After winning her fourth Olympic gold medal, Kaori Icho paid tribute to her late mother (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
The 2016 Olympic Games for wrestling might be remembered for stripping coaches, once-in-a-generation upsets and an ever-expanding refereeing controversy, but its legacy will likely be with the success of women on the mat.
In no other Olympic Games have we seen such popularity and support for women's wrestling. Leading the pack was Kaori Icho's improbable, record-breaking fourth gold medal in wrestling. In addition to becoming wrestling royalty, Icho also became the first woman to ever win four gold medals in the same event across four Olympics -- making her an Olympian for the ages.
We also saw Helen Maroulis win the United States' first-ever gold medal in wrestling, overcoming three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida. Ask Rulon, interrupting history has a way of leaving an indelible mark on the sporting world. All of this with the single largest collection of media for any single day of judo or wrestling.
The other two major achievements by women were less celebrated, but likely more consequential. Tunisia's Marwa Amri won bronze and became her country's first-ever medalist in wrestling AND the first woman to ever medal from the continent of Africa. Equally as major an accomplishment is Sakshil Malik of India who became her country's first-ever female medalist at the Olympics and the first to ever place in wrestling.
These achievements will change the world, and for the better. To paraphrase one of the Indian coaches, we are about to see 10,000 more Sakshil Maliks in India. Women who grow up in extreme poverty but through wrestling rise up and change their life for the better.
This Olympics was for the women and I hope we see the sport's continued growth and support by fans.
To your questions …
Q: Will Kaori Icho retire after winning her fourth Olympic gold medal? Or do you see her wrestling in Tokyo 2020?
-- Mike C.
Foley: As you know I've been able to cover Icho extensively over the past few years. Through filming her documentary I was certain she would wrestle in Tokyo, but after her nail-biting finale in Rio I tend to think she will retire.
Though she hasn't made a definitive decision, I'm betting Icho retires, heads overseas to coach, and makes an equal impact in the chair as she did on the mat.
Q: In the 2000 Olympics, Rulon beat Karelin and was rewarded with an Asics shoe deal (now the Aggressors). Now we have shoes and singlet lines named for several male wrestlers who have never medaled at (or competed in) world or Olympic championships.
Now that Helen Maroulis has world titles and scored the biggest Olympic win since Rulon-Karelin, will we see her break the gender barrier and be given a shoe deal like her male counterparts? Seems only fair...
-- David (MA)
Foley: Shoe deals aren't emotional! They need to make dollars to make sense.
Helen will certainly NOT get a shoe deal from Asics as they are a Japanese company heavily invested in Saori Yoshida. However, Helen is already sponsored by Adidas and I'd expect -- or hope -- that we will in fact see the first women's shoe in the coming year.
I don't KNOW that she will, but I am willing to bet. Any takers?
Also, I haven't bought a pair of shoes since college. If Helen gets a deal I'm hoping that they are gender neutral because I want my first pair in over a decade.
Q: What surprised you more: Jordan Burroughs failing to medal or Adeline Gray failing to medal?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Jordan Burroughs
You can see Adeline having really bad luck with that tip-over, but Burroughs lost his matches while not looking like himself on the mat. No question, Adeline was the best wrestler in the bracket who got unlucky in three seconds, but Burroughs was beaten handily by a duo of wrestlers.
In the end, after endorsements and media and expectations, not many wrestlers could deal with the pressure Burroughs was under in Rio, even Burroughs.
Q: I am very frustrated with the TV coverage of the Olympics. The times and channels that wrestling was supposed to be on were often not correct. In addition, there was much better coverage of power walking, water polo, handball, etc. … sports that are much less popular or viewed as wrestling regardless of the metric used to determine popularity. I would like to know if there is any way we can help ourselves. I fear that network executives are going to say, "See, we televise wrestling and no one watches" … when the fact is it was extremely hard to find it even for the hardcore wrestling fan. The Olympics were a chance for us to "move the needle" a bit in regards to popularity. Who would be the "they" that could help wrestling in the United States? Is it USA Wrestling? I believe that the United States wrestling powers need to take a lead and hire a PR or marketing firm to take an unbiased look at the sport in the U.S. at all levels and recommend changes that can be made to improve its popularity. What are your thoughts on this? I appreciate your view. Thank you. Go USA!
-- Michael S.
