Thomas Gilman at the 2017 World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
In early April, Thomas Gilman defeated Vito Arujau to lock up a spot on the US Olympic Team at 57 kg. By doing so, Gilman became the latest in a long line of past Iowa Hawkeye lightweights to earn a spot on the Olympic freestyle team. For the purposes of this article, we've defined "lightweight" as 62 kg or under.
Not only have former Iowa lightweights made the Olympic team on ten occasions, but they have also had plenty of success at the Games. These Hawks have accounted for three gold medals, a silver, and a bronze. That total doesn't factor in the 1980 boycott, which saw an Iowa medal favorite unable to participate. Since 1980, only three Olympic teams have not featured a former Hawkeye lightweight on their roster. We shall see in August if Gilman can add his name to the list of medalists in Tokyo.
1960 - Terry McCann (57 kg) Gold
At the 1960 Games, wrestling used a pool system that tallied "bad points," which gave more points to wrestlers that lost by falls compared to decisions. After two rounds of competition, athletes were whittled away as they accrued more points. Terry McCann's tournament started with a win via decision over Sweden's Edvin Vesterby. Next, he would pin Switzerland's Paul Hanni. With just 14 competitors remaining, McCann tallied another decision over Panama's Eduardo Campbell. McCann would slip in his fourth bout, losing to Finland's Tauno Jaskari. Based on his previous results, McCann just made the cut and advanced to a fifth match against the Soviet Union's Mykhailo Shakov, a bout he'd win via fall. Had he done anything but pin, McCann might have been on the outside looking in.
Only three wrestlers remained in the tournament and both faced each other, previously. That meant McCann had to defeat both Tadeusz Trojanowski (Poland) and Nezhdet Zelev (Bulgaria) to capture gold. McCann downed both by decision and became the first Iowa Hawkeye to win the Olympics.
1980 - Randy Lewis (62 kg)
Right after his senior year at Iowa, Randy Lewis made the first of his two Olympic teams. Unfortunately, because of the United States boycott, Lewis and his teammates could not compete at the 1980 Games in Moscow. Lewis did not ever wrestle the eventual gold medalist, but had already pinned the wrestlers that would finish second through fourth.
1984 - Randy Lewis (62 kg) Gold
Randy Lewis made his second consecutive Olympic team after one of the most controversial situations in the sport's history. After losing to Lee Roy Smith in the Trials, Lewis and Dan Gable took the case to arbitration, which they won. That's an extremely brief account of the situation, but the general details. With the boycott by the Soviet Union, Lewis was left without anyone who could seriously threaten him. During pool competition, Lewis outscored his competitors 50-5. Lewis piled on the points with a 24-11 win over Kosei Akaishi (Japan) during the gold medal match.
1984 - Barry Davis (57 kg) Silver
While still an active student-athlete at Iowa, Barry Davis won gold at the 1983 Pan-American Championships and competed at the World Championships later that year. Davis crushed his first three opponents with a 24-10 win in his opening bout, followed by a 21-1 margin in his next two matches. He then edged Zoran Sorov (Yugoslavia) 6-4 to earn a place in the gold medal match. Sorov would go on to make the following two Olympic teams for Yugoslavia. Unfortunately, Davis would fall 3-1 in the gold medal bout against Hideaki Tomiyama (Japan). In 1984-85, Davis would return to Iowa to capture his third NCAA title.
1988 - Barry Davis (57 kg)
In between his first and second Olympic team berths, Davis would claim a pair of world medals at 57 kg. He was a bronze medalist in 1986, followed by a silver in 1987. Davis started with a couple of relatively close wins over Jozef Schwendtner (Czechoslovakia) and Ahmet Ak (Turkey) before meeting Hungary's Bela Nagy. The Hungarian got the win via fall, which ended up dooming Davis' medal hopes. He was eliminated from contention after the loss.
