As per usual, the lowest weight class for Greco-Roman in the United States is also the deepest. At 59 kilograms alone there are five men who have been in a previous Olympic or World Team Trials final, the most of any weight. It gets more complicated from there. When you include some of the younger talents who are either still Juniors or have just become full-time Seniors, it isn’t a reach to picture any of them causing problems for one of the more established names who’ll be in Vegas.
2017 US Greco-Roman World Team Trials 59 kg Preview
The Four Horsemen lead the way
Conventional thinking goes like this — either Jesse Thielke (NYAC), Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP), Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP), or Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP) will be representing the United States in Paris at the World Championships. Certainly not crazy. Four incredibly gifted athletes with solid Senior experience both domestically and internationally, absolutely one of the group should be expected to advance to the final, if not two of them, depending on their respective placements in the bracket.
The argument could also be made that it is a pivotal time in each wrestler’s career. Hafizov, the most polished Greco-Roman competitor of the four, is also the oldest at 29. He looked just fine and on his game and then some picking up gold at Thor Masters in March. Hafizov is so darn good and in such excellent shape that he’ll certainly still be a contender after this season, but 2017 is likely his best shot at asserting his presence for the foreseeable future. Because it’s not like this weight class is going to get any easier considering the scope of talent on the horizon.
Following his appearance on the Junior World Team a couple of years ago, Tuma began making his way as a tough, no-nonsense competitor at the Senior level. Wrestling at 66 kilograms, it was easy to tell he had some of the intangibles that are often lacking in good prospects, such as his willingness to engage and open up for throw attempts. That probably comes from spending time with Ivan Ivanov, as the former USOEC head coach helped shape Tuma’s acumen in the sport. Tuma made the drop down to 59 in the fall, taking second at the Bill Farrell Memorial before surging to a National title a month later in that unforgettable win over WCAP teammate Ryan Mango.
An early knock on Tuma was the presumption that he would struggle getting down to scratch weight. He’s done it once and though he started a little slow at the US Nationals, it all obviously worked out okay. Interesting note about this kid’s toughness: while in Denmark, Tuma had a wisdom tooth impacted in his jaw. He still tried to wrestle through it.
There is no athlete more capable of winning at the US Greco-Roman World Team Trials than Mango. He has been in a final before, back in 2013 when he fell to Thielke at 60 kilograms. That was a while ago. Mango has been operating on a different technical level since that point. The one thing not working in his favor is that he hasn’t had any Greco matches since the US Nationals in December. Is that a problem? Is it not one? Mango did have a pretty gnarly ankle sprain towards the close of 2016, so certainly, nothing wrong with a little rest. And he’s also still plenty young enough (25) to where mat-rust probably won’t be a detriment.
Last but certainly not least is 2016 Olympian Thielke. If there is no wrestler more capable of winning than Mango, then there isn’t another who captures the imagination more than Thielke. Five Point Move’s inaugural Athlete of the Year made good on all of the promise people had seen in him since he was toiling as a tike by enjoying an epic run to Rio qualification. Things went off the rails a little following the Olympics, as Thielke had to go under the knife for a labrum injury. He came back for Schultz in early February and no question about it, he didn’t look like himself out there. Bad days happen.
If Thielke can harness the magic he had working throughout most of 2016, he would have to be seen as a legitimate favorite to reach the final, simply judging by his past success against both Hafisov and Mango. There is just too much capital in the bank to presume otherwise.
Also in the running
Sammy Jones (NYAC-OTS) Jones took second at Schultz and a few weeks later wrestled up a weight in Denmark, where he ultimately finished out of the money. He also didn’t nail down a medal at the Grand Prix of Zagreb a week after that, though he fought his guts out every step of the way in a close loss to tough Israeli Andrey Tsaryuk. Jones is coming ever closer to the level the top four currently occupy and a step up into the limelight should be anticipated for him.
Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) The only thing stopping 2012 Olympic Trials runner-up and University World champ Nowry from being at the summit here is most likely size. It’s not an excuse, but facts are facts. Nowry might very well be the cleanest, most technically-proficient athlete at this weight, so it really wouldn’t be a surprise of any sort to see him bulldog his way through to a big finish. It’s up in the air as to how that might look, but Nowry has a habit of making his presence felt wherever he is.
Dalton Roberts (NYAC-OTS) Two-time Junior World Team member Roberts is now a full-fledged Senior and is starting to come on more and more. He didn’t have the best National tournament of his life, but prior to that grabbed an impressive silver at the Haavisto Cup. Roberts also kept the pressure on 2016 Junior World medalist Taylor LaMont (CWC) in the Schultz quarters, which led to a nice win.
Xavier Johnson (Marines) Johnson makes the cut pretty much on his Nationals performance alone. Because outside of that, there hasn’t been enough to go on. But boy, is it difficult getting over some of the dynamic offense he created in Vegas. If Johnson is here, and he should be given he qualified by placing sixth, he might just be the talk of the tournament one way or another.
Taylor LaMont (CWC) With a full redshirt freshman year at Utah Valley behind him, LaMont can now focus solely on the love of his life, which according to him is Greco-Roman. He’s another one who didn’t do particularly well at Schultz, but you can go ahead and throw that out if only because plenty of other US guys didn’t light it up in Colorado Springs, either. It would appear he has the makeup for what this level calls for and if he’s on, like really, really on, he will truly be considered the blue chip of the bunch.