Women’s freestyle is a relatively recent addition to the international scene with Team USA first sending a squad to the World Championships in 1989, two years after the first edition in 1987. Success came quickly with the Americans taking home three medals in their debut and finding plenty of success before Tricia Saunders won the first US gold in the style in 1992. Thanks in large part to Japan’s dominance in the style, Team USA has only won the team title once, in 1999, tieing for the top spot in 2003, but losing on tie-breakers. Because of all that success, this is an incredibly difficult list to make. The 2017 team that finished tied for second in the world, winning three medals, came up just short of the top five.
Please note: This list is only for the World Championships and does not take into account Olympic teams.
5) Poznan, Poland, 1998
Four-time world champion Tricia Saunders (46 kg) and nine-time world medalist Kristie Davis (75 kg) bookended the lineup with both making the finals. Saunders won gold, her third, while Davis was the runner-up for the third consecutive year, losing to Kyoko Hamaguchi (JPN) for the second year in a row. Sandra Bacher picked up her second world medal in as many years at 68 kg, winning bronze. There were just six weight classes for women in 1998 and only one bronze per weight class. Stephanie Murata nearly made it four medals for Team USA, falling just short of the podium with a fourth place finish at 51 kg. The United States finished third in the team race behind Russia and Japan.
4) Budapest, Hungary, 2005
A pair of seventh place finishes from Jenny Wong (48 kg) and Stephanie Murata (51 kg) in addition to the surprising performance of two-time world silver medalist Tina George who missed the top 10 at 55 kg kept this from being a much stronger performance as the four heaviest weights all finished with a medal. Sally Roberts, who would go on to found Wrestle Like A Girl, claimed bronze at 59 kg, current UFC fighter Sara McMann followed her 2004 Olympic silver medal with a bronze at 63 kg after losing to 14-time world-level champion Kaori Icho (JPN), and Katie Cygan made it three bronze medals when she claimed one at 67 kg. Iris Smith knocked off Kyoko Hamaguchi (JPN), who entered the tournament with five world championships, to win the gold at 72 kg boosting the United States to a third-place finish as a team.
3) Strathcona County, Canada, 2012
With just four weight classes in the Olympics from 2004 through 2012, a full World Championship for women’s wrestling was held in 2008 and 2012. This allowed Adeline Gray to win her first world title at the non-Olympic weight of 67 kg and Elena Pirozhkova (63 kg) to rebound from a disappointing London Olympics to claim the only world-level gold of her career. Four years before the upset in Rio, Saori Yoshida (JPN) would take down Helen Maroulis in the finals at 55 kg for one of the Japanese woman’s 16 world-level crowns. Alyssa Lampe won the first of back-to-back world bronze medals despite competing up at 51 kg. Team USA finished third behind China and Japan in the team race which marked the last time Japan lost in this discipline at a World Championship.
2) Boden, Hildursborg, Sweden, 1999
The only women’s freestyle team title for the United States at a World Championship saw three of the seven weights make the finals. Tricia Saunders (46 kg) claimed her fourth world title which still stands as the record among American women. Sandra Backer (68 kg) improved upon her bronze medal from 1998 to win a gold of her own, completing the set after a silver in 1997. Kristie Davis (75 kg) won her fourth silver medal in her fourth trip to the World Championships. She lost for the third year in a row to Kyoko Hamaguchi (JPN). Stephanie Murata (51 kg) once again came up just short, finishing fourth just as she did in 1998. Murata would break through in 2001 to win a silver medal. Tina George was sixth at 56 kg and Lauren Lamb-Wolfe was fifth at 62 kg which proved key to the team race. There were six weights in 1999 as well meaning no one for Team USA finished outside the top six.
1) New York City, United States, 2003
As impressive as putting six in the top six was, the 2003 team blew that performance out of the water, defending home soil by coming away with medals at each of the seven weights in 2003. The team race hinged on a final session that saw five Americans in the gold medal match and five wrestlers from Japan challenging for the top spot as well, with the two countries battling for the top spot. Kristie Davis (67 kg) winning her second title would be the only gold for Team USA, though, as Japan took each of the three head-to-head clashes. Saori Yoshida took down Tina George at 55 kg, Kaori Icho defeated Sara McMann at 63 kg, and Kyoko Hamaguchi bested Toccara Montgomery at 72 kg. Patricia Miranda, who would become the United States’ first Olympic medalist in women’s wrestling the next year, fell to Irina Melnik-Merleni at 48 kg as well, leaving Team USA with four silver medals. Jennifer Wong earned the only world medal of her career snagging a bronze at 51 kg, while Sally Roberts claimed the first of two career bronze medals at 59 kg. In the final accounting, Team USA and Japan tied with 62 points, but Japan won the first tiebreaker on the strength of having five champions.