2024 Olympic Games Watch Party

Ranking The 5 Best U.S. Men's Freestyle Wrestling Olympic Teams

Ranking The 5 Best U.S. Men's Freestyle Wrestling Olympic Teams

There have been 27 men's freestyle Olympic teams but only one can be the best. Find out what team gets the nod.

Jun 26, 2024 by Kyle Klingman
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Ranking the five best U.S. men’s freestyle Olympic Teams wasn’t easy. The United States entered the wrestling competition for the first time in 1904 at St. Louis and has had representation at every contested Olympics except 1980. 

Picking the fifth spot is always the toughest since worthy teams get left off. Here’s a breakdown of six teams that didn’t make the list. 

1904 St. Louis: It was a clean sweep for the United States. They won every match and took home every medal. They also lost every match since no other countries competed. 

Update: A handful of participants were immigrants and the nationalities of four medalists as U.S. citizens are disputed.

1932 Los Angeles: The United States bagged three golds and two silvers out of seven weights but some brackets included less than 10 participants. Sweden and Hungary were the top teams and Russia hadn’t invested in the sport yet. 

1960 Rome: Terry McCann, Shelby Wilson, and Doug Blubaugh won gold but none of the other five participants medaled. 

1980 Moscow: This team had a huge upside but the United States boycotted due to the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan. It’s tough to pick a team with no medals.

1984 Los Angeles: The United States won seven golds and two silvers without the Soviet Union. Team USA won one gold at the 1983 World Championships and two in 1985, so there’s every reason to believe that the Eastern Bloc countries would have made a difference. 

Therefore, it’s difficult to rank a team that didn’t face the best wrestlers in the world even though most of the team has an extended body of work. 

1976 Montreal: This team battled for the fifth spot but missed out in a photo finish. Six of 10 won medals, including John Peterson’s gold at 82 kg. The other four didn’t place. This was an outstanding team that battled the Soviet Union at the peak of its power. 

Here are the criteria used to pick and rank the teams. 

1. Results
2. Body of work
3. Impact
4. Historical significance

5. 1988 Seoul

Oklahoma State’s John Smith and Kenny Monday won golds on a deep team that didn’t reach its full potential. Bruce Baumgartner won silver with Nate Carr and Bill Scherr taking bronze. 

Mark Schultz was a three-time World/Olympic champion and Barry Davis was a three-time World/Olympic medalist who didn’t medal in 1988. Three-time World medalist Jim Scherr was dominating Japan’s Akira Ota before getting pinned in gator roll, halting his run to the finals. 

Smith went 7-0 and Monday went 8-0, becoming the first black wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal. 

48 kgTim Vanni4th
52 kgKen ChertowDNP
57 kgBarry DavisDNP
62 kgJohn SmithGold
68 kgNate CarrBronze
74 kgKenny MondayGold
82 kgMark Schultz6th
90 kgJim Scherr5th
100 kgBill ScherrBronze
130 kgBruce BaumgartnerSilver

4. 1996 Atlanta

This team had plenty of star power with Kendall Cross, Tom Brands, and Kurt Angle winning gold medals. This was also the last year that 10 weight classes were contested before decreasing to eight, seven, and eventually six. 

Baumgartner won bronze for his fourth Olympic medal and record 13th World/Olympic medal, with five golds. Townsend Saunders won silver for a five-medal haul. 

Monday made his third Olympic team and was on the final leg of his career. Les Gutches and Melvin Douglas didn’t medal but were World champions. 

48 kgRob Eiter8th
52 kgLou RosselliDNP
57 kgKendall CrossGold
62 kgTom BrandsGold
68 kgTownsend SaundersSilver
74 kgKenny Monday6th
82 kgLes Gutches7th
90 kgMelvin Douglas7th
100 kgKurt AngleGold
130 kgBruce BaumgartnerBronze

3. 1972 Munich

Several Olympians — including Barry Davis, Kenny Monday, and John Smith — point to watching the 1972 Munich Olympics as a turning point in their careers. ABC had top-shelf coverage of wrestling personalities like no other in American history.

Dan Gable, Wayne Wells, and Ben Peterson won gold. Rick Sanders and John Peterson won silver. Super heavyweight Chris Taylor won bronze. The team needed better production from the other four to be considered for the top spot. 

48 kgSergio Gonzalez7th
52 kgJimmy CarrDNP
57 kgRick SandersSilver
62 kgGene DavisDNP
68 kgDan GableGold
74 kgWayne WellsGold
82 kgJohn PetersonSilver
90 kgBen Peterson Gold
100 kgHenk SchenkDNP
 UNLChris TaylorBronze

Iowa State stars Ben Peterson (left), Dan Gable (center) and Chris Taylor medalled at the 1972 Olympics

2. 1992 Barcelona

This is the best 10-member Olympic team the United States produced. John Smith and Bruce Baumgartner won their second gold medals and Kevin Jackson won his first. Zeke Jones and Monday won silver, and Chris Campbell won bronze.

Monday suffered a severe injury in practice days before the competition and was at 75 percent strength. He gave up zero points until dropping a 1-0 match in the finals. Campbell, a 37-year-old lawyer from New York, won a medal 12 years after making the 1980 Moscow team that couldn’t compete.

Cross won gold and Saunders won silver in 1996. Mark Coleman was a 1991 World silver medalist and an eventual UFC champion. Tim Vanni finished fifth and was the best 48 kg wrestler the country produced. 

48 kgTim Vanni5th
52 kgZeke JonesSilver
57 kgKendall Cross6th
62 kgJohn SmithGold
68 kgTownsend Saunders7th
74 kgKenny MondaySilver
82 kgKevin JacksonGold
90 kgChris CampbellBronze
100 kgMark Coleman7th
130 kgBruce BaumgartnerGold

1. 2020 Tokyo

There’s only one knock on this team: it didn’t qualify at 65 kg, marking the first time the United States didn’t send a full men’s freestyle squad.

Only six weights were contested and the U.S. team sent five, but all five won medals. David Taylor and Gable Steveson had thrilling finals matches to win gold. Kyle Snyder, a 2016 Olympic champion, won silver. Thomas Gilman (2021 World champ) and Kyle Dake (four-time World champ) won bronze.

This is the most accomplished team in U.S. history. The list of those who didn’t make the team is just as good as those who did. 

57 kgThomas GilmanBronze
65 kgDid Not QualifyDNQ
74 kgKyle DakeBronze
86 kgDavid TaylorGold
97 kgKyle SnyderSilver
125 kgGable StevesonGold