The same was true in women's wrestling where despite winning a record three gold medals (!) only two licenses were punched for Tokyo.
Despite the lack of success for Team USA, the World Championships seemed to have been a hit for viewers and fans. Results, live-stream coverage, photo and other media was all well-received and the field of play was as professional as it's ever been. Wrestlers enjoyed good conditions, bad calls were fairly limited, and Greco-Roman was REALLY good.
In all, it was a successful nine days of competition in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, but there is still plenty to cover this week, so let's dive in.
To your questions ...
Zain Retherford at the World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Why do you think Zain Retherford is not having any success at the senior level? Does he have a chance to medal next year? Also, since J'den Cox is such a stud and proving it at the top level, do you ever see Bo Nickal making the team?
-- Mike Z.
Foley: In two appearances at the World Championships, Zain has not performed to the best of his potential. I really believe that he can be a world and Olympic medalist, but I have to also remain skeptical until he actually makes something happen at the world stage. As for his chances to medal at the Olympic Games, there are several hurdles he'll need to clear first, namely qualifying the weight and making the team.
I was under the impression that Bo was training to make the 2020 Olympic Team before transitioning to MMA. If that's his plan then the chances he makes a team are pretty slim. However, he will be on the U23 team, which will be exciting for fans of PSU and the USA. I think he's going to do awesome.
Q: What are the chances we see Yui Susaki at the Olympics since Yuki Irie failed to qualify the weight for Japan? Doesn't Japan get one entrant per gender at a weight of their choosing, essentially qualifying all six women's weights for Tokyo?
Foley: The chances of seeing Yui Susaki are very, very good. The JWF altered their rules at the conclusion of the World Championships and have stated that no matter who wins the Emperor's Cup in December they have final say on who is chosen to qualify the weight and who ultimately goes to the Olympics. That's a signal to Yui that they want her in the driver's seat.
The smart money is on Yui. She's been active internationally, destroyed every opponent she's faced outside of Japan, and is young enough to carry the weight a few cycles. Eri Tosaka could make her way into the lineup if she manages to beat both Yuki and Yui and then is super impressive at the qualifier. Unfortunately, it just seems like she's lost a step. Yui can handle her and the entire international field. She's as close to guaranteed gold as one gets in wrestling.
Subtly one big thing to follow is how much say Kazuhito Sakae will have on the team. He's out for now, but after their Worlds performance rumors flew that the federation would bring him back. I'm doubtful, but I wouldn't be surprised to see some of his former athletes (Eri, Risako, Yukako) make their way to a new club of his. Though it's difficult, it's obvious his girls wrestle better when he's training them year-round.
Ultimately, if I had to bet, it'll be Yui in Tokyo. She has the it factor and is objectively the best in that weight.
Geno Petriashvili defeated Taha Akgul to win his third straight world title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Q: Who was your Outstanding Wrestler in each of the three styles at the World Championships?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Geno Petriashvili (Georgia) in freestyle, Ismael Borrero Molina (Cuba) in Greco-Roman and Pak Yong-Mi (North Korea) in women's wrestling.
Q: Why does the wrestling media continue to produce such poor post-match interviews? Time and time again the interviews are hosted in an area within earshot of the tournament PA announcements and it makes the whole process hard to hear. Many times one can't hear the person asking the questions as the interviewer is holding the microphone near the wrestler and not near the person asking the question.
I see the same thing happen at press conferences hosted at some championship events or pre/post dual coaches' interviews where we only get to hear the response from those on the dais without hearing the question(s) asked.
-- Jeff B.
Foley: You are right ... and this is probably at least a little bit of my fault!
The mixed zone for many events is directly off the mats in the hallway beneath the bleachers. The reason is that you need to balance how close you let the media get to the athlete's warm-up area against how far you make the athletes walk to be interviewed. In Nur-Sultan the mixed zone was only a few feet off the field of play. At the Olympic Games (where no televised post-match interviews can happen except for rights holders) there is a winding hallway that is protected from the stadium sound. The former being much less suitable to audio than the latter, but at least it can be on film.
