don't we see more throws in folkstyle? And then I considered the idea that it may be because there are high risks to perform a throw with no real reward in folkstyle. Wouldn't it be interesting if the folkstyle rules were tweaked to give an extra point or two if a throw was performed with both feet of the wrestler lifted from the mat? Thoughts?
-- Ken S.
Foley: In freestyle the rules have been changed to make simplicity more important than incentivizing the rare throw. At the 2013 World Championships there were zero five-point throws in men's freestyle, a handful in women's freestyle, and roughly 8-10 in Greco-Roman. Like the talent level at the NCAA tournament, international wrestlers are too good to be put in that compromising a position. By making all back exposures two points -- therefore upping takedown with back exposures from three to four points -- there is a very good chance you will see an increase in feet to back maneuvers in 2014. However, it's unclear if the risk of being exposed on your own attack might also limit the attacks of offensive wrestlers. This weekend in Krasnoyarsk should prove to be an ideal situation for testing the new rules for efficacy in creating fairness and action.
In folkstyle any rule that would incentivize lifting an opponent off the ground would create hazardous throws from bad positions. Unlike freestyle which allows bottom wrestlers to base out and avoid being turned, folkstyle encourages a flurry of action, and with a wrestler behind you, it would be madness if lifting feet off the ground added more points to your total. Even if the rule was that scoring could only happen from neutral, wrestlers would take dangerous risks with opponents since the reward would be added points.
Overall, folkstyle is much more about control, while freestyle remains about securing moves. Adding points for moves rather than control would distract from the traditional aims of American folkstyle.
Q: So I was talking to a friend of mine the other day and he asked me if I knew of any tournaments around the country that featured either folkstyle or freestyle wrestling and had a class for guys over 50. He's 65 and in great shape. I wrestle him (primarily in jiujitsu and grappling) every two weeks or so. He's pretty good. All I could think of was NAGA, which I think is all submission wrestling. Do you know of any tournaments where an old fart like me (55) or my friend could attempt to pathetically relive their glory days for an afternoon?
Foley: There are a few veterans tournaments around the country, but you'd have to check the USA Wrestling schedule to see when and where they occur. USA Wrestling does help compile a veterans team that travels to the World Championships in Belgrade. I interviewed those guys last year and they seemed to have really enjoyed the experience.
Start with USA Wrestling and work your way back from there.
Cade OlivasQ: Just curious if you know what happened to Cade Olivas this year? He is a rising star and I assume he is a freshman, but is he too small for varsity? Love watching that kid get after it ... relentless.
-- Justin Z.
Foley: Oh, I think he's in eighth grade. I agree about his tenacity. Loved watching him compete at the Cadet World Championships in Serbia where he won bronze. I think he'll be the next big high school star, but I'm waiting until he starts his freshman year to start the stalk!
Q: Here's a theory for you to mull over. I have thought the high attendance and near-to or capacity crowds at the NCAA tournament is to some degree due the scarcity of Division I programs in some areas. If I live in an area with little to no college wrestling, say Louisiana, and I have to travel, do I spend the money and time to travel to an in-season tournament or dual, or since I have to spend significant dollars focus on going to the NCAAs? I see fans of defunct programs every year and while I've never asked them, I'd bet most haven't attended a regular season event.
Foley: This is a very solid point. I guess there is a small percentage of fans that attend the NCAA tournament as alumni from defunct programs. If you consider the number of programs that have been cut it wouldn't be surprising if a few guys from each of those teams still make the trip to NCAAs to see each other and enjoy the wrestling.
Iowa vs. Minnesota
Q: My friend Paul Diefenbach did some research and turned up this related info:
Steve Mocco of Iowa in 2002 was indeed ranked No. 1 as a true freshman and lost in the NCAA finals to Tommy Rowlands of Ohio State. The year before, Rowlands was No. 1 as a redshirt freshman and lost in the finals to John Lockhart of Illinois.
