photo courtesy of Richard Immel
The final day of the Pan-American Championships saw the men’s freestyle team get their opportunity to qualify four weight classes for the 2020 Olympics. While there were high points, the day ended on a sour note as 65 kgs continued to be a confounding weight class and it was not qualified.
The biggest win of the day belonged to 2017 World silver medalist Thomas Gilman at 57 kg. Gilman’s quarterfinal bout against Reineri Andreu Ortega (Cuba) was circled by American fans as perhaps the most critical matches of the entire tournament on the men’s freestyle side. The two had squared off multiple times in the past and it was always the Cuban who got his hand raised. As expected, Andreu Ortega started off quickly with a takedown to get the early lead. Gilman displayed excellent defense and fought off a leg-lace attempt, then another quality attack from the Cuban. Instead of giving up a second takedown, Gilman made his opponent settle for a step out point. Though Gilman trailed 3-1 at the break, it was evident that his pace and handfighting had begun to take a toll on his opponent. After a second step-out point for the American, Gilman countered a takedown attempt by Andreu Ortega for two points and a 4-3 lead. That’s how the match would end and Thomas moved on to the semis. There was no such drama in the semifinals, as Gilman teched his opponent Juan Ramirez Beltre (Dominican Republic) to earn a spot in the finals, and more importantly, lock up a place in the Olympic Games for his country. Gilman’s opponent, Oscar Tigreros Urbano (Colombia), did not wrestle in the gold medal match.
An upset in the semifinals at 65 kgs ended up being the only lowlight from the competition on Sunday. After rolling through his first two matches with identical 10-0 scores, Zain Retherford was paired with Agustin Destribats (Argentina). His Argentinian foe was a bronze medalist at the Pan-American Championships a week ago, and at the 2019 tournament, as well. After a takedown, Retherford moved into a leg lace and was caught on his back for a surprising fall. Retherford grabbed the bronze medal after pinning Albaro Rudesindo Camacho (Dominican Republic) in his next match. The loss will now force the United States to send a representative to the Last Chance World OG Qualifier. At this time, it’s uncertain who that will be (or when). Originally, the event was scheduled for late April/early May, which would have been a few weeks after our Olympic Trials. Now with both competitions having been postponed, it’s not guaranteed that our trials winner goes. In 2016, Frank Molinaro was forced to go to the Last Chance Qualifier and ended up getting into the Games after an opponent that placed above him failed a drug test. While the United States is filled with talent at this weight, the last American to win a World/Olympic medal at 65/66 kg was national team coach Bill Zadick in 2006.
The loss at 65 kg may have overshadowed the return at 86 kg of 2018 World Champion David Taylor. David injured his knee at the 2019 Beat the Streets NYC event in early May and required surgery, which kept him out of Final X and the World Championships. This event was his first competition since the injury. Taylor showed no signs of rust and went unscored upon during his two matches. To claim the US’s spot in the Olympics, Taylor shutout 2019 Pan-American Games champion Yurieski Torreblanca Queralta (Cuba), 8-0.
It was business as usual at 125 kg as Nick Gwiazdowski crushed his two opponents by identical 10-0 scores. The two-time World bronze medalist, Gwiazdowski, was supposed to meet three-time Oregon State All-American Amar Dhesi, but Dhesi forfeited after securing his spot in the Olympics.
Overall, the weekend has to be viewed as a success from an American standpoint. The Greco team needed to qualify all six weights and was able to get four. The women’s freestyle team was 4-for-4 in qualifying their weights, while the men’s team had three of their four get through.