As a service to fans, I'll be in Tokyo next week for the test event and will double check the noise levels.
As for not hearing the questions at press conferences, I'm not sure which event you're referring to. At the World Championships the questions were mic'd though there was some non-English being asked. That said, the person answering typically repeated the question back in English.
Q: Lots of countries have been impressive at the World Championships so far this year. One that stands out to me, both for the men and women, is India. It seems like they have had a lot more success in recent years and have done some good promotional things (i.e. their pro league). What are your thoughts on the growth of wrestling in India, and should we expect to see it field perennially competitive teams on the world level?
Foley: You should expect a lot from India in the coming years. They have financial support, governmental support, and a culture of wrestling that can sustain future generations. They took home five world medals, which is an insane number when you consider they've only taken home a total of eight medals in all previous World Championships since the 80's! India is more potent competitor to the USA than Iran. At the moment, that's just a fact.
Gold-medal match highlights from Day 9 of the World Championships
Kyle Dake after winning his second straight world title
Kyle Snyder after winning bronze
Q: Suppose J'den Cox goes looking for a new challenge post-Tokyo. Do you think that if he started training in 2021, he could be a Greco world champ by 2024?
-- Irv O.
Foley: I love the belief in J'den, but no, absolutely not. Greco-Roman is a different beast.
Q: The United States only has four of the 18 weight classes qualified for the Olympics. How many do you think they will qualify?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Team USA entered the largest Olympic qualification tournament with an expectation of qualifying 4/6 in freestyle, 3/6 in women's wrestling, and 2/6 in Greco-Roman. From an expectation of nine licenses to the reality of receiving only four was a huge disappointment for Team USA and its fans.
The outlook for qualifying more in Ottawa is a little bit better, but far from definitive. The entire Western Hemisphere looked awful at the World Championships, with the notable exception of Cuba's Greco-Roman squad.
I'm guessing the freestyle team will pick up 86 kilograms in Canada, but Yurieski Torreblanca is competing and could easily be on the same side as the rep for the United States. The Venezuelan Pedro Ceballos is also pretty good. Who will be sent will determine the likelihood of Team USA qualifying. If it's Pat Downey then I just don't think it's very likely.
Zain has already lost to Alejandro Valdes Tobier so you have to assume that his chances aren't bulletproof, though I do think he (or whoever reps USA) will have a good chance of qualifying. Daton Fix has made his way through the 57-kilogram bracket before and should be in good shape. Nick Gwiazdowski should have no problem at heavyweight, but he may have to contend with a highly motivated Oscar Pino.
I'd predict USA's freestyle team gets three of the possible four in Ottawa.
As for the women, Whitney Conder and Sarah Hildebrandt should have little problem winning their weights, but I worry about 62 kilograms where Kayla Miracle has to face a very tough crowd with Laís Nunes of Brazil and Jackeline Rentería Castillo of Colombia. We'll see who the USA sends at 57 kilograms (is Helen Maroulis coming back?) but as of now I don't see Jenna Burkert beating Lissette Antes of Ecuador.
Prediction: Three of a possible four picked up by the women.
Greco-Roman might be the toughest road. Adam Coon will qualify in the Mijaín López-less weight, but there is a much tougher path for the other five weights. Pat Smith, G'Angelo Hancock and Ildar Hafizov are all 50/50.
Prediction: Four of the possible six.
Overall: 4/18 will become 14/18 and leave four to be earned at the last chance qualifier. That's very optimistic, too.
Q: Will there be a Non-Olympic World Championships in 2020? If so, any details you can share?
-- Mike C.
Foley: I don't know, but unless someone pops up and offers to host it in the next few months, I'd highly doubt it'll happen.
Q: Will the Olympics use a blind draw for the brackets?
-- Mike C.
Foley: The top four athletes will be seeded and the rest will be drawn in randomly. You can see the full Olympic qualification and seeding process on the United World Wrestling website.
Q: Why do so many wrestlers like to hunt?
-- Robert G.
Foley: I think many well-known wrestlers come from parts of the country where wrestling is culturally significant. More correlation than causation.