For the second straight year, the United States and Russia are the two best wrestling countries on earth. Just not in the same order. There are any number of scenarios you could conjure to say “well if this one or two things just happened, the US would’ve won!” While that is fun to do, Russia simply wrestled better. Look at the individual point differentials.
Fifty-five more points for, an average of 5.5 per weight. Every one of their athletes had a positive differential. Again, they were the better team.
It’s a Tough Tournament
Thomas Gilman, Haji Aliyev, Magomedurad Gadzhiev, Frank Chamizo, Boris Makoev, Taha Akgul. Some of the undeniable best in the world. All returning champs or silver medalists. None of them stood on the podium. You can add Khetik Tsabolov from Russia too, as he didn’t even win his national tournament to qualify. The guy that beat him out ended up winning the whole thing, so, read the next section.
Another way to gauge the difficulty of the world tournament is to list how many wrestlers have medaled for the past three years, then marvel at its brevity: Hassan Yazdani, J’Den Cox, Kyle Snyder, Abdulrashid Sadulaev, Geno Petriashvili. Only five. One Iranian, two Americans, one Russian, and one Georgian.
That’s how the natives chant “Russia” at worlds. This is a sampling of what Russia’s team could have been this year. Some of these guys are ranked higher than the one they sent, some lower. In some cases there were other Russians in between. For example, at 61kg, they own 8/20 spots: 1-4, 8-9, and 16-17.
57: Azamat Tuskaev
61: Alexander Bogomoev
65: Ilyas Bekbulatov
70: Soslan Ramonov
74: Khetik Tsabolov
79: Atsamaz Sanakoev
86: Artur Naifonov
92: Anzor Urishev
97: Vladislav Baitsaev
125: Bilyal Makhov
This team *probably* would have still beaten the US, but the American second team wouldn’t have even come close to beating Russia. That’s the difference between the two countries right now. Beating them last year was awesome, and so was coming close this year. But to say our programs are even roughly equivalent is misguided at best.
Here’s how many wrestlers Russia has ranked in the top 10 at each weight class: 2,6,3,3,5,5,3,3,4,2. Yes you read that correctly. At 61,70, and 74kg they have half or more than half of the top 10. At 70kg they have FIVE guys ranked ahead of our highest, and our highest is a world silver medalist. They have 10 out of 25 in the top pound-for-pound list.
Yes, this is a golden age for USA Wrestling. But we still have a long way to go.
The crowd in Budapest was quite different than the one I experienced in Las Vegas. The most perplexing difference was the relative tameness of the Russian section. In Vegas, throughout the tournament, but especially during the Jordan Burroughs-Aniuar Geduev semi final (skip to 5:40 and turn the volume up), the Russian faithful were LOUD. In my personal experience, that atmosphere almost topped Game 4 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final where the Penguins scored three unanswered goals in the second period. Being (obviously) much closer to Russia this year, I thought half the crowd would be Russo-centric sympathizers. Except for the small band of marauding countrymen in front of us, most of the fans present had scattered loyalties.
The most passionate fans everyday for freestyle were three women. One Iranian who did not stop jumping, dancing, chanting, or flag waving every time an Iranian was on the mat. It wouldn’t shock me if she was on the government payroll. The other two were from Georgia. Wherever the Georgian wrestler went, these girls followed. Mat A? They ran down there. Mat D? Back to the other side. They would go all the way down to the railing and forcefully wave the red and white cross-bearing flag.
As expected, the majority of fans were Hungarian. Magyarorszag always has more success in Greco-Roman than freestyle, so the locals didn’t have much to cheer about for the first few days. One session, two young brothers sat next to me (it was open seating) and found it amusing to root for the Americans, looking to me for approval after every score.
Except for one Ruskie cartoonishly yelling “Sidakov! Sidakov! Sidakov!” to taunt us about Burroughs losing, and one American snidely reminding them who lives in the more developed country, the crowd was amiable but enthusiastic, respectful but passionate. Travel arrangements might be too inconvenient for Astana, Kazakhstan next year, but I’m not ruling anything out.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen a thread I started documenting landmarks and sightseeing around Budapest. If not, click here. You don’t need a Twitter account to view it.
Budapest has been called the “Paris of the East”. The architecture was overwhelming. Even regular office buildings were ornately carved stone with pillars, statues, and exquisite features leaving no detail unaccounted for. The governmental buildings and historic churches were even nicer. Seriously though, this is one of those times a picture is worth 1000 words, and each tweet has four pictures. As this paragraph is less than 4000 words, it is a mathematical fact you should click on that link.
Elizbar Odikadze of Georgia has wrestled in a medal match five straight years. He was 0-4 until this past week. After placing 5th from 2014-2017, he was finally able to break through and get that bronze. He still almost found a way to blow it, but, congrats.
Russia finished with 178 points in freestyle and greco, winning both. Russia, Turkey, and Azerbaijan were the only three teams to finish in the top ten for both styles. For women’s freestyle, the US finished 3rd behind Japan and China.
There has been discussion of certain countries having money issues. Photos of training facilities in Cuba and Armenia have circulated the web and stories out of Azerbaijan don’t paint a happy picture. With the Azeris under-performing at every weight class except 79kg, those informed in the wrestling community have pointed to a lack of funding to pay their athletes. As so many prominent wrestling countries are in constant political turmoil, unfortunately this may continue for a long time.
With weight changes, injuries, and upsets galore at the trials, trying to pick the 2019 World Team a year out is a fool’s errand. So, I’ll take the easy way and list two wrestlers per weight. I do think at least four classes will have different reps next year, but also that the team will be better.
57: Thomas Gilman or Spencer Lee
61: Nahshon Garrett or Cory Clark
65: Zain Retherford or Jaydin Eierman
70: James Green or Jason Nolf
74: Jordan Burroughs or Isaiah Martinez
79: Kyle Dake or Zahid Valencia
86: David Taylor
92: J’Den Cox or Bo Nickal
97: Kyle Snyder
125: Nick Gwiazdowski or Gable Steveson
Taylor and Snyder are locks in my humble opinion.
*Rankings used in this article are the October 15th (pre-worlds) edition on FloWrestling by Seth Petarra