Brent Metcalf at the 2015 World Championships (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
At the 2006 World Wrestling Championships in Guangzhou, China, Bill Zadick won a gold medal at 66 kg. Along the way, he scored victories over four-time World medalist Genadry Garzon (Cuba) and four-time World/Olympic medalist Otar Tushishvili (Georgia). Not only did the current U.S. senior freestyle coach pick up the biggest medal of his career, but he also became the last American to bring home a medal at either 66 or 65 kg.
Since 2006, the U.S. has sent eight different wrestlers to the World Championships and the Olympic Games at the weight classes. The eight wrestlers have combined for a 9-16 record and failed to bring home a medal.
The upcoming Olympics will continue the streak for the country. Jordan Oliver had an electric performance at the Olympic Trials where he bested Nick Lee, Yianni Diakomihalis and Joey McKenna. However, the former Oklahoma State wrestler still needed to qualify the weight for the Games. Oliver ultimately finished one match short of qualification as he dropped a 3-2 decision against two-time World medalist Magomedmurad Gadzhiev (Poland) in the semifinals of the World Qualification Tournament.
The U.S. has certainly been sending quality wrestlers to these tournaments. The eight representatives combined for 14 national titles and 27 All-American seasons on the collegiate level. The competition has also been tough at the Trials. During this stretch, a variety of quality wrestlers failed to make teams, including names like Cary Kolat, Kendall Cross, Zack Esposito, Darrion Caldwell, James Green, Aaron Pico, Jayson Ness and Kellen Russell.
A Pair of Fifths
While the U.S. has not brought home any medals at the weights, two wrestlers came within one victory. At the 2007 World Championships, Doug Schwab went 3-2 and finished fifth. After being knocked out of the championship bracket by former Zadick opponent Garzon, Schwab qualified for the repechage. Schwab downed Mongolia's Buyanjavyn Batzorig to set up a match with yet another wrestler Zadick defeated on the way to his medal, Tushishvili. He dropped the best-of-three period bout by scores of 4-1 and 1-0. The current coach at Northern Iowa would return to the World stage at the 2008 Olympics, but he dropped both of his matches and finished in 14th place.
Eight years later, Frank Molinaro somewhat surprisingly won the Olympic Trials with victories over Kellen Russell, Brent Metcalf, Logan Stieber and Aaron Pico. Like Oliver, the former Penn State wrestler still needed to qualify the weight through the World Qualification Tournament. He came up short against former Cal Poly wrestler Boris Noavchkov who was wrestling for Bulgaria. Despite that loss, Molinaro still earned a spot in the Games after qualified wrestlers were pulled.
Molinaro nearly completed the storybook ending as he finished one match short of a medal at the 2016 Olympics. In his opening match, he ousted Oliver's recent rival Gadzhiev before falling against Olympic champion Toghrul Asgarov (Azerbaijan). Once in the repechage, Molinaro defeated Andriy Kvyatkovsky (Ukraine) to earn a spot in the bronze medal match against Frank Chamizo (Italy). It was a dynamic match that ultimately went to Chamizo by a 5-3 score.
Of the 13 World/Olympic tournaments between 2007-2019, Brent Metcalf was the American representative at four events. No other wrestlers made more than two teams. Metcalf finished his run with a 3-4 record on the World's highest level. His best shot came at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas. At that tournament, Metcalf defeated Norbert Lukacs (Hungary) and Yeerlanieke Katai (China) before dropping a 5-4 match against Ahmad Mohammadi (Iran) in the round of 16. Mohammadi then lost to the eventual champion Chamizo and thus eliminated Metcalf from the tournament.
The former Hodge Trophy winner would retire from the sport after losing to Molinaro during the 2016 Olympic Trials.
The only active wrestler to have made a World team at 65 kg is Zain Retherford. He was part of the 2017 squad that won the team title and returned to the World Championships in 2019. Retherford had a shot to qualify the weight for the upcoming Olympics at the Pan American Qualification Tournament. However, he suffered an upset against Argentina's Agustin Destribats in the semifinals via fall.
Retherford entered the most recent Olympic Trials as the top seed. He won his first match over former Rutgers national champion Anthony Ashanult via a 5-1 score. Retherford was then knocked out of the championship bracket by Joey McKenna. The former Penn State wrestler tried to get back on track in the consolation bracket, but he was upset once again by teammate Nick Lee.
65 kg remains one of the most challenging weights domestically, but the success has not been there for the U.S. in World-level competitions. Many expected Diakomihalis to take over the spot after a dominant start to the 2019 freestyle season. After winning his second NCAA title, he won the 2019 U.S. Open with victories over Molinaro, Oliver and Retherford. He followed that up with a victory over World medalist Bajrang Punia. However, he could not beat out Retherford for the spot on the World team. Diakomihalis has continued to defeat high-level international opposition, including Gor Ogannesyan (Ukraine), World bronze medalist Ismail Musukaev (Hungary), and Olympic gold medalist Vladimer Khinchegasvhili (Georgia).
It is hard to tell if the struggles at 66 and 65 kg over the years are due to the high level of international competition or a bit of strange luck. In reality, it is likely a bit of both. The U.S. has had a solid core of talent at the weight, but the results have not come. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues. The next shot at a medal will come at the 2021 World Championships this October in Oslo, Norway.