While we have been thinking of the drama around certain Final X matches (and even some of the non-Olympic weight talk) it's eye-opening to see the starting six in men's and women's freestyle for Lima. This team is very experience, but not long in the tooth - a rare and usually successful combination.
50 kilograms: Whitney Conder
53 kilograms: Sarah Hildebrandt
57 kilograms: Jenna Burkert
62 kilograms: Kayla Miracle
68 kilograms: Tamyra Mensah-Stock
76 kilograms: Adeline Gray
57 kilograms: Daton Fix
65 kilograms: Zain Retherford
74 kilograms: Jordan Burroughs
86 kilograms: Pat Downey
97 kilograms: Kyle Snyder
125 kilograms: Nick Gwiazdowski
These are monster lineups! Really. I'm often accused of lacking the proper amount of Team USA loyalty, but in this case I hope it's evident that I'm bullish on these squads' chances to take home a lot of hardware from Peru.
The over/under for gold medals is 8.5. Make your picks in the comments.
To your questions …
J'den Cox walks out on to the mat at Final X: Rutgers (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Who do you view as America's most underappreciated wrestler?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I don't think this is close: J'den Cox. World champion, Olympic bronze medalist and world bronze medalist. Four-time World Team member. Also, he's fluent in sign language, has the voice of an angel, and can play the guitar.
What I will say is that his was a frog boil. Cox loses in the Olympic semifinals, mostly because of a mismanaged final minute. Then he beats David Taylor for the 2017 World Team spot at 86 kilograms (with controversy), takes a bad loss in Paris, then gets dragged by DT online. There just wasn't a lot of good media around Cox for about 18 months.
The one additional point, which Cox himself acknowledges, is that he can be hesitant to attack and instead chooses to get ahead and control as needed. That's not a great way to win fans, but I think he is on his way to becoming a bigger star in our sport -- as he should be!
Q: I watched Lee Roper's comments about having a dual meet championship to decide the team winner and I couldn't agree more. To maintain the level of support and excitement, you would need to tack it on to the existing individual tournament, which can pose some challenges, most notably making weight and extra matches for the top guys. Here's my thought...
Realistically only eight teams have a shot at winning and they will all be bringing large contingents to the individual tournament anyway. Dual meets throughout the year can be used to determine seeding 1-8. Bump the individual tournament back one day and have it run Wednesday-Friday. Three-pound allowance for Saturday weigh in and run the whole tournament that day. It's a lot of wrestling for the best teams but I think they'll be up for it.
What do you think? Is that too many matches for the best wrestlers? Too many weigh-ins? Will fans want to watch four days? Capitalizing on the existing weekend with the huge fanbase already there seems to make the most sense. The alternative would be to do it the weekend before at pre-determined location like Carver-Hawkeye or the RAC so fans can plan for it and then could be a Friday-Saturday event.
-- Andy S.
Foley: Traditionally the problem with dual meet tournament is that you'd be scrambling last minute to find the venue of one of the teams entered in the tournament.
I think lacrosse actually has the best system. They host preliminary rounds of the tournament in traditional locations and whittle down until the Final Four, which takes place in a pre-determined location. Bring those teams to a pre-determined location (RAC, Penn State, Atlantic City) and make it a destination event. With a focus on going to the same area each year there will be interest and attendance.
The individual tournament is cool. Goofy, but that's our format and it draws a lot of attention and income. I don't think there is any reason to turn your back on something that works, but I also don't think that the team race there is a main driver of attention, partially because passive fans would have no idea how to score it.
A dual meet championship makes the sport more approachable to more people. Fans are lazy and like to root for their colors. Let's help them and make access to those types of events easier, not harder.
As for the timing. I think the preliminaries can be done midseason and the finals can be two weeks after the individual tournament. But also, I'm not putting a lot of thought into that expansion since I think the first act is to change the season to a single semester, which would also allow for a radical change to the calendar of events.
Q: Alex Dieringer has performed well in international events and dominated Zahid Valencia at Final X. Do you think Dieringer has a shot against Kyle Dake (assuming he's healthy) in the wrestle-off later this summer?
-- Mike C.
Foley: To recap, Kyle Dake was injured late last year, underwent surgery, and is now getting himself healthy to defend his spot on Team USA. As is his right, he deferred the Final X wrestle-off due to the injury and his staff has been locked in negotiations with Dieringer's staff about when and where they will compete.
The absolute last day they could compete would be before the start of the three-week world championships training and acclimation camp. That's late August.
If the sides can't agree on a location and date (which indications are they cannot), the freestyle competition committee would be expected to set the date. That meeting may have already taken place, but once it does and they announce the details the sides will basically have to accept their determination.
