Nah, I wouldn't do that to you guys before the Easter weekend! While the comment section would have been lively, the real topic this week was Logan Stieber's announcement that he was retiring from the sport of wrestling.
Though it can sometimes feel that Stieber has been around since the early 90's, he's actually only 28 years old. That's incredible considering how often he's been at the center of the wrestling world's attention, whether winning four NCAA titles, a world championship or locking down the starting 65-kilogram spot in 2017 and 2018. To say nothing of his four Ohio state championships.
Logan Stieber was a special competitor. He often looked like he was behind in the action, or in some inescapable hole, but would always find the extra points, or hold off a determined opponent. His shots didn't look especially slick, the physique didn't intimidate opponents, and yet he won, and then won some more. There was a charm to the whole show. The undersized, mouthpiece chewing Stieber always coming up big when necessary.
It'll be sad to not see him competing at the U.S. Open, World Team Trials, or in the Olympic Games, but he has earned the right to retire from competition and turn his focus to coaching and whatever other interest he chooses. In a sport filled with great competitors, Stieber will be remembered as one of the best to ever step on the mat.
To your questions.
Q: Are you surprised that Kyle Dake is competing at 79 kilograms again this year and not wrestling an Olympic weight?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Surprised? Not really. No matter which way he goes it'll take time to adjust to the weight, but the smart money has him going down to 74 kilograms.
If that's the case, I think that shedding 11-plus pounds for a same-day weigh-in will take considerable time to manage. In the meantime, Dake can start that process and get top-level competition at 79 kilograms without harming his chances at making weight in 2020, or losing this year at the World Championships.
Jared Frayer coaching the Virginia Tech Hokies at the NCAAs (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
Q: Jared Frayer is registered for the U.S. Open at 74 kilograms. Do you think this indicates that he's serious about making another Olympic run in 2020? Or is he just competing to have some fun and see where he stacks up against some of the nation's best wrestlers?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I think you know this answer. Haha. My wish is that Jared stays healthy, dorks up at least one younger wrestler and stays healthy throughout the tournament. Good luck to him on both accounts. Inshallah, he leaves Vegas in tip-top shape!
Q: As a casual wrestling fan I really enjoy your perspective on wrestling. I wanted to write with a question on film study/opposition research in today's collegiate wrestling. In January of this year, Leeds United in England, and their Argentinian manager Marcelo Bielsa, were accused of spying on rival Derby County's training session prior to their dominant 2-0 victory. Derby County's manager Frank Lampard was furious when he found out, and for all intents and purposes, called out Bielsa and Leeds for cheating. In response, Bielsa scheduled a press-conference and essentially doubled-down. I haven't watched the full press-conference, but he basically gave a 70-minute PowerPoint presentation where he detailed the full extent of the opposition research that he compiles and completes for each game. According to an article, it was "masterclass" and a "compelling insight into his approach and the fastidious attention to detail now employed in opposition research."
Turning back to wrestling, how much opposition research is done at the collegiate level? It seems like, to a certain extent, a lot of these elite wrestlers have competed against one another in national tournaments prior to college at some point and are at least somewhat familiar with one another. How much can one glean from film study on one's opponent? Furthermore, if there is some type of opposition research, how does it work as a wrestler prepares for a fast-paced tournament where the matches are back-to-back-to-back like the NCAAs? Do the coaches sit down with each wrestler and watch film? Do they map things out before tournaments? Sorry for all the questions. I'm just really curious about how this all plays out. Thanks! Again, I really enjoy your insight into wrestling here and abroad.
-- Evan B.
Foley: Thanks for the kind words. The college and international coaches I know are fanatical about watching film to both scout opponents as well as improve on the techniques of their wrestlers.
In Japan, every minute of every practice is filmed and there is a rumor that there are pressure sensors under the mats so that further analysis can be made regarding the athletes' stances and how hard they are hitting the mat in certain situations. The other benefit for the Japanese is that so many nations travel to train with them that they can get good film on opponents using just practice footage!
The Japanese are the most intense, but the United States isn't far behind using the video of matches to scout opponents at the same tournament, they'll even bring a staff member who is mostly dedicated to video analysis at large tournaments.
As for higher level espionage I don't think much of that goes on, simply because it wouldn't assist a coach of one program to know what is happening in the wrestling room of their rivals. The only exception might be that the Japanese and the Russians do try and keep some of their training habits less exposed so that their system isn't stolen. (They believe theirs is the best … and rightly so.)
I was actually discussing this yesterday at jiu-jitsu. One of the jokes in the room is that the Brazilians save all the best techniques and concepts for the mat chats after class, which inevitably are in Portuguese. This basically means you can learn the language and get involved (some do this) or go to the locker room and make light of the fact that you'll never know the real secret of the sport!
Overall, all high-level competitors and teams will look for an edge, whether it's keeping a secret training technique, or analyzing the film of their opponents. However, I don't think it's as nefarious as the English soccer leagues.
Q: In comparing Penn State's four-year streak of NCAA championships against other dynasties of the past, what seems to stand out the most is that in each of the last four years Penn State has had five finalists at the NCAA Championships. Half of Penn State's team has been the best or second best in their weight class in Division I for each of the last four years. Has there been any other team in NCAA history that has had 20 finalists in a four-year span? Or 14 first-place finishers in that same four-year span?
-- Steve S.
Foley: Not in the modern era, though admittedly I might have missed something in scanning the results. Next closest comparison would be Iowa crowning five national champions in 1986 and 1997.
Q: I don't see how Ben Askren will avoid being tech falled by Jordan Burroughs at Beat the Streets. Burroughs is a returning world medalist, while Askren never came close to that level in freestyle. Askren is not focused on freestyle, nor should he be. Do you see this match going any way besides a technical fall win for Burroughs?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I think that Askren can tie up anyone in the world with his funk and has an incredible ability to mind-meld opponents into competing in his style no matter the sport. Burroughs won't be in danger of losing, but he'll need to stay frosty when finishing those double legs. Outside singles or ankle picks could end up in a stalemate position.
Yes, technical fall.
Q: Augsburg added women's wrestling! Do you think women's wrestling will eventually be NCAA official? If so, how long? What's the holdup?
Foley: Yes. Women's wrestling will be designated as a full NCAA Division I sport by 2023. The holdup is really the NCAA's hesitance to endorse women competing in contact sports. It's called the "skirt bias" -- the belief that women should only play sports that are complimentary to traditional norms of femininity.
On that note, did you see that wrestling at the Olympic Games is being closed out each day by one women's finals? Six days of finals, one women's weight each day. Huge for attendance.