The success of the Junior team was a positive sign for the health of their program. Cohlton Schultz securing silver -- along with Alston Nutter, and Peyton Omania capturing bronze -- led to the best Junior performance for Team USA in Greco-Roman since Washington hosted the Junior World Championships in 1984.
While the freestyle team sucks up a lot of the oxygen in the United States, it's important to take note of this accomplishment, last year's silver medal by Adam Coon, and the gold medals from the Pan American Games. The progress has been slow, but it's also been pretty steady. Not every level will win gold and not every year, but it is obvious that the team is picking up steam and that success can very quickly build on itself
Congrats to everyone involved in the program. From Matt Lindland to Gary Mayabb and many more of these successes are happening because these leaders are investing their time into the program and making sacrifices to see our nation improve in the classic style.
To your questions …
Zahid Valencia celebrates after winning the NCAA title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: I saw that Zahid Valencia is not planning on taking an Olympic redshirt. Does that surprise you? Do you think he will move up to 184 pounds if he's going to wrestle at 86 kilograms for the Olympic Team Trials?
-- Mike C.
Foley: That does surprise me a bit. Having the extra time to prepare for the Olympic Team Trials is something that could benefit a younger wrestler. However, he could keep sharp by competing every week at the NCAA level. Though it's a reach I suspect he may even just treat a majority of his collegiate matches as if they were freestyle, limit his mat wrestling and focus on good finishes.
Ultimately, he can still train freestyle, has the former USA National Team coach as his coach, and will travel to compete in overseas events. The only benefit may have been the ability to focus on winning another NCAA title to help secure a legacy, but that ultimately may not matter to him. His focus on the team title is compelling. He has a reputation for being thoughtful and I'm not surprised to hear that their chances of a team title were something he considered.
As for the weight, you'd have to assume he wants to go up to 184 pounds. The competition is a little light with only two of the top eight eligible to return for the 2019-2020 season to a weight class that was only moderately competitive. In fact, he really might have to wrestle at the weight for the whole season to help his body learn to oxygenate all the extra muscle. To me it feels like a must, but for him it might be a team decision.
Overall, I think I like the decision to not redshirt!
Q: After reading your last mailbag where you publicly denounce an arbiter's decision to nullify the last Zain-Yianni match, I'd like to hear your take on Tervel Dlagnev receiving a bronze medal after an arbiter nullified all matches from a wrestler long after the fact. Where I understand that in one case an athlete was cheating, the fact remains that the event happened, the outcome was final and right wrong or indifferent Tervel was bumped from receiving a medal. My contention is that both arbiters got the call correct. Even though no wrestler wants to win a medal this way, justice toward doing what is right for wrestling and the athletes prevailed.
If you don't like it, then publicly say no rematch is warranted between Yianni and Zain, that Tervel should never have gotten a medal, and that Team USA shouldn't have been seen as the best team that year. I don't feel you can have it both ways.
-- Chris A.
Foley: The letter of the law is very clear in the case of the Olympic testing. You sign a document saying that you won't do drugs and that if you do you will forfeit any earned medal. There was not an arbitrator deciding whether or not he failed the test, the only arbitration would come from Artur Taymazov who would appeal that finding. However, it's unclear that the appeal would have any basis other than a Hail Mary to have his medal reinstated.
The Yianni-Zain match ended and the U.S. World Team member was announced. The staff didn't like the decision made on the mats and asked that it go to the arbitration process. The two are not parallel cases, unless you concede that appealing a decision you know to be final is "cheating."
The rule is incredibly clear: "No protest after the end of a match or any appeal before CAS or any other jurisdiction against a decision made by the refereeing body may be lodged."
Unfortunately, the arbitrator twisted himself into a pretzel to undo this VERY clear interpretation of international rules at times: citing minority opinions in other cases, establishing logic arguments based on wrong definitions, and expressly dismissing the weight of common practice. In fact, if you find the case online you can also read that everyone he asked agreed that the score was 2-2 and the right call was made in the match, he just FELT like a neutral position was established on "three occasions" in the final 40 seconds.
The arbiter also stated clearly that one of the reasons he allowed it is that he believed these matches are normally not re-wrestled because of geography, the sliver of time that all nations are in the same place, and the undo strain it causes on other competitors. However, since he knew time remained, he used it as a justification to dismiss the parts of the UWW rules he didn't like.
Oh well, it's over. I'm just fearful that this type of appeal -- and the manner in which the arbitrator handled the case -- will have negative consequences on the sport. Wrestling really should be figured out on the mat. If there is some good to come of the decision it's that the Technical Commission can go through and tighten up the verbiage to prevent an onslaught of future cases.
Best of luck to Yianni and Zain! Both young men would be great representatives for Team USA in Nur-Sultan and will have everyone's full support when they step on the mat.
Q: I know you don't like the idea of matches re-wrestled and decided in the courts. But how do you see Zain vs. Yianni going now that it's set?
-- Mike C.
Foley: If Zain is healthy, Zain is the favorite. If Zain is hurt, he's the underdog. They are too closely matched for him to cede anything to a very dangerous Yianni. I think that there will be a lot of early action in the first match and if Zain has learned to control the danger of exposure from Yianni's defense (that's complicated) then it could very well be a tough day for Yianni.
