When multi-time World Teamers Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) and Alan Vera (NYAC) made (or allowed) it to be known last week that they had both decided to change weight classes ahead of the impending 2023 Nationals, “Greco people” across the country instantly paid attention. It was, and still is, big news. Smith, 32, was originally pegged to move from non-Olympic 72 kg back up to 77, a division in which he had experienced prior success. Instead, the ’19 Pan-Am Games gold medalist tossed a curveball by registering for the event in Fort Worth at 67 — a weight range upon which he has not embarked since the ’16 Olympic Trials. Vera was already squared away at 87 kg — where he has won three National titles and made two World rosters. But, in a surprising twist, 33-year-old Vera is looking to put his best foot forward at 97 kg next weekend.
If it were just Smith and Vera opting to test the waters in weight classes other than their previously presumed landing spots, it would be enough. But two more top Greco-Roman athletes are making similar jolting decisions that will affect how this massive tournament plays out.
The always-explosive Hayden Tuma (NYAC) and ’09 World bronze Aleksandr Kikiniou (NYAC) are the latest elite competitors to signal a change in weight divisions. Tuma is registered for the Nationals at 60 kilograms while Kikiniou is, once again, penciled-in at 77.
Tuma began his Senior-level career in the old 66 kg class before dropping to 59 for the ’16-’17 season, a campaign that included a silver from the Bill Farrell Memorial, his first National title, and a trip to the World Team Trials finals. In the years since, the powerful thrower has split his time between 63 and 67 kg — and won National titles in both categories. In fact, this past spring it was at 63 where Tuma picked up his third Open crown and by extension advanced to Final X: Newark.
Tuma was — and as it appears, wrongfully — thought to set sail once again at 67 during this Olympic selection season. Although he did make a mark prior at 59 kilograms, that expedition occurred seven years ago and came during the era of day-before weigh-ins. Considering that Tuma also has a massive frame, wields dynamite in his attacks, and had more than held his own in the 67 bracket, conventional wisdom pointed towards a return to that weight class. So much for conventional wisdom and the folly of assumption.
However, Tuma deciding to see how 60 kg fits and feels potentially engages a shift in perspective when it comes to the manner in which the sport’s two lightest divisions are perceived domestically (much more on this topic coming soon). For example, 67 kg gained Smith but lost Tuma; 60 kg is gaining Tuma as well as Taylor LaMont (Minnesota Storm), who is set to return to action next weekend.
In his first year of eligibility to contend for a US World spot, 43-year-old Kikiniou chose to try 77 kilograms last season and it paid off nicely for him. He made the Open final, won the World Team Trials Challenge Tournament, and fell to Kamal Bey (Army/WCAP, 5PM #1) at Final X. Just three weeks ago, Kikiniou went 87 at the Bill Farrell Memorial in New York and finished fourth following losses to ’23 Final X runner-up Ryan Epps (Army/WCAP, 5PM #5) and ’18 Junior World silver Andrew Berreyesa (NYAC). 87 was not totally unfamiliar to the former Belarusian National Team member. Kikiniou competed at 84/85 throughout the majority of his long career until hopping down to 77 this past season. Why exactly he deemed 87 kg to not present an ideal opportunity for him in ’24 is as of yet unknown, but this development likely re-elevates 77’s standing in the eyes of many as the United States’ most interesting weight category.
More pre-US Nationals coverage will be available in the forthcoming Monday Roundup as well as in a full-scale preview on FLOWrestling later this week.
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