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Hamilton: Freestyle wrestling still needs some work

[ 0 ] June 5, 2014 |

In his first month on the job, the leader of wrestling’s international governing body issued a two-pronged statement that seemed to set the tenor for where freestyle wrestling was headed.

FILA president Nenad Lalovic said his primary mission was to make wrestling “much more watchable and understandable.”

There’s no question the sport is in a far better place than it was 15 months ago when wrestling was temporarily placed on the Olympic chopping block. It’s much more watchable now, and FILA deserves a tip of the cap for that.

Fast-paced scoring is trumping slow-down strategy. Ball draws and leg clinches are extinct. The seeds have been planted for a product capable of capturing more mainstream
followers.

As former Iowa star Brent Metcalf put it, it’s wrestling again. From a pure entertainment standpoint, freestyle might be wrestling at its best form at the moment.

But FILA still has work to do in terms of making the sport more understandable.

“Let’s get to perfection, and then tweak that,” Dan Gable said. “We’re not quite to perfection yet.”

When Lalovic took over, he said he wanted “spectators who come to the wrestling hall for the first time to know the rules by the end of the day.”

Yet spectators, coaches and athletes were all left scratching their heads at last weekend’s World Team Trials when officials awarded one point for positions derisively being called an “almost takedown.” Six-time World and Olympic champion John Smith said he saw three separate instances Sunday that left him confused by the interpretation of the rule.

“They need to iron it out and make it real simple,” he said.

In its latest rulebook, FILA lists 11 different ways a wrestler can score one point, including four maneuvers that fall short of an easily-definable, two-point takedown. If Smith and Gable are having trouble interpreting the rules, they’re far too complicated for a first-time spectator to grasp.

“This takedown thing is really confusing,” Gable said. “It could evolve into quite a complicated mess.”

Speaking of complicated …

Penn State recruit Bo Nickal won a gold medal at last month’s International Junior Champions Tournament in Turkey and appeared to have no clue he won the title match until the official raised his hand after the bout ended with a 10-10 score.

Weeks earlier, Illinois freshman Isaiah Martinez thought he won a FILA Junior Nationals title until the official raised California prep Anthony Valencia’s hand after a 10-10 final.

If the guys on the mat don’t know who’s winning, how are the people in the stands supposed to know? Who wants to sit at a wrestling tournament with a notepad and a criteria sheet just to keep track of who’s winning?

I’m all for overtime. But I also understand wrestling can’t afford to exceed its allotted time at the Olympics, and a couple 15-minute bouts can throw off the schedule.

At an absolute minimum, FILA scoreboards need to show which wrestler holds the criteria edge when matches are tied. That’s not asking too much.

While on the topic of FILA additions …

Don’t be surprised if international wrestling’s governing body adds another non-Olympic weight or two in the future. Freestyle and Greco-Roman each lost one Olympic weight class last year to women’s freestyle, leaving all three disciplines with six weight classes in the Games.

FILA, however, added a pair of non-Olympic weights in all three styles. One question lingers, though: Why stop there?

There’s no reason FILA can’t add at least one more class, particularly something between 163 and 189 pounds in freestyle. There are dozens of wrestlers around the globe — recent college stars Chris Perry and Andrew Howe, just to name a couple — who would be better suited for, say, 176 pounds.

One last thing …

It’s been quite a three-month run for Tony Ramos.

Prior to March, the 2012 Lindenwood Open might have been his biggest tournament win during his time at Iowa. The 23-year-old’s prize collection has grown substantially in the last three months.

Ramos capped his senior season with the Hawkeyes by claiming his first Big Ten and NCAA championships and buzzed through the 125.5-pound bracket Saturday during his rookie run at the World Team Trials.

“One goal at a time,” Ramos said when asked why he didn’t compete in more freestyle events during college offseasons. “I wanted to focus on a national title, a World title, another World title and then an Olympic title.”

Andy Hamilton is a three-time national wrestling writer of the year. Follow him on Twitter:
@Andy_Hamilton.

Category: Wrestling

About Andy Hamilton: University of Iowa graduate Andy Hamilton is originally from Williams, Iowa, and started at the Des Moines Register in August after 12 years at the Press-Citizen. He covers wrestling for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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