When your year includes victories over four previous Olympians, one US legend, and a mesmerizing qualifying run, you should be recognized for it.
It all adds up to why Jesse Thielke is the 2016 Five Point Move Athlete of the Year.
For several years, Thielke was adding seams to his tapestry of potential and 2016 is when it all became realized. It started off innocently enough with a bronze at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open at 66 kilograms. Thielke had also taken third at that weight a month earlier at the 2016 US Nationals/Olympic Trials Qualifiers in Las Vegas. But his best work arrived with the mild embrace of the spring. At the Olympic Trials in Iowa City, Thielke won the 59 kg weight class by defeating US legend and fan favorite Spenser Mango in the semifinals before sealing up his spot on the Olympic Team in two consecutive matches over 2008 Olympian, native Uzbeki Ildar Hafizov. If you’re keeping count, that is two Olympians usurped in the same tournament. Thielke would repeat this feat coming up, but in an even more impressive fashion.
Following the Trials, Thielke was called upon to nail down qualification for 59 kilograms since the US had yet to do so. In his first attempt, Thielke lost in the first round of the 1st OG Qualifier in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to Guarav Sharma of India. It was a bout the Wisconsinite had been in control of until two late throw attempts by Sharma spoiled the morning. But Thielke regrouped and then some leading up to the second and last qualification tournament.
Taking place in Istanbul, the 2nd OG Qualifier was crammed with deep talent and even deeper pedigrees. Thielke’s draw was especially unforgiving. His first match-up of the day was against 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Peter Modos of Hungary. There was a decided lack of drama in this one, as Thielke ran through Modos, hitting two beautiful takedowns and a couple of gutwrenches for a fast 8-0 technical fall. The next assignment wasn’t any easier. Another Olympic medalist, Revaz Lashkhi (GEO) who took silver in London, represented a dynamic and experienced challenge. But like with Modos, Thielke had no problem scoring. After the match was tied up by Lashkhi in the second period, Thielke piled up seven straight points to come away with a 13-6 victory.
Frunze Harutyunyan (SWE) was the next victim. Harutyunyan was ahead 4-2 and on top of Thielke attempting a lift when everything changed. Thielke bounded up, hip-heisted, and took Harutyunyan straight to his back for a shocking fall. The win put Thielke in the crucial semifinals, with the winner qualifying his weight for their respective country.
A quick arm throw by Donior Islamov of Moldavia put Thielke down 4-0, though he’d collect a few points to stay in it. Just when it seemed like Thielke was going to take command, Islamov unfurled another arm throw to take an 8-3 lead. However, that would be it.
The same inspired energy Thielke harnessed back in Carver-Hawkeye Arena a month earlier started teeming to the surface. Thielke climbed back within three points and grabbed four more via a high-dive to gutwrench sequence as the first period closed. Down by five just a minute earlier, he entered the second period leading by one, 9-8.
Two more four-point plays capped the scoring, the first of which came right after the whistle to open up the conclusive period. The second arrived long after it was established that Thielke was not going to be denied, not on this morning, not a world away, and not when the odds seemed implausibly stacked against him. Thielke both qualified the weight class for the US and also, provided a ray of hope for the program at large during a period when it perhaps needed one most leading up to the Rio Games.
In the Olympics, Thielke matched up with Mehdi Messaoudi (MAR) for his first bout. Messaoudi was penalized for passivity and that was the only opportunity Thielke needed. Four immediate gutwrenches followed and Thielke was on his way with an 8-0 tech. However, the tables would finally be turned against him. Versus two-time Olympic silver medalist and 2011 World champ Rovshan Bayramov (AZE), the match played out nearly identically to Thielke’s win over Messaoudi, except with the opposite result. Bayramov was awarded the first chance on top and gutted Thielke over to take the bout and advance. In his first Olympics, Thielke closed out with a 1-1 ledger.
Nothing can take away from the wake Thielke left behind when he went on his run. It was as fascinating as it was memorable. When you take a look at 2016 from a distance and harken back to the most provocative, surprising, and impressive performances of the year, to us and our panel, what Thielke was able to accomplish stood out the most.
Congratulations to Jesse Thielke and to all of the other US Greco Roman athletes who made 2016 one to remember!
Jesse Thielke (2016)
Grand Prix of Zagreb – bronze
US Olympic Team Trials – gold
Rio Olympics – 9th (1-1)
- Defeated Spenser Mango and Ildar Hafizov, two prior Olympians, to earn spot on Olympic team, with two of the three wins via technical fall.
- Defeated two Olympic medalists back-to-back at 2nd OG Qualifier. Of his four wins on the day, two were technical falls and one was a pin.
- Scored 14 unanswered points against Donior Islamov to win semifinal bout at the 2nd OG Qualifier, thus qualifying 59 kg for the US.
- Won by technical fall in first match at Rio Olympics.
About the Five Point Move Athlete of the Year
The Five Point Move Athlete of the Year award is decided on by 5PM staff along with a panel of coaches and former competitors. All voters are provided with a list of candidates along with their achievements for that calendar year. In addition, voters shall remain anonymous UNLESS they choose to reveal themselves after the fact. Final votes are submitted one week prior to announcement.