Greco has not been kind, historically, to Team USA, but there have been some notable exceptions at the World Championships. It wasn’t that long ago that USA Greco was holding the team trophy at the end of the competition and that performance only ranks third on our all-time list of the best Greco performances by Team USA at the World Championships. Having first sent a team to compete in Greco in 1961, it wasn’t until 1985 that the United States had a champion, Mike Houck. The golden era for American Greco, at least when it comes to performances at the World Championships, was in the first decade of the 21st century, making up the top three best teams.
Please note: This list is only for the World Championships and does not take into account Olympic teams.
5) Varna, Bulgaria, 1991
Matt Ghaffari (130 kg) fell to Alexander Karelin (USSR) in the gold medal match, picking up his first of four world-level medals while 10-time World or Olympic team member Shawn Sheldon (52 kg) also made the finals, earning the only world level medal of his career, also a silver. This was one of only two times the Americans put two Greco competitors in the finals at a World Championships, but they also flashed some depth as Mark Fuller (48 kg), Andy Seras (68 kg), John Morgan (82 kg), and Dennis Koslowski (100 kg) all finished inside the top-10 as Team USA earned a tie for sixth in the team race. Randy Couture (90 kg) was also on that team.
4) San Diego, United States, 1979
The year before the boycott of the Moscow Olympics, Team USA put half of their lineup in the top five on home soil to finish tied for fourth as a team, the highest ever to that point in Greco at a World Championship. Leading the way was Abdurrahim Kuzu (62 kg), a Turkish immigrant, who defeated two-time World champion and four-time world-level medalist Farhat Mustafin (USSR) on his way to a runner-up finish. Brad Rheingans (100 kg) finally stood on the podium after fourth-place finishes at the 1976 Olympics and 1978 World Championships, claiming bronze. Also securing hardware was heavyweight Bob Walker, who earned bronze in his only world-level appearance. Fifth place finishes from Greg Williams (48 kg) and Dan Chandler (82 kg), before his legendary coaching career, rounded out the place winners. 1984 Olympic champion Steve Fraser was also on that team.
3) Baku, Azerbaijan, 2007
Only once has Team USA claimed the team title in Greco at a World Championships and they did so in 2007, scoring 31 points to outlast Russia (30), Georgia (28), and Iran (26). Despite having only seven weights, the Americans produced three medals and a fifth place finish to get the win. Brad Vering (84 kg) made his fifth of six world-level appearances a special one as he advanced to the finals, falling to 2004 Olympic champion Aleksey Mishin (RUS), but winning the only world-level medal of his career. Justin Lester (66 kg) picked up his second consecutive world bronze, while 2002 World champion Dremiel Byers (120 kg_ returned to the awards stand after a five-year absence, finishing third as well. With the incredibly tight team race, Lindsey Durlacher’s fifth place performance at 55 kg proved crucial as Joe Betterman (60 kg), TC Dantzler (74 kg), and Justin Ruiz (96 kg), all excellent wrestlers, failed to place.
2) Guangzhou, China, 2006
Though the team race didn’t go as well the next year in regards to placing, Team USA actually scored more points, 34, in finishing tied for second. Five of the seven athletes that would compete in 2007 made up the core of this team, but it was Joe Warren (60 kg) claiming a gold medal that put this team in the second spot. Lester’s aforementioned bronze medal at 66 kg helped as did Durlacher claiming bronze at 55 kg. Dantzler finished fifth as the four lightest weights placed for Team USA. Had Jake Clark (84 kg), Ruiz (96 kg), or Byers (120 kg) snuck into the top five, this team would have claimed the first World Championship team gold in American history. Instead, it would have to wait a year, but this was still a fantastic tournament for the US.
1) Patras, Greece, 2001
Less than three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it was the Greco team, competing alone after men’s and women’s freestyle had wrapped up in Sofia, Bulgaria a couple of weeks prior, that would win Team USA’s only wrestling gold medal of the year. Rulon Gardner (130 kg), fresh off his Miracle on the Mat upset of Karelin in the 2000 Olympics, would claim the title as an all-time high of three Americans made the Greco finals. Brandon Paulson (54 kg), a 1996 Olympic silver medalist, and Matt Lindland (85 kg), coming off of a silver medal in Sydney at the 2000 Olympics, repeated their prior runner-up performances. Kevin Bracken (63 kg) finished seventh, helping the team finish third overall with 33 points. 2001 was one of only four times that Team USA has won three Greco medals at a World Championships and the only time none of them were bronze. That puts the team that went to Greece on top of our list as owning the greatest Team USA Greco World Championship performance of all-time!