USA Greco

What’s Next for the 2016 US Greco Roman Olympians?

Ben Provisor is one of the 2016 US Greco Roman Olympians who will continue competing
Photo: John Sachs

This evening, the closing ceremonies will adorn a frayed, tattered bow around the Rio Olympics. The spectrum of emotions perhaps experienced by the 2016 United States Greco Roman Olympians and their fans will begin to fade, at least a little bit. It is likely a gradual process. The US program at large still has a whole lot of wrestling to focus on the rest of the year. In relatively short order there is is the collection of age-group World Championships that have to be dealt with: The Juniors have their Worlds in France later this month; the Cadets in September; and the University athletes head over to Turkey a little over a month after that. Of course, there is also the World Military Championships and other potential overseas competitions, such as the Golden Grand Prix Finals. And lest no one forget, another World tournament closes out the year in Hungary, which is when the non-Olympic weights will be contested (the US will be conducting its non-Olympic weight World Team Trials at the Bill Farrell/NYAC Invitational in November).

So there is a LOT of international competition and competition in general ahead to look forward to. Only, the four men who comprised the US Greco Roman Olympic Team will not be part of any of it. Instead, they will head back to their families in the coming days, take some time off, reassess. It is hard, at least currently, to pinpoint both the short and long-term plans for the athletes. Obviously, rumors flow freely around the fanbase and the community at large, but throw all of that out. Take it on a case-by-case basis.

Jesse Thielke
Weight: 59 kilograms
Age: 24
Club/affiliation: NYAC

Thielke has been peeking around on the Senior level since he was practically still receiving lunch money. For years, the man at the top, Spenser Mango, was just not seriously capable of being challenged, leaving wrestlers like Thielke pining for either the day Mango would retire or someone else to knock him off for them. Odd how things work out. Thielke not only defeated Mango in the Olympic Trial semifinals, he also dispatched of the one guy many presumed to be Mango’s biggest test, Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP). A hiccup at the 1st OG Qualifier led to a historic performance at the 2nd, where Thielke ran through two consecutive previous Olympic medalists to get his day rolling. He eventually stormed into the finals qualifying the weight and simultaneously putting the rest of the division on notice.

At 24 years of age, Thielke still has plenty of prime years left in his career. Stateside, Hafizov and National Team member Ryan Mango (Army/WCAP) figure to play the roles of his primary antagonists. From a technical aspect, there is a lot to appreciate about the Wisconsin native’s game. Thielke showcases dynamic changes in his output: One second it can look like he’s lulling guys to sleep and the next, he’s in on the hips before you could blink. He has also developed a high-percentage gutwrench attack and can vary how he finishes. As for defending from par terre, there is certainly room for improvement, although it isn’t all that likely this is an issue versus domestic opponents.

Thielke doesn’t have too much trouble making weight but 59 is not the easiest cut in the world for him. He has even gone up to 66 kilos on occasion, particularly overseas. The best scenario for Thielke as he continues forward is for a weight class somewhere in the middle, say 63 kilograms? That area would likely be his wheelhouse if United World Wrestling eventually adjusts the weights again. But does it make a difference? Thielke is now armed with the knowledge that he can compete with the best in the world. He’s also just starting to realize his potential. That is going to make him even more of a dangerous proposition to deal with in the future.

Andy Bisek
Weight: 75 kilograms
Age: 30
Club/affiliation: Minnesota Storm

The leader of the US Greco team is Bisek, and he has been the best possible representative the program could have hoped for. No corners were cut for this guy. Bisek may have benefited from having some great coaches guiding him along the way, but he also defines the term “self-made.” It was a combination of unyielding self-belief and a red-hot desire for constant improvement responsible for turning Bisek into a consistent contender on the national scene. It was also those same qualities how he wound up becoming a two-time World medalist. He has put in the time, he’s put in the effort. And because Bisek is looked upon as one of the best in the world at 75 kg, the hopes for an Olympic gold in Rio were legitimately bright. Unfortunately, any shot at a medal of any color were dashed the moment wrestling decided that a front headlock from a hip constituted an illegal choke-hold (see: Starcevic, Bozo).

With a wife, two kids, and enough years logged in the sport, it is currently up in the air as to which direction Bisek is going to go. Team USA undoubtedly wants him to hang around for another quad, and why not? Bisek will turn 34 around the time the 2020 Tokyo Games kick off and 34, especially at the middle and upper weights, does not relegate one to being a dinosaur. A superb athlete like Bisek is still going to have his fastball for a few more years, if not more. There might be a few challengers down the road. Geordan Speiller (Florida Jets) hasn’t come all that close just yet, but he’s young still. Mason Manville and Corey Hope could be coming up a bit. Junior World Team member Kamal Bey could be the heir-apparent eventually, but he is still really green in terms of Senior competition.

Bisek is going to take a breather for a few before making a move. He could stick around for the 2017 Worlds, compete for a spot in Tokyo, or he could step down and accept one of the many offers he will likely have to be a coach. It’s all tenuous at this point.

Ben Provisor
Weight: 85 kilograms