USA Greco

USA Secures 3 Berths for 2024 Olympics

alan vera, 2024 pan american olympic games qualifier
Alan Vera -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Three United States Greco-Roman athletes were able to achieve the primary objective laid before them this week in Mexico as Spencer Woods (87 kg, Army/WCAP), Alan Vera (97 kg, NYAC), and Cohlton Schultz (130 kg, Sunkist) each won in the semifinal round to ensure that the country will have at least three representatives suit up for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

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The semifinal round of the 2024 Pan-American Olympic Games Qualifier began at 5:00pm local time from Acapulco, Mexico (6:00pm ET) and aired live in the US on FLOWrestling.

It was a bittersweet evening for a Team USA squad that had every reason to believe they could attain Olympic berths in all six available weight classes. But earlier in the day, reigning Pan-Am Games gold medalist Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) was on the wrong end of a 7-3 decision to Cuba’s Kevin De Armas Rodriguez; then when the tournament’s second session commenced, both Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) and Kamal Bey (77 kg, Army/WCAP) were also victims of upset losses. That left it up to Woods to somehow regain a sense of momentum for the stars and stripes — and he did so in a big way.

Woods, known as “The Alaskan Assassin”, had the honor of squaring off against his bracket’s top star, two-time U23 World medalist/’20 Olympian Daniel Gregorich Hechavarria of Cuba. Hechavarria, 27, has been only rarely challenged in continental tournaments. Opposed by Woods, he more than had his work cut out for him.

Not that it exactly started off promising. Early in the first period, Hechavarria capitalized quickly when an errant throw attempt from Woods fell apart to allow the Cuban to cover for a takedown. Woods was subsequently called for passivity following the reset, thus giving Hechavarria an opportunity to further his margin. However, Woods — whose par terre defense has improved rapidly — held firm on the initial gutwrench crank from his opponent before stepping over to catch Hechavarria for two huge exposure points.

To Whom Belongs the Glory graphic

As the second period got underway, Woods and Hechavarria jousted in the hand-fight until passivity was called on the latter. Criteria belonged to the US and Woods was hunting for crooked numbers via reverse lift. He came close; but on the rotation, Hechavarria contorted and landed on top. Except — the officials had penalized Cuba for a defensive leg foul. Two points were distributed to Woods and, after Cuba asked for a review of the sequence, one more point was tacked onto Woods’ ledger. The lead was now his at 6-3 with Hechavarria in desperation mode. He could not muster much in the way of an actionable attempt as Woods peppered him on the inside and worked the tie-ups. Soon enough, the clock read all zeroes and three-time National champ Spencer Woods had provided Team USA with their most electrifying victory of the year thus far.

Vera & Schultz

The stage was set for Vera, who was motivated to embark on a rather significant undertaking. Originally a competitor for Cuba, he passionately desired qualifying 97 kilograms for his new home country. With the tenor of the moment surely not lost on him or anyone else from the US, it was, in essence, a critical test of his ability to rise to the occasion.

He passed with flying colors.

Vera did not permit Luillys Perez Mora (VEN) to generate any momentum. With the opening period’s passivity/par terre, Vera acquired his lock and opted for a misdirection gutwrench to garner two points. Another rotation was next, followed by a lift that was eventually scored for two more points. The offensive outburst put Vera ahead 7-0.

Midway through the second period, Perez Mora was gifted a passivity point but could not take advantage from top par terre. After a restart, Vera retained control of the action on-the-feet until the officials determined that Perez Mora deserved one more shot from par terre. Only 1:04 remained in the contest when Venezuela settled into position. He valiantly attempted to execute a lift but Vera defended with nary an issue. They reset for the race to the finish. Perez Mora was relentless in pursuit. But Vera — as he had all tournament long — operated in complete command of the proceedings and walked away the victor 7-1 in a match that was not as close as the scoreboard indicated.

Schultz did not require a scoreboard for his first two bouts on Wednesday. He had won both matches by way of pin — destructively. They did need one for his match versus Moises Perez Hellburg (VEN) this evening, although, again, there was no question which of the two athletes was more dominant in his methodology.

