photo courtesy of Tony Rotundo
The wrestling community needed a diversion and a dose of good news as all three divisions of NCAA wrestling, along with the women’s NAIA championship, were canceled earlier in the week. The United States men’s Greco-Roman team was able to provide some positives as they qualified four weights for the 2020 Olympic Games. The group, along with both freestyle squads, are participating in one of the only sporting events in North America, due to cancellations stemming from the spread of COVID-19. Taking place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier provides a spot in the Olympic Games for countries that have a wrestler finish in the top two of their respective weight class. This doesn’t guarantee that the wrestler who earned the spot will advance to the Games, just that his/her country will be represented.
The Greco-Roman team did not qualify any of the six Olympic weights through the 2019 World Championships, so this tournament was extremely critical. When it was all said and done Friday, four of the six weights were qualified for Team USA, so it had to be considered a successful venture. For the remaining two weights, we will send wrestlers to the World OG Qualifier in Bulgaria, with other countries that have yet to qualify for the Games. That tournament was set for the end of April, but has already been postponed.
The only American to come away with gold on Friday was Joe Rau at 87 kg. Rau was awarded the victor by injury default in the finals over Daniel Gregorich Hechavarria (Cuba). Rau’s day started with a tough test against two-time Pan-American champion Luis Avendano Rojas (Venezuela), but he was able to prevail 4-4 on criteria. To earn a spot in the finals and clinch the US berth in the Olympics, Rau teched Jamaica’s Lesyan Cousin Otomuro, 9-1.
Up a weight, at 97 kg, G’Angelo Hancock had to win four bouts just to get into the finals. That didn’t seem to phase him much as he turned in four techs, outscoring the competition by the margin of 35-0. In the finals, Hancock fell to 2019 Junior World Champion Gabriel Rosillo Kindelan (Cuba), 11-8. Just a week earlier, Hancock teched Rosillo Kindelan in the Pan-American Championships. While most weights will be extremely competitive at the Olympic Trials, Hancock has dominated 97 kgs for the past three-plus years, so he is a safe bet to be our Olympic representative.
At the opening weight, 60 kg’s, Ildar Hafizov had a tough road just to make the finals and qualify the weight. He led off his tournament by edging Andres Montano Arroyo (Ecuador) by a point in the Round of 16. Montano Arroyo is a two-time Pan-American champion and a two-time winner of the Pan-American Games. Next up was Marat Gapirov (Brazil), who was a past Pan-American bronze medalist and also captured an Asian bronze medal while competing for Kazakhstan. Gapirov went down 9-0. Ildar ended up qualifying the weight with a hard-fought, 7-2 win over Samuel Gurria Vigueras (Mexico). In the finals, Hafizov was shutout by 2019 Pan-American champion Luis Orta Sanchez (Cuba).
At 67 kg’s, Alex Sancho cruised by Enyer Feliciano (Dominican Republic) 7-1 and Manuel Lopez Salcedo (Mexico) 8-1 to punch the American team’s ticket to Tokyo at this weight. He then fell to Julian Horta Acevedo (Columbia) 4-0 in the gold medal match. That win was the first of Horta Acevado’s young career, on the Senior level.
A loss in the semifinals at 77 kgs prevented Pat Smith from qualifying his weight class for Tokyo. Smith fell to 2019 Pan-American champion Yosvanys Pena Flores (Cuba) 8-0 in the semifinals. Pat would bounce back to claim bronze after getting by Jair Cuero Munoz (Columbia), 3-2.
Also, finishing just shy of qualifying was 2018 World silver medalist Adam Coon at 130 kg. Coon drew Yasmani Acosta Fernandez (Chile) in his opening match of the tournament was knocked off, 3-2. Adam also got the bronze medal after his bout was stopped due to his opponent, Leo Santana Heredia’s (Dominican Republic), broken rib.
Today the US women’s freestyle team will be in action with Sarah Hildebrandt (50 kg), Jacarra Winchester (53 kg), Helen Maroulis (57 kg), and Kayla Miracle (62 kg) taking the mat. The remaining two women’s weights have already qualified for Tokyo after Tamyra Mensah-Stock (68 kg) and Adeline Gray (76 kg) won gold at the 2019 World Championships.