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Seed analysis for the NCAA championships is a clean, easy process that I feel speaks volumes about the competitors' performance compared to expectations going into the championships. I knew that wouldn’t be the case when I embarked on this analysis for the World Championships.
It’s not fair to make the comparison between the NCAA Championships the World Championships for many reasons. NCAA wrestling has a full season of data that provides a fair representation of each wrestler to seed them. United World Wrestling has a good system in place, but the athletes have been reluctant to participate in ranking series events. Some that have bought in, like Frank Chamizo (ITA) and Bajrang Punia (IND), were successful in setting themselves up in very advantageous spots in the brackets with No. 1 seeds. There are multiple factors that make it difficult for full participation. Travel funds, training cycles, and world team qualification process have been some of the major obstacles to weight classes getting the seeding points distributed in accordance with the talent. Up-and-coming athletes competing at the senior level for the first time also find it difficult to break into the seeded positions because the prior World Championships hold so much weight (deservedly so). That didn’t stop Deepak Punia (IND) from earning a fourth seed at 86kg and parlaying that into an appearance in the finals. He earned the seed by earning a medal at the Asian Championships and medals in two of the three ranking series events he entered.
While I knew the results were going to be messy, I did expect to find some patterns or useful information from the analysis. Maybe upon deeper analysis you could start to unveil some indicators, but typically they just aren’t there. That speaks to the depth of talent across the world, the unpredictability of results in our sport, and in some cases the prioritization of earning a seed by the athletes.
I went a little further in-depth for men’s freestyle by breaking down where the seeding points were accrued. I thought this might show better performances by athletes earning the bulk of their seeding points from last year’s World Championships. It did for a select group, but it wasn’t groundbreaking news for anyone. Returning world champions were all seeded in a top-three position and six of eight earned medals. All medals earned by returning champions were gold medals. Otoguro (JPN) wrestled for bronze but missed out on a medal at 65kg and Bonne Rodriguez (CUB) lost his opening bout as the top seed at 61kg.
Seeded wrestlers in men’s freestyle earned medals at a much higher rate than Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle. The outlier of the data set was second-seeded wrestlers in Greco-Roman. They earned only one bronze medal and did not place in the top five at the nine other weight classes. One prevailing thought when looking at the brackets is that the fourth seed is in a more advantageous position compared to the second and third seeds due to the unbalanced brackets. They did not perform like that is the case. You would have to believe that the seeds were a true representation of skill level for that to be evidence, which I don’t, but it was an interesting note.
The third seeds cleaned up in lightweight Greco-Roman. Three of the five champions were seeded third and the other two champions were not seeded in the bracket. All five top seeds earned a medal, but none of them were able to secure a championship.
Greco-Roman heavyweights that were seeded found it to be tough to get to the podium. Only seven of the 16 seeded wrestlers earned medals. It was feast or famine for the top seeds as Beleniuk (UKR) and Evloev (RUS) earned titles and the three other top seeds lost their opening round match. None of the top seeds that lost in the opening round were pulled back into the repechage.
The lightweight women struggled to earn medals from seeded positions in the bracket. Only six medals were earned by the 20 seeded wrestlers, and half of those medals came from the non-Olympic weights of 55kg and 59kg. This included the only two seeded wrestlers to earn titles. World power Japan earned three medals in the lightweights, but only had one wrestler seeded. Their shift in lineup and the lack of ranking series participation left them drawn into the bracket at most weights.
A seeded wrestler earned a medal at each of the upper weights for women’s freestyle. The Japanese women are not as traditionally dominant in the upper weights, but it is still odd to only see one wrestler seeded in five weight classes. The Japanese women earned three medals despite only having one seeded wrestler. The American women did damage from seeded positions as Mensah and Gray were the only two title winners from seeded positions in the upper weights.
|62kg||Nunes De Oli (BRA)||2||0-1|
Over half of the seeded lightweights in men’s freestyle took home a medal. At 74kg three of the four seeded wrestlers took home a medal. It isn’t a coincidence that the top contenders, particularly Frank Chamizo (ITA), showed a keen interest in earning seeding points. This bracket should be the blueprint that wrestlers look at when asking themselves if earning seeding points is in their best interest.
|61kg*||Bonne Rodriguez (CUB)||1||0-1||60||16||0||76|
|65kg||Tumur Ochir (MGL)||4||5th||18||0||10||28|
Just like the lightweights in men’s freestyle, seeded heavyweights earned a medal just over half of the time. Returning silver medalist Fatih Erdin (TUR) was the only top seed that failed to medal. 92kg had three medalists from seeded positions and it seemed evident at 125kg that Taha Akgul (TUR) was interested in earning enough points to get on the opposite side of the bracket as his rival Geno Petriashvili (GEO).
The analysis didn’t reveal anything too surprising. I look forward to athletes prioritizing the ranking series events to build a competition “season” that culminates with the World Championships. UWW has dangled the bait, the wrestlers just have to buy into it. I hope federations begin to arrange their calendar around the events and encourage participation. I look forward to further analysis in the future as they tweak the system and more athletes prioritize seeded positions in the bracket.