Schultz worked Perez Hellburg in the ties akin to a conductor leading an orchestra. He was using tightly-wound two-on-one’s and chops in the hand-fight as signals for direction. All of it was enough to warrant passivity on Perez Hellburg. From top, Schultz opted for a front headlock crank but found the brush too thick to clear ground.

Shortly into the second period came the near-obligatory appearance of “The Big Push” — which in layman’s terms is how Schultz prefers to punctuate step-outs. Perez Hellburg’s back faced the line, he was on his heels and Schultz forced him off the boundary before laying in one more emphatic push to conclude the effort in conjunction with grabbing his second point of the match. Perez Hellburg did notch a passivity point as well as chance from top par terre, but little difference did either make. Once back on the feet, Schultz resumed dictating the tempo of the contest and cruised to a 2-1 triumph.

Sancho & Bey

’20 Olympian/two-time World Team member Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) and three-time World rep Kamal Bey (77 kg, Army/WCAP) both experienced jarring disappointment in their respective semifinal matches, and both in unlikely ways.

Nestor Almanza (CHI) had a 3-0 lead on Sancho in the first period after his chance from passivity/par terre resulted in a crash gut for two points. In the second period, Sancho was the beneficiary of the passivity call and quickly worked to elevate his lift. On the attempted execution of the technique, Almanza contorted and Sancho landed on his back. The American was caught and unable to escape. Almanza did not so much adjust his position before the fall was called. Upon the match’s conclusion, Sancho gestured for a leg foul call on his opponent and the sequence was reviewed by the officials. Unfortunately for Sancho and the US, the outcome stood and Almanza, who lost to Sancho last week at the Championships, had shocked the audience by qualifying 67 kilograms for Chile.

It was an upset last week when Jair Cuero Munoz (COL) defeated Bey via criteria. It was just as much of an upset when history repeated itself Wednesday evening. Bey had a 4-0 lead entering the second period when Cuero Munoz countered an attempt with a chest-wrap that he rolled for two points; amid the scramble, both of Bey’s arms became entangled in what would be described as a folkstyle double arm bar. The odd scoring action stood, but Bey was still ahead 4-2. Then with just over a minute to go, Cuero Munoz spun behind with a takedown — and added two more after Bey tried a front headlock and gave up exposure. The final score was 6-4 in favor of Colombia.


  • The US is credited with the team victory from the 2024 Pan-American Olympic Qualifier after having accumulated 99 points. Venezuela was second (74) and Colombia placed third (71). Team titles are not awarded at continental Olympic qualifiers as nations may not necessitate sending athletes in each weight category. 
  • The final opportunity for Greco-Roman athletes to secure Olympic berths takes place May 9-10 in Istanbul, Turkey. Top-3 in each weight class earn spots on behalf of their national federations for Paris ’24. 

2024 Pan-American Olympic Games Qualifier

February 28 — Acapulco, MEX

60 kg: Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP)
LOSS Kevin De Armas Rodriguez (CUB) 7-3

67 kg: Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP)
WON Luis Centeno Rodriguez (PUR) 4-0
LOSS Nestor Almanza (CHI) via fall

77 kg: Kamal Bey (Army/WCAP)
WON Arsen Julfalakyan (ARG) 4-2
LOSS Jair Cuero Munoz (COL) 6-4

87 kg: Spencer Woods (Army/WCAP)
WON Alfonso Ariel Andres (HON) via fall
WON Daniel Gregorich Hechavarria (CUB) 6-3

97 kg: Alan Vera (NYAC)
WON Max Madrid DeLeon (DOM) 10-0, TF
WON Luillys Perez Mora (VEN) 7-1

130 kg: Cohlton Schultz (Sunkist)
WON Jorawar Dhinsa (CAN) via fall
WON Eduard Soghomonyan (BRA) via fall
WON Moises Perez Hellburg (VEN) 2-1

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Listen to “5PM57: Kamal Bey and David Stepanyan” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM56: Rich Carlson and Spencer Woods” on Spreaker.

Listen to “5PM55: Recapping Final X with Dennis Hall with words from Koontz, Braunagel and Hafizov” on Spreaker.

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