My guess is that they meet at the Olympic Training Center in mid-August, but that is really just a guess.
And yes, Dieringer is almost even odds to make this year's team. He's amazing to watch and competes with purpose. Should be an exciting match!
Meet King Vlad. I'm proud of my team's work on this piece and think the world of Vlad. Please enjoy and share!
Q: In your opinion which state has the toughest high school state wrestling tournament?
-- Gregg Y.
Foley: Pennsylvania, Ohio, and New Jersey. They produce the most All-American wrestlers and have for quite some time!
Q: Since it seems that most of the colleges that are adding wrestling programs are enrollment-based schools, why haven't we seen any of the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) launch or resurrect a program and add a women's program?
-- Nick M.
Foley: Maybe they'll be next. I'm not sure why the HBCUs haven't followed suit, but I do think that our sport has an opportunity to grow there. As many know the HBCUs were the hardest hit by Title IX since female attendance at those schools was so much higher than males. With proportionality as the most enforced prong the schools had to deal with that issue quickly.
I think Tamyra Mensah and Jacarra Winchester are great ambassadors for black women in the sport of wrestling,. Add in that Beat the Streets is expanding and the time for an HBCU to start a men's and women's program could be near.
Q: Who in your opinion made the best transition from wrestling to MMA?
-- Gregg Y.
Foley: Depending on the metric for measuring "best" the answer could vary wildly. In terms of titles, gross dollars, and fame the answer should be Daniel Cormier. He took a well-accomplished but not extraordinary wrestling career and parlayed it into two UFC belts, tens of millions of dollars, and recognition among a number of non-MMA fans. He also has a lucrative broadcasting deal.
Henry Cejudo would be the other option. He has two belts, has made some good money, and is the most decorated wrestler to ever compete (and win) in the UFC.
Using only the feel-good and "wow" metrics I'd say Yoel Romero. He's a fantastic competitor, well-liked, and was an absolute monster on the mats. Always love watching him compete.
Khadzhimurat Gatsalov defeated Kyle Snyder 6-3 at Beat the Streets in 2014 (Photo/John Sachs, Tech-Fall.com)
Q: I see Khadzhimurat Gatsalov will be representing Armenia at 97 kilograms. He's 36 now, but obviously tremendously skilled. Do you see expect him to be in the mix to contend with Abdulrashid Sadulaev and Kyle Snyder for gold in 2019/2020? Or as a medal threat? Where does he fit in?
-- Mike C.
Foley: He won't beat Sadualev and he's a huge dog to Snyder.
That said 97 kilograms is a weird weight category. Assuming he qualifies for the Olympics he'll probably just rest and refine his timing. All he'll need to do at the Olympic Games is win three matches on the first day, or alternatively he loses to Sadualev first round and he wrestles once on day one and twice on day two.
For an old man that's a pretty manageable schedule. I think in the older format he'd have had much more difficulty making it through the tournament and medaling.
Q: Long-time listener, first-time caller.
Little bit about our program: We have success locally because we recruit our building well (harass the kids until they come out) and usually fill all 14 classes with average-type kids. Due to Virginia's watered-down system, we send a handful to states every year. However, we can't regularly develop top-level studs so we finish between 10th-20th each year.
1. Best way to raise awareness for a program in an area not known for wrestling?
2. What's the best fundraising idea you've ever heard for a wrestling program?
Foley: Thanks for the question (and for being a loyal reader!). How to build interest at the local level is a key for growing the sport of wrestling. Walking the halls and plucking strong kids for the team really isn't an option anymore. As you note, there is a need to raise awareness, interest, and money.
But again, how?
The main driver of interest will always be the appearance of success within your community. When some wrestlers are seen as top of their sport they tend to attract younger kids who want to also find themselves lavished in praise. You mentioned some state-level tournaments. While you noted that Virginia is a watered-down system, the kids in the hallways don't need to know that. Besides, this is the system you were given and although it's imperfect it allows for some pretty stellar marketing opportunities within the high school and especially the middle school.
Open practices and events that involve the community are always a great way to pique the interest of decision makers and parents anxious to find their teens an activity. Maybe a wrestling practice or scrimmage on mats outside. You could also host a takedown tournament or all-night practice to raise money. Another idea would be to offer a fun and stripped-down version of wrestling -- maybe takedown only -- and try to get parents and college students to get involved. Even if there are only a handful of entries the first year a carnival atmosphere will attract interest.
There are just a few off-the-cuff ideas. Maybe the readers can offer some ideas. Coaches, do you have any ideas that have worked to help spark interest in your program?