These are the only freshman heavyweights I can find that were ranked No. 1, and I can't find any freshman heavyweight champs. If it happened, it was pre-1949 (freshmen were ineligible from 1949-1971).
-- Jim C.
Foley: Our readers, folks. Awesome stuff.
Mike ZadickQ: Where is Mike Zadick? What has he been doing since he left Iowa?
-- Mark K.
Foley: From what I've been told he's living back in Montana and has moved into a business outside of wrestling. Best of luck to him and his AMAZING beard. Love the Zadicks.
Q: So if you had a dual meet with the eight weight classes with the preseason No. 1s vs. the current No. 1s, who's winning? Are we looking at the changing of the guard, a red herring that all NCAA champs should be undefeated, or overwhelming parity?
P.S. Can we get the Bears Superfans to stop doing crappy commercials and start doing shorts about Adam Coon? Coon vs. a hurricane? What if the hurricane is named Adam Coon?
-- Tom B.
Foley: I'm one-hundred percent behind the preseason No. 1 wrestlers. Seven of them have already proven they can win an NCAA title, and the other is Tony Ramos. Even if they all won't win (and they won't) 4-5 will finish the NCAA tournament as the champion.
As mentioned above, there have been plenty of marketable upsets this season that lend to the idea of a shrinking talent gap, but when it comes time to deliver in March, I still believe in two-time NCAA champs like Logan Stieber and Ed Ruth. Even Tony Nelson, who has suffered two losses this month, is much more likely to win the NCAA tournament than anyone else at heavyweight, including wunderkind Adam Coon.
As for the Bears, please allow me a moment to vent a frustration I've acquired while living in Chicago. No city in America is as up and down about the fortune of their team's chances for postseason glory more than those who reside in Chicago. Win the Week 3 matchup with the Colts and fans think the Bears a lock for the Super Bowl, lose and they should fire the entire staff and burn down Soldier Field. But what is worse than their mania, is their affection for "gunslinger" Jay Cutler -- the apathetic fat face who is the curse of modern sports. It's flummoxing that Chicago -- The City of Broad Shoulders, The City That Works -- gives affection to that fish-handed weenie. The Bears' last Super Bowl winning quarterback was Jim McMahon, who might not have been the Dick Butkus of quarterbacks, but at least he cared about winning and losing and could dance.
By the way, has Adam Coon already reached the level of wrestling celebrity? Are we turning this freshman grappler into a folk legend before February? If so ... I'm totally in. I find nothing more entertaining than assigning superhero powers to 19-year-olds just trying to win matches and graduate.
Adam Coon as wrestling's Chuck Norris!
Q: FYI: Patrick Downey is not in Oregon. He is attending classes at Iowa Central Community College.
-- Troy B.
Foley: Xie xie.
Q: These four kids are arguably four of the best high school wrestlers in the past 25 years. Just for fun, if they were to wrestle each other at the same weight class in high school, who would win the Iron Man Tournament?
-- Henry T.
Foley: Cary Kolat. He was on a different planet in high school. Like Dan Gable was in college wrestling, the ability of a high school wrestler is still judged by how he compares to Kolat. Remember that Kolat placed fourth at Midlands while still in high school, back when that tournament had post-grads entering by the dozen and every good team showed up for action.
Q: While this year's dual meet season has been marked by a large number of surprising outcomes, haven't all the individual upsets served to completely remove the drama from one race... isn't The Dan Hodge Trophy being engraved at this very moment with David Taylor's name once again?
-- Cal M.
Foley: The InterMat Wrestler of the Year Award is decided after the final whistle in March. But if you're asking if he's the least likely to drop a match, then you're likely correct. However, I like my boy Nick Sulzer of Virginia to give him a test. I know it seems like a long shot, and maybe it is, but Sulzer has the talent to win a title. And not for nothing, DT is only 1-2 in the NCAA finals.