1996 - Tom Brands (62 lbs) Gold
After a 12-year hiatus, Iowa returned to the top of the Olympic medal stand with Tom Brands' performance at the 1996 Olympics, in Atlanta. Brands had a stiff test off the bat with Iran's Abbas Hajkenari. The following year Hajkenari would win a world title at 63 kg in controversial fashion over Cary Kolat. In this meeting, Brands prevailed 3-1. Next up was 1991 world champion, Sergey Smal (Belarus). The Russian transfer wasn't able to score on Brands during a 5-0 shutout. After a bye, Brands defeated the Russian entry, Magomed Azizov, 4-1. Azizov was able to secure the only takedown of the tournament against Brands, but ultimately came out on the wrong side of a very physical bout. That win propelled the Iowa native to the gold medal match where he would face Jang Jae-Sung (South Korea). The South Korean made the finals after upsetting the returning world champion; however, he was never a serious threat for Brands. Tom scored two takedowns in the opening minute and never looked back during a 7-0 win.
2000 - Terry Brands (58 kg) Bronze
A crushing loss to rival Kendall Cross prevented Terry Brands from joining twin brother, Tom, at the 1996 Olympics. After initially retiring, the 1993 world champion returned for another run at Olympic gold. This format has athletes into six pools of three, with the winners of each pool advancing to a bracketed tournament. Brands had little trouble with either of his pool opponents winning via fall and an 8-1 decision, which kept him in gold medal contention. There he would see two-time European champion David Pogosian (Georgia). A 6-4 win over Pogosian sent Brands to the semis opposite Alirez Dabir (Iran), at 1998 world champion and the returning world silver medalist at the weight. Dabir took an early 5-0 lead and survived a Brands onslaught to win, 6-4.
2008 - Mike Zadick (60 kg)
A world silver medalist in 2006, Mike Zadick won the 2008 Olympic Trials by beating Shawn Bunch. Unfortunately, the win did not guarantee a place at the Olympics for Zadick or any other 60 kg wrestler for the United States. Zadick was the US representative at the 2007 World Championships but couldn't secure an Olympic berth for the country after taking 27th. In 2008, he was third at the Pan-American Championships and fell in a tough bracket at the first Olympic qualifying event. A coach's decision prevented Zadick from competing at the second qualifying tournament.
The US coaching staff had the foresight to take Zadick to the Olympics anyways and his number was called after a Bulgarian was pulled with an injury and his replacement was involved in a car accident on his way to the airport.
Once action got underway, Zadick was soundly defeated by Ukraine's Vasyl Fedoryshyn, 5-0 and 6-0. This was in the era of three, separate periods, for one bout. After Fedoryshyn made the finals, Zadick was pulled back into repechage. There he faced Bazar Bazarguruev (Kyrgyzstan). Bazarguruev prevailed 1-0, 3-0.
2016 - Daniel Dennis (57 kg)
While Zadick's journey to the Olympic Games was unmatched, the actual improbability of Dan Dennis' run to making the team hasn't been matched in recent memory. The 2010 NCAA runner-up had a two-plus year hiatus from the sport that saw him living out of his pickup truck in California. He returned in 2015 made the finals of the World Team Trials up at 61 kg. Since that weight is not offered in Olympic competition, Dennis dropped to 57 kg for the Olympic year. He would advance to the Trials finals against fellow Iowa alum, Tony Ramos. After a hard-fought 2-1 win in the first match of their series, Dennis needed just over a minute to secure a takedown and lock up his patented gut wrench to turn Ramos four times.
The Olympics competition itself was anticlimactic for Dennis as he suffered an 11-0 loss to Vladimir Dubov (Bulgaria) in his only bout of the event.
2020(One) - Thomas Gilman (57 kg)
Although he was wrestling at the Trials for the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club and his departure from Iowa and the Hawkeye Wrestling Club could be labeled as "complicated," Gilman belongs on this list. Though this is Gilman's first Olympic team, he has plenty of international experience and success. Just five months after wrestling his last collegiate bout as a Hawkeye, Gilman made the Senior World finals and came away with a silver medal. He qualified for the world team the following year and fell in the bronze medal match. Furthermore, made three age-group world teams and won a Junior bronze in 2014.