Likewise, if Yianni opens up a 4-0 lead off an early exchange I think he'll be instructed to take fewer risks and go into clock management since there is NO WAY that a referee is getting close to making a penalty call that could decide the outcome.
Q: Any takeaways from the Kyle Dake vs. Alex Dieringer matches?
-- Mike C.
Foley: In the very rare occurrence that a wrestling match broke out during their time on the mat, Kyle Dake did enjoy the better of the exchanges. However, his walking back to the danger area is concerning on the world stage. International referees will extend him zero credit for those outbursts if he's seen as disengaging from the action. There is emphasis on active wrestling and a few steps back like that will get you put on the clock, called for passivity, and generally disadvantaged in the eyes of the referee.
My guess is the strategy will change with the atmosphere, but there is nothing to say that when he starts wrestling that some of those low-scoring tendencies won't rear up. I love watching a hyped-up Kyle Dake launch humans on their head and most of the world does too.
Cool documentary on Odunayo we shot last year and just edited and posted!
Yui Susaki is a MONSTER
Q: What things can we implement in order to compete with Japan's dominance throughout all age groups in women's wrestling? It seems they are still extending their lead on the rest of the world remarkably.
Foley: The Japanese women's team has been dominant at the age group level for the last several years, winning 44 of 76 total gold medals at the junior level since 2011, or approximately 58%.
At the same time their senior level women have been comparatively less successful since 2011 with only 30 of 67 gold medals at the World Championships and Olympics, or approximately 45%. That's a significant percentage difference.
There are a few reasons for that difference in outcomes.
Talent tends to level out a little at the senior level because the good athletes from other countries have a longer time to sit in the age group. Cadets and Juniors are a glimpse at the development of the nations on their way to the senior level. Once there the best women from other countries are able to be more successful since they can sometimes grow over the course of several seasons.
The time to catch up is huge for some of the nations who tend to not support their Junior and Cadet teams. Nobody is better supported than the Japanese at the youth level. However, when they get to the senior level they get Petra Olli who started wrestling much later and has only very recently received top-level training and travel
The talent of coaches and athletes are isolated to the island of Japan, they just enjoy an incredible support system from a much younger age.
So what can the United States do? We need to increase the number of participants, increase their opportunities to compete, include women's wrestling as part of the sport's overall culture, and create positions focused on development of the women's youth program.
The bad news is that we are 20 years behind the Japanese. The good news is that everything listed above has started kicking into overdrive the past few years and we can already see some massive improvements in the success of our senior level women.
Team USA is going to be a big problem for the world in Nur-Sultan and for years to come. The only caveat I'll offer is that Olympic success might be delayed to 2024 since I have serious reservations about taking on the world's greatest women's wrestling nation on their home turf.
(Side note: I think the men's programs should also pay attention to the Japanese contingent. I'm predicting three men's gold medals between Greco-Roman and freestyle)
Q: I'm obsessed with wrestling and there is no better time to be a fan than now. I remember being in high school in the late 90's and the only opportunity to watch was the NCAA finals each year and the occasional video ('95 Worlds highlights with Kurt Angle, Satiev and others was a great one). Now with Flo, matches on the Big Ten Network, every session of NCAAs on TV, and Trackwrestling showing Senior, Junior and Cadet Worlds (where I find myself waking up early to catch the action), it's pretty much all access and I love it.
What do you think are some of next steps to take fandom to an even higher level and to grow the sport? Two-piece uniform, offense-focused scoring like freestyle, events?
-- Andy S.
Foley: Agreed. There has never been a better time to be a wrestling fan in America. I agree with two-piece uniforms and taking the best of freestyle and blending it with folkstyle, but I think these next items are the way to push wrestling more into the mainstream.
Feature film: Something with the cultural impact of Vision Quest.
NCAA powerhouse programs starting women's wrestling: Iowa, Penn State, Ohio State …
Beach wrestling: Simple, low-barrier to entry, exceedingly watchable.
Cross-promotion: Wrestling featured during other sporting events or cultural moments.
Q: Who ya got for preseason Hodge Trophy favorites? Who are your dark horse candidates?
-- Ryan P.
Foley: With Mekhi Lewis redshirting, I'll go with these as my top three:
I suppose that Yianni could be in the lineup and Hodge eligible, but I also imagine that if he wins the spot on the team and places at the World Championships that he'll dedicate himself to the freestyle side to hold his position and prepare for the Olympic Games. Likewise, if he doesn't I could also see him getting in a lot of overseas action and training to try to back the spot.
Imagine Cornell's legal team is probably brushing up on Olympic qualification regulations as we speak. Wonder if between Dake and Yianni they just decided to keep them on retainer through August 2020? Maybe a few doctors with full notepads? (Oh, calm down. I'm teasing.)
Q: Do you suspect Daniel Cormier will retire after his recent loss to Stipe Miocic? Or do you think he will fight again?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I think he'll retire. Cormier deserves a parade for the way he has improved MMA through his thoughtfulness towards others, excellent commentary (which he'll still do), and dominant fighting style.
How wonderful that he was able to have such a long and successful career after a late start in the cage. His legacy as one of the greatest of all-time is secure. And if there ever was a question remember that those only losses are to arguably the greatest UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight of all-time.
Cormier is the man.
I'm headed on vacation next week and will be back Sept. 6.