How Does This Year's USA World Team Compare To '93, '95 Title Winners?

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This year marks the 25th anniversary of USA Wrestling’s first world team title in any style. In 1993, the men’s freestyle team steamrolled the field at the world championships in Toronto. Highlighted by four gold medalists, it was the beginning of the greatest Olympic cycle in the history of Team USA.

Last year in Paris, the men’s freestyle team again won a team title. That crown was captured by just a single point and was the first team championship for America in MFS since 1995. With Final X over and the team now finally set, we thought it would be fun to compare these two eras.

It is not a perfect comparison, for a number of reasons. First, the 2017 squad had eight weights and used day-before weigh-ins, while the 2018 group features 10 weights and day-of weigh-ins. Meanwhile, the 1993-95 teams had the same weights and weigh-in rules for the entire four years of their run. Also new this year is a different team scoring system that heavily weights gold medals, whereas, again, the 93-95 teams had the same scoring system in place all three years.

1993 Team USA

Weight

Name

Finish

Experience

48kg

Rob Eiter

9th

1st team

52kg

Zeke Jones

4th

5th team

57kg

Terry Brands

1st

1st team

62kg

Tom Brands

1st

1st team

68kg

Townsend Saunders

4th

3rd team

74kg

Dave Schultz

2nd

7th team

82kg

Kevin Jackson

4th

3rd team

90kg

Melvin Douglas

1st

2nd team

100kg

Mark Kerr

7th

1st team

130kg

Bruce Baumgartner

1st

12th team

The first title for each era came in the year after the Olympic Games, which is viewed by many as the weakest year in a quad. This usually has to do with a new cycle of athletes coming in, as well as Olympians who do continue their careers taking that year off.

Both the 1993 and 2017 teams featured a good mix of first-timers and veteran leadership. Four from the 1993 team were Olympians the previous year in Barcelona, including gold medalists Kevin Jackson and Bruce Baumgartner, as well as silver medalist Zeke Jones. Baumgartner, making his 12th appearance at a world championship or Olympic Games, repeated as champion, while Jones and Jackson both finished in fourth place.

Last year’s group that went to Paris also featured three Olympic medalists. Kyle Snyder won his third straight title, taking the top spot on the podium in 2015, 2016, and 2017. Jordan Burroughs won the Olympics in 2012 in London, then went 1-2 in Rio; he would return to the top perch in France. J’den Cox replicated his bronze medal from 2016 with another a year ago.

2017 Team USA

Weight

Name

Finish

Experience

57kg

Thomas Gilman

2nd

1st team

61kg

Logan Stieber

DNP

2nd team

65kg

Zain Retherford

DNP

1st team

70kg

James Green

2nd

3rd team

74kg

Jordan Burroughs

1st

7th team

86kg

J’den Cox

3rd

2nd team

97kg

Kyle Snyder

1st

3rd team

125kg

Nick Gwiazdowski

3rd

1st team

Each team had a fresh-out-of-college pistol at 57kg, and they both went to Iowa. Terry Brands came right out in 1993 and won a world title after finishing his NCAA career in 1992 as a two-time national champ. Thomas Gilman, who is coached by Brands, went from finishing his career as an All-American to becoming a world silver medalist a few months later. Also medaling in their first times out were Tom Brands in 1993, winning gold, and Nick Gwiazdowski last year, earning bronze.

After taking the 1993 title 76-54 in an utter blitzkrieg of the field, the 1994 team brought back nine of the same 10 athletes. The only difference came at 48kg, where Rob Eiter was replaced by veteran Tim Vanni. However, a repeat was not in the cards for the still-loaded Americans.

None of the four world champs were able to repeat, with neither Brands brother able to muster a point. Baumgartner slipped to second, and Melvin Douglas fell to third. Beyond that, only Dave Schultz and Vanni put points on the team board, contributing seventh and ninth place finishes, respectively.

1994 Team USA

Weight

Name

Finish

Experience

48kg

Tim Vanni

9th

9th team

52kg

Zeke Jones

DNP

6th team

57kg

Terry Brands

DNP

2nd team

62kg

Tom Brands

DNP

2nd team

68kg

Townsend Saunders

DNP

4th team

74kg

Dave Schultz

7th

8th team

82kg

Kevin Jackson

DNP

4th team

90kg

Melvin Douglas

3rd

3rd team

100kg

Mark Kerr

DNP

2nd team

130kg

Bruce Baumgartner

2nd

13th team

The '93-95 squads were indeed legendary, and many of the wrestlers on those teams are still active in the sport. But they also benefited from the splitting of the Soviet Union, which weakened Russia and also created a number of other countries that had yet to organize themselves and monetize their athletes. Also of note, the titles all came in North America: Toronto in '93 and Atlanta in '95, with the one slip-up coming in '94 in Istanbul, which was unsurprisingly won by Turkey.

Though the 1995 team rebounded to win 71-59 over second-place Iran, the success was ultimately not sustainable. New weights in 1997 precipitated a drop to sixth, though the Stars and Stripes were able to pull off third- and second-place finishes the following two years. All of this is to say, it's going to be incredibly difficult for the red, white, and blue to repeat, even with a team as stacked as the one we are sending to Budapest, Hungary, in October.

Final X produced a group that returns seven of the eight world team members from Paris, all of whom have won world medals. The newcomers include David Taylor and Kyle Dake, both of whom have very clearly proven themselves to be heavy medal contenders over the past 12 months.

There will be obstacles, both from Russia as a team and from the likes of Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, Japan, and Cuba on an individual level (more on that later this week). It's also easy to forget that the team race was decided by a single point, with it literally coming down to the final match of the tournament. Kyle Snyder had to produce a Herculean effort to dethrone Abdulrashid Sadulaev, a man trying to conquer the world for the fourth year in a row (more on that also later this week).

A growing sentiment is that Russia did not send its best team in 2017, for a variety of reasons. Part of that is guys taking off the year after the Olympics, part of that is the looming steroid scandal that continues to hang like a dark cloud over all of the former Soviet states, and part of it is an obvious discord between Dagestan and Ossetia, the two primary regions where Russian wrestlers train. Many, Bill Zadick being chief among them, believe Russia will not make the same mistakes this time around.

So, the question remains, is this 2018 team going to be like the 1994 squad that fell short or the 1995 group that reasserted itself as the best in the world? Having good draws will help, as it is clear Gilman and Gwiazdowski took advantage of favorable ones last year to earn medals. Keeping up the hard work is another factor, something that should be "relatively" easy given the leadership from Burroughs and Snyder. The last is probably not buying into the hype, something that this very website, along with countless of other fans, certainly play a part in.

One thing is clear: more than ever, the international crowd is paying attention. That much is easy to glean from Instagram, where the wrestling world all coalesces to watch highlights, talk smack, and get its news. That leads me to believe it will be taking the Americans more serious than it ever has before. 

No matter what, it will be hard to forget the lineup that the United States is sending to Hungary in October. Kyle Dake and David Taylor's first world championships (finally!), Snyder's first year out of college, Burroughs once again being the elder statesmen, Gilman and Gwiazdowski trying to prove they can medal again, James Green trying to break through and win gold, all make for fascinating storylines. Like Zadick said last year, if all of the individuals involved do what they're supposed, the team score will take care of itself.

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