Exceeding expectations is quite very often a surefire way to generate buzz in the sport of wrestling. The larger the tournament, the more stakes involved, and the scope in which the athlete is viewed all blend together. People enjoy when this happens, but not because of some wistful attachment to perceived “underdog stories”. Or not just. Hope is part of it, too. Emergences are nice, especially in American Greco. They give fans another name and new face worth remembering.
Braxton Amos (97 kg, Sunkist/Wisconsin RTC) may have been a high school star, might have been seen as a hotshot college prospect, and was a difference-maker in places like Fargo. None of the above elevated his candidacy entering the 2020ne Olympic Trials, the grandest domestic wrestling showcase available. But it was during that tournament when Amos arrived. The one most responsible for declaring his presence as one of the best athletes in the country without argument.
The one responsible for him having delivered the Outstanding Individual Performance of 2021.
A week prior to the Olympic Trials saw Amos in wrestling’s version of the wildcard round. He was not a favorite to somehow wind up in the top-2 at the “Last Chance Qualifier”, but he did, and had even vanquished the one and only Jake Clark to nail down an eventual gold. That should have been enough, one might think, to have shuffled Amos onto a higher realm of consideration for the Olympic Team selection event. It wasn’t, of course, not when everyone else in the bracket carried far, far more Senior-level experience.
Amos, full of talent and zeal, was eligible for both international styles in the tournament. That played into all of this, as well, because it helped keep the chatter moving. But, Greco. It’s not the same thing, and a more difficult undertaking when the opposition specializes in it on a full-time basis. Amos says that he was not “supposed” to win his first match, which came against Eric Twohey (Minnesota Storm). The majority would concur. A subsequent close decision in the challenge tournament semis over ’19 Final X runner-up Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP) is what changed the entire narrative in a virtual instant. By the time Amos was squaring off with two-time National champ Nick Boykin (Sunkist) — to whom he had fallen previously — in the challenge final, there was no more room for surprises.
The explosive Trials debut for Amos ended with ’21 World bronze G’Angelo Hancock (Sunkist) sweeping their best-of-three series. He had made his case, anyway. Everyone got the memo. Greco-Roman benefitted just as much as Amos’ stock price. While there is zero doubt most of the fans in Fort Worth last April were clamoring to see the nation’s freestylers, Amos’ ascension and that of “Mr. Fantastic” Benji Peak‘s (72 kg, Sunkist/NTS) went a long way towards force-feeding Greco to a new and, hopefully, welcoming audience. Neither athlete were anticipated to actually contend; both did, and not only that, in the process their efforts became must-follow storylines.
Fans remember things like that. Just like they remember Junior World medals and national accolades. They can recall witnessing something special. And being fully introduced to someone special.
2021 OUTSTANDING INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCE
Braxton Amos (SUNKIST/Wisconsin RTC) — US Olympic Team Trials
5PM: Whether it was “Last Chance” or the Olympic Trials, in both cases you were aiming at a full slate of matches in two styles. What was your plan as far as nutrition entering competition since Greco and freestyle ran simultaneously?
Braxton Amos: Making 97 kilos was really easy so I talked to the nutritionist and the strength-and-conditioning coach about what I needed to do for my body in order to recover after “Last Chance”, fly home, fly back to Dallas, and get everything ready to go. But the plan was just to get as many calories and supplements, and everything else we could get, into my system — or back into my system. And then just be ready for my next matches without being bloated or having that sloshy feeling you get when you have too much water in your stomach.
It was a challenge. The decision made itself as far as dropping out of freestyle. Ultimately, I think it helped in the long run with getting ready for the best-of-three finals. The nutrition thing is something you don’t really pay attention to during high school as much as you do in college and on the Senior level. Especially now, I notice it a lot more now in college. If you don’t have your nutrition straight, you end up losing to guys you shouldn’t lose to. It’s still a work in progress. But the nutrition plan for that was to replenish everything I could in a short amount of time.
5PM: Luke Sheridan was the most established guy you wrestled up until the finals. But which match of the Trials was the one for you that really boosted your confidence?
BA: I think every match was a stepping stone. I really wasn’t supposed to win that first match (against Eric Twohey), and then I had Sheridan after that. I had close matches with Sheridan before during camps at the Olympic Training Center, but never got him. It was always scoring off of little sneaky scrambles and everything that goes on during a match. I had never straight-up scored on him. But I was beating him going into the break.
Every period gave me more confidence. After the break during the Boykin match, and I think I was actually losing, I felt like, I have this in the bag. The game plan is working, I just need to bring it home.
5PM: You had been in the finals of meaningful tournaments before, but the Olympic Trials is The Olympic Trials. What were you thinking, how were you feeling, considering that it is the biggest stage we have for wrestling in this country?
BA: (Jon) Reader and (Chris) Bono kept in my ear pretty well to “enjoy the moment, but always be ready to go to war.” You know, that’s what we were there to do. We were there to beat three guys we hadn’t beaten before, finish it out, and then beat Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock) twice. But it just didn’t happen.
It was surreal getting ready for it and being part of it. You could see at the end of that second match, just getting up and taking it all in. Because, you never know when you’re going to be back. You never know when you’re going to get back to that stage.
5PM: Later in the summer you earned Junior Greco World bronze. I would think your performances at “Last Chance” and the Olympic Trials helped inform your perspective on your abilities, but how did you see yourself after all that?
Braxton Amos: Getting ready for Juniors, it was a pretty standard training cycle. We traveled a lot more than I would have liked, but it turned out well in the end. It was what it was as far as training goes. Going into that tournament I was a little beat up. Nothing big, no major injuries or anything like that. Just a couple of little nagging ones that we had to take care of. The plan for freestyle and Greco was, I can compete with top-level Senior guys right now. Now could I beat the top-level Senior guys? No (laughs). We’ve seen what happens when I grab the #1’s and #2’s. But it was, If I could hang with those guys, then I should smash the domestic Juniors.
Our RTC had a good showing there. Then we came back, sat down, and said, We don’t know what we’re getting into going overseas, especially with Greco with the level of competition. Because, even with the international training camps, you don’t know who are the second and third-string guys at Juniors. We didn’t know. I was beating the Juniors there, but I think the next highest-placing guy at that camp made it to the second round of the tournament. So you never know what you’re going to get.
We knew that if I kept bringing the same pace and the same energy — and the same attack rate — that I did in Fort Worth, then win or lose we’d be able to look ourselves in the mirror and know that we gave it the best shot we had. Going into the medal match, everyone else (from the US) had been eliminated and I was our last shot to get a medal and end the tournament on a high note. It was to finish the job that we had set in motion a year-plus ahead of time. With every point in that match, it came closer and closer to being over. In my head it was like, Alright, settle down. It had happened to me in freestyle. I was up 5-0, get a little too confident, then get thrown for four, and we’re back in a dogfight. I had to take it one step at a time during that match. Getting ready for that it was, We’re going to do everything we can and pray that it’s enough.
5PM Outstanding Individual Performance
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