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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Way Too Early 2024 Olympic Team Predictions

    Greg Kerkvliet left, Macey Kilty center, Benji Peak right; photos courtesy of Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    The U.S. Olympic team is set, and there are only 100 days until the Olympics in Tokyo. However, it is never too early to start looking forward to 2024. The following names the favorite in all 18 Olympic weights. Obviously, some wrestlers will move around in weight, others will retire and some might come out of nowhere. With that being said, this is a "way too early" version of the 2024 team.

    Men's Freestyle

    57 kg: Spencer Lee

    Obviously, this prediction will depend on a lot of variables. The most notable of which will be how Lee returns from yet another knee injury. Following his third NCAA finals victory, the Iowa wrestler revealed that he was competing with "no ACLs." Despite the dominant college season and qualifying as an NCAA champion, Lee chose to not compete at the Olympic Trials.

    Since joining the Hawkeyes, Lee's primary focus has been on folkstyle. However, he was one of America's best age-group level freestyle wrestlers with multiple World championships. On top of that, during the 2020 season, Lee took a break from folkstyle to enter the 2019 U.S. Nationals, where he defeated all five of his opponents by a combined 52-6 score. In the semifinals, he scored a 14-4 match-termination victory over Vito Arujau, who made the recent Trials' finals.

    In order to make the team, Lee would need to best former Iowa wrestler Thomas Gilman. Despite spending time in the same room, Gilman has made a point of calling out his successor and advocating for a match. The match has never happened before, and if it ends up happening in the 2024 Trials finals, the entire wrestling World will probably be watching.

    65 kg: Yianni Diakomihalis

    Back in 2019, many thought Diakomihalis was going to end up being the favorite for the 2020 Games. After winning his second NCAA title with wins over Chad Red, Dom Demas, Jaydin Eierman and Joey McKenna, he immediately transitioned to freestyle and won the U.S. Open. In that tournament, he picked up impressive victories over Frank Molinaro, Jordan Oliver and Zain Retherford. Diakomihalis kept up that momentum with a 10-8 win over Bajrang Punia at the 2019 Beat The Streets event.

    That summer, the Cornell wrestler went on to add titles at both the Yasar Dogu and Waclaw Ziolkowski Memorial. However, he came up short in Final X against Zain Retherford and was kept off the 2019 World team. After taking an Olympic redshirt during the 2020 season, the Ivy League chose not to participate during the 2021 collegiate season. Diakomihalis kept busy in various freestyle events where he defeated the likes of James Green, Sammy Sasso, Anthony Ashnault, and Vladimer Khinchegasvhili.

    Despite the extensive focus on freestyle, Diakomihalis dropped matches against eventual champion Jordan Oliver and Nick Lee at the Trials and ended up finishing fourth. He is expected to return to Cornell and the college mats.

    By the time 2024 rolls around, Diakomihalis will be only 25 years old. 65 kg is routinely one of the strongest weights domestically. However, he spends a lot of time wrestling against high-quality freestyle opposition and will have plenty of time to adapt his scrambling style to best some of his domestic rivals.

    74 kg: Kyle Dake

    It would be hard to look at the recent Trials final at 74 kg and not see a passing of the torch. Dake won a pair of matches over Jordan Burroughs and qualified for his first Olympics. On top of that, he was thoroughly dominant as he made his way through the challenge tournament. After a pair of World Championships at 79 kg, Dake is widely considered to be one of the favorites for gold at the upcoming games.

    Dake is not particularly young, as he will be 33 in 2024. However, that is close enough to prime for a wrestler that he should be able to hold down the spot at 74 kg. He will be pushed by some of the rising stars at 74 kg, including Isaiah Martinez. With that being said, Jason Nolf was a three-time NCAA champion, and Dake ran through him at the Trials in less than a minute.

    Even if the field is able to close the gap on Dake, he may find himself still the clear leader in the division.

    86 kg: David Taylor

    Like Dake, Taylor is a bit older than some might expect since he was kept off World teams by Burroughs' dominance. The former Penn State wrestler will be 33 in 2024, which is certainly not retirement age, but it is hard to believe that he will not be feeling the effects of time.

    With that being said, Taylor has been utterly dominant domestically since J'den Cox exited the 86 kg weight class. On top of that, since falling against Cox in the finals of the 2017 World Team Trials, Taylor has gone undefeated with victories over the likes of Yurieski Torreblanca, Boris Makojev, and Hassan Yazdani.

    Some commentators suggested that Taylor had slowed down a bit following his 2019 injury suffered against Drew Foster at the Beat The Streets event. However, he recently made his way through the Trials without surrendering a single point.

    His opponent in the finals, Bo Nickal, had previously stated that he was prepared to move on from wrestling and start an MMA career following the Trials. That leaves Zahid Valencia as Taylor's toughest remaining challenge at 86 kg. The two have never met before and a bout in the finals of the 2024 Trials would undoubtedly be a marquee match.