Foley: NBC Sports came under fire from Flowrestling for this same point. I thought that Jim Bell, the executive producer of NBC Olympics (who has four sons who wrestle), did a solid job of answering that criticism. Essentially he stated in tweets that NBC did cover Helen and Kyle live on NBCSN -- their station for live content -- and that they were spread around to a variety of talk shows, including the Today Show, the most-watched show in the USA.
I should also point out that social media impact was well documented and no sport in America came close (within a 100 light years) to wrestling! As a sport we crushed everyone else and while that isn't creating income right away it does have an impact on their long term planning for sports. While speed walking may have been put in the spotlight for a moment, I think that wrestling came out of the Olympics in an excellent position (from a media standpoint) heading into 2020. You should be happy!
Also, the positive feedback on the numbers of viewers came before the incident with the Mongolian coaching staff. Helen, Risako Kawai's slam of her coach and the interview of Jordan Burroughs were the top three most viewed items on NBC Olympics.
Kyle Snyder Level 10
Link: Helen Maroulis win
Link: Risako Kawai slam
Link: Jordan Burroughs interview
Q: What is your opinion did on how Team USA fared in wrestling in the Olympics? Who do you see as the future Team USA?
-- Gregg Y.
Foley: Not an excellent showing. I'm happy for Team USA that they finished in third in men's freestyle, one place ahead of Russia, but on-level a disappointing Olympics.
There doesn't need to be any wholesale change at the federation level, but I do think we all need to sit in a room and decide if we want to move college wrestling over to freestyle and Greco-Roman. Snyder and Cox didn't win at the international level because they wrestle folkstyle (that makes no sense) but it does say that the regimented schedule, constant training and Regional OTC's are a model that we should explore and expand.
Here's one idea I liked from my buddy Will Durkee: make Division I freestyle/Greco-Roman and keep Division II and Division III as folkstyle.
Q: If the Olympic Games gave out Outstanding Wrestler awards, who would be your OWs in each of the three styles?
-- Mike C.
Foley: Soslan Ramonov of Russia was the most impressive wrestler in any styles. Creative, aggressive and tactical he improved the sport with his performance in Rio. By default he's also my Most Outstanding Wrestler for the freestyle event.
Risako Kawai of Japan was wrestling up a weight class and was dominant throughout the women's tournament.
Roman Vlasov of Russia is a total machine and works hard for every point. I know that people thought he earned a controversial won over Kim Hyeon-Woo of Korea, but if you look at what was awarded four point for Vlasov's throw and what some wanted awarded four points for Kim, it's obvious that one was more spectacular that the other. Also, he was ILLEGALLY choked unconscious and still won the gold medal.
Q: Was this one of mat officials that was suspended? If not, he should be banned for life. He was on the video review panel for the Gomez and Yardzani matches and advocated for points for their opponents in both. If you haven't already, re-watch those matches and see his influence.
-- Craig T.
Foley: Suspended indefinitely (forever) after the Gomez match and removed from the floor of the Olympics. Ethics Commission is investigating along with several other complaints.
Q: In the bronze-medal match between Mandakhnaran Ganzorig and Ikhtiyor Navruzov, was the fleeing call justified? I see both sides of the argument. It was clear that Ganzorig won that match and probably should have left Rio with bronze. However, it doesn't seem fair that you can run for 18 seconds and give Navruzov no chance to score.
-- Mike C.
Foley: It wasn't 18 seconds. Was 3 seconds. The correct call is to whistle the wrestler into attention before ever making a fleeing call. Not just correct, but the ONLY decision. It was absolutely the wrong to call to make, especially to overturn the match outcome. Infuriating to watch.
RANT OF THE WEEK
It's time to address the elephant in the room.
Rio was a step back for wrestling. The Mongolian strip show and the Franklin Gomez screw job are just the tip of the iceberg. Then throw in numerous other moments of questionable officiating, the Ukrainian bites hulk moment, the Russian doping scandal, the Narsingh Yadav soap opera, and ol Mikhail Tyson playing punch out (allegedly) on Inna Tranzhukova. Quite a week for a sport that had to fight to stay in the Olympics and isn't secured past 2020. On top of all that our best ambassador for the sport over the last couple of years was dealt a major setback.
Don't get me wrong. There's still a lot right with wrestling on the international scene. There were some great moments. Icho's historic win, Burroughs candid interview, Lopez's third gold, and the Maryland duo of Kyle and Helen.
The point is we still have a long way to go and this past week highlighted that. It also highlighted why wrestling is worth fighting for. I'm looking at you UWW.