One of the main topics of conversation every year after the World or Olympic trials is if the process of selecting our team needs to be changed. While there are frequent changes to qualifying procedures, almost every year the ability to get a bye to the final has not changed.
So let's look at numbers. We wanted to examine whether or not the guys winning world or Olympic medals were sitting in the finals. Our conclusion is that, overwhelmingly, they do sit in the finals.
For the purpose of this exercise, we examined the period from 2001-16, because that trials information is publicly available and easy to find, and because it accounts for four full Olympic cycles.
In that time period, we have won 31 medals in men's freestyle. Of those, 19 came from athletes who sat in the finals. But, from the 12 who did not sit in the finals, only four actually had to go through the challenge tournament. Let's examine those four cases.
Medalists Who Went Through Challenge TourneyIn 2001, current Minnesota head coach Brandon Eggum won a silver medal at 85kg after not sitting in the trials finals. However, he did not even win the trials. Cael Sanderson won the Open to earn the berth to the finals, however, Sanderson did not participate at the world championships because he wanted to focus on his final year of college.
Two years ago, James Green won the spot after he had a special later wrestle-off with Nick Marable. Many would argue this negated the advantage Marable gained by winning the Open, which would have forced Green to win the mini tournament and then beat Marable two out of three times all in one day. Green has since made two more teams at 70kg.
Getting back to Cael, he was the silver medalist at the 2003 world championships, but did not win the 2004 Open. Lee Fullhart beat Cael at the Open, but then lost to him in the trials finals. At the time, returning world medalists still had to win the Open to get a bye to the trials finals. Cael would go on to win gold at the Olympics in Greece.
In 2009, returning Olympian Steve Mocco beat Tervel Dlagnev in the Open finals. But Tervel would win a three match series against Mocco, and then went on to get bronze at the world championships. Tervel would go on to win six out of the next seven world or Olympic trials.
Three of the four guys who won a medal after beating a guy sitting in the finals were clearly good enough to have the bye in the first place.
Does The Process Need To Be Changed?There are two years in particular that stand out when examining this data. In 2006, no one sat out at any weights, and Team USA won four medals at the world championships. In 2010, America brought home zero MFS medals. The next year, then head coach Zeke Jones instituted that returning world/Olympic medalists get automatic byes.
Besides that 2006 outlier, there are three examples of guys winning medals when no one was sitting in the finals. All of these are in Olympic years: Henry Cejudo's gold in 2008, Coleman Scott's bronze in 2012 and J'Den Cox's bronze last year.
Scott's was particularly interesting because he won the Olympic Trials, which earned a spot in a special three man wrestle-off at that year's Beat the Streets. The 60kg spot had not yet been qualified for London, so Reece Humphrey and Shawn Bunch were held out of the trials to be sent to qualifying events.
This would seem to support that, in Olympic years, only returning world medalists should sit in the finals. Cael's 2004 gold came after winning silver in 2003, Jake Varner and Jordan Burroughs both won golds in London after earning medals the year before, and Kyle Snyder won gold in Rio the year after winning gold in Vegas.
Men's Freestyles Medals Since 2001
|2001||Joe Williams||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2001||Brandon Eggum||Silver||Did Not Sit|
|2003||Cael Sanderson||Silver||Sat In Finals|
|2003||Kerry McCoy||Silver||Sat In Finals|
|2004||Cael Sanderson||Gold||Did Not Sit|
|2004||Stephen Abas||Silver||Sat In Finals|
|2004||Jamill Kelly||Silver||Sat In Finals|
|2005||Joe Williams||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2005||Tolly Thompson||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2006||Sammie Henson||Bronze||No One Sat|
|2006||Mike Zadick||Silver||No One Sat|
|2006||Bill Zadick||Gold||No One Sat|
|2006||Donny Pritzlaff||Bronze||No One Sat|
|2007||Daniel Cormier||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2008||Henry Cejudo||Gold||No One Sat|
|2009||Jake Herbert||Silver||Sat In Finals|
|2009||Tervel Dlagnev||Bronze||Did Not Sit|
|2011||Jordan Burroughs||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2011||Jake Varner||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2012||Coleman Scott||Bronze||No One Sat|
|2012||Jordan Burroughs||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2012||Jake Varner||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2013||Jordan Burroughs||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2014||Jordan Burroughs||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2014||Tervel Dlagnev||Bronze||Sat In Finals|
|2015||James Green||Bronze||Did Not Sit|
|2015||Jordan Burroughs||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2015||Kyle Snyder||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2016||Kyle Snyder||Gold||Sat In Finals|
|2016||J'Den Cox||Bronze||No One Sat|
|2016||Logan Stieber||Gold||No One Sat|