    97 kg: J'den Cox

    The expected showdown between Cox and Kyle Snyder never happened at the 2020 Olympic Trials after Cox failed to make weight. However, it could certainly happen at the next Trials.

    After winning bronze medals at the 2016 Olympics and 2017 World championships at 86 kg, Cox moved up to 92 kg and won a pair of World titles at the non-Olympic weight. He moved up to 97 kg and won nine straight matches prior to the trials, including wins over Reineris Salas, Yonger Bastida, Hayden Zillmer, and Nate Jackson.

    Obviously, Snyder will be Cox's toughest test at the new weight. If Cox remains at 97 kg, their first meeting will likely occur prior to 2024. The extra time will also probably help Cox become better accustomed to the weight class. Even if Cox was not the favorite in 2021, he likely will be when the 2024 Trials come around.

    125 kg: Greg Kerkvliet

    The wrestler representing the U.S. at the upcoming Olympic Games will be only 21 years old. So it might be odd to imagine a new wrestler holding the spot in a few years. However, Gable Steveson is already showing up at WWE shows and seems intent to move on following the upcoming tournament. If Steveson sticks around, he will and should be the favorite. At this point, that does not seem likely.

    Steveson leaving competitive wrestling behind will not create a void at heavyweight. There will still be several top contenders, including two-time World medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, Steveson's collegiate rival Mason Parris and Kerkvliet.

    Among that group, the favorite today has to be Gwiazdowski. However, Parris was able to take matches off him at the RTC Cup. While Parris also had the advantage over Kerkvliet on the college mats this year, Kerkvliet got the best of the Michigan wrestler in the rematch under freestyle rules at the Trials.

    Not only did Kerkvliet win the match against Parris at the Trials, there is reason to believe that he will continue to improve over the years. He returned very quickly following an injury this year. He is still very young, and pretty much everyone seems to improve in the Penn State room. By the time the 2024 Trials happen, Kerkvliet will probably be the favorite to make the team.

    Women's Freestyle

    50 kg: Sarah Hildebrandt

    After spending the majority of her international career at 53 and 55 kg, Hildebrandt dropped down to 50 kg for the Olympics. As one might expect, it turned out to be a smart move as the 2018 World silver medalist earned her spot on the Olympic team. Hildebrandt sat in the finals and waited for Victoria Anthony, who she dispatched in two matches with a combined 22-2 score.

    Hildebrandt is still only 27 years old, so she should be near her prime in 2024. There is some impressive young talent at 50 kg, including Sage Mortimer and Emily Shilson. However, Hildebrandt seems to have more than enough to turn back those types of challenges. It is possible she will move up during the non-Olympic years before dropping back down for the next Trials.

    53 kg: Jacarra Winchester

    Winchester got the opportunity to sit in the finals of the recent Olympic Trials after picking up a gold medal at the 2019 World Championships. In the finals, she bested challenge tournament winner Ronna Heaton in two straight matches, including a dominant 12-2 victory in the deciding bout.

    After her performance at the Trials, it is hard to see anyone knocking her out of the spot. However, she will turn 29 this October. She will not be old by any means in 2024. However, it could open the door for a younger wrestler to make a push. At this point, the smart money is on Winchester.

    57 kg: Xochitl Mota-Pettis

    Mota-Pettis had her coming-out party at the 2020 Senior Nationals. She made the finals with an upset over Alli Ragan via fall in the quarterfinals. However, Mota-Pettis ultimately came up short in the finals against Lauren Louive. Despite making the finals, Mota-Pettis still needed to qualify for this year's Trials. She entered the Last Chance Qualifier and faced off against Louive in the finals once again. While Louive had won by fall back in October, Mota-Pettis reversed that result with a dominant 14-2 victory.

    At the Trials, Mota-Pettis was knocked out of the running for a spot on the team by Ragan. The veteran got her revenge with a 9-2 decision. Despite coming up short this year, "XMP" still has plenty of time to grow. On the same weekend where she wrestled in the Senior Nationals tournament, she also entered the Junior Nationals tournament. With a few more years of experience, she could make a run and hold down the spot at 57 kg. It certainly won't be easy since Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis is still only 29 years old.

    62 kg: Macey Kilty

    Kilty turned 20 less than a month before the Olympic Trials. Her youth certainly did not hold her back. She won the challenge tournament with impressive victories over Desiree Zavala, Mallory Velter and Maya Nelson. Kilty then faced off against Kayla Miracle in the best-of-three finals and actually forced a third match with a round-two victory. However, she suffered a shoulder injury in the third match and bowed out.

    The 20-year-old certainly has time to improve and develop, and she was already only one match away from making the team. Kilty will be training with the Tar Heel Wrestling Club, so she certainly will not be wanting for coaching. Look for her upward trajectory to continue over the next few years.

    68 kg: Tamyra Mensah-Stock

    This year Mensah-Stock made a strong case for herself as the best women's freestyle wrestler in the country. She not only turned back a strong challenge from high schooler Kennedy Blades (more on her later) to make the Olympic team, but also earlier in the year, she picked up a dominant 4-0 victory over fellow Olympian Adeline Gray.

    The 28-year-old wrestler already has won a pair of World medals, and she looked just as dominant this year. It is hard to imagine anyone challenging her at this weight from now until after the 2024 Olympics.

    76 kg: Kennedy Blades

    Despite still being in high school, Blades went on a memorable run at the Trials at 68 kg. She knocked off Rachel Watters, Alexandria Glaude and Forrest Molinari. She came up short against Mensah-Stock in the finals. However, she scored in those matches and held her own as best she could.

    If she continues to develop and grow, Blades could easily be the representative at the 2024 Olympics. Adeline Gray has been a fixture of the World team since 2011 and might bring home yet another medal in Tokyo, but she will be 33 for the next Trials. Blades might have given her a tough match this year based on her performance one weight down at the Trials.


    60 kg: Taylor LaMont

    This summer, Ildar Hafizov will head to his second Olympics, but it will be his first representing the U.S. after attending the event on behalf of Uzbekistan in 2008. Hafizov will be one of U.S. Greco's best chances for a medal at the upcoming Games. However, he is already 33 years old. His opponent in the finals, Ryan Mango, indicated on Twitter that he would be returning in September for "one more dance." So there might be some new blood at 60 kg in 2024.

    Two of the younger prospects at this weight are Taylor LaMont and Dalton Roberts. LaMont qualified for the Trials in Greco even though he wrestled full time on the collegiate mats for Utah Valley. He did lose on the frontside of the bracket against Roberts. However, once he finishes college and starts focusing solely on Greco, he could be a force to reckon with.

    67 kg: Benji Peak

    Peak had about as great of a performance as possible without winning at the Trials. He dropped only one match, which came in the finals of the challenge tournament against veteran Ellis Coleman. Peak had the lead in the match but ultimately could not hold on for the victory. Coleman would go on to lose to Alejandro Sancho and leave his shoes on the mat.

    Even though Peak was not victorious at the recent Trials, he has shown some clear aptitude for Greco. By making the National team, he should be able to refine his skills and make some overseas trips over the next few years. If he can improve, he could find himself on the Olympic team in 2024.

    77 kg: Kamal Bey

    Many have expected Bey to take over this weight on the senior level for the last few years. After bypassing college to begin focusing only on Greco, Bey won a Junior World Championship in 2017. The following year, he made his first senior-level World team and won a pair of matches but failed to place at the 2018 World Championships. In 2019, Bey made it to Final X. However, he was unable to make the World team after coming up short against Pat Smith.

    Bey's quest to make the Olympic team got off to a solid start at the 2019 Senior Nationals. He defeated all five of his opponents, including Jake Fisher, and in the process, he qualified for the Trials. However, in October of 2020, it was announced that USADA had suspended Bey for the year for a whereabouts violation. Due to the suspension, he was eliminated from contention for the Olympics.

    For the last few years, Bey has been one of the country's most dynamic scorers in Greco. If he can refine his skills and win matches against wrestlers who want to slow down the pace and control, he should be able to make his way onto the next Olympic team.

    87 kg: John Stefanowicz

    This weight was one of the wildest of the Trials and most uncertain going forward. Going into the tournament, it looked like a final between former Cuban competitor Alan Vera and Joe Rau was inevitable. However, John Stefanowicz upset both of those competitors to make the Olympic team.

    On top of that, both Rau and veteran Jon Anderson left their shoes on the mat to signal their retirement. In theory, this makes Stefanowicz the favorite for 2024. However, if the bracket plays like it did this year, it could be anybody's chance.

    97 kg: Tracy Hancock

    Going into the Olympic Trials, the biggest sure thing on the Greco side was Hancock. He will not turn 24 until July, but he has already cemented himself as the best Greco wrestler in the U.S. at 97 kg. He easily dispatched Braxton Amos in the finals even though Amos had gone on a magical run through both the Last Chance Qualifier and challenge tournament. Hancock clearly represents the country's best chance to bring home a medal in Greco.

    It is hard to see anyone coming up through the ranks who could challenge Hancock's domestic supremacy. The field's best hope is that his size, length and physicality convince him to make a run at the UFC heavyweight title and move on from wrestling.

    130 kg: Cohlton Schultz

    Since the summer of 2019, Schultz's only domestic losses in Greco have come against Adam Coon. The two have met five times with Coon winning all five of their matches. Schultz came the closest in their first match of the Olympic Trials finals. There Schultz kept it close but ultimately dropped the bout 3-3 on criteria.

    Despite wrestling collegiately, Schultz seems intent on making improvements to his Greco game. He made a somewhat risky trip to the Matteo Pellicone only a few weeks before the NCAA tournament. Arizona State seems to be onboard with Schultz's plan. He is in a great position to improve, and he is already pushing Coon despite being only 20 years old. At the very least, Schultz will be in position to challenge once again for the Olympic team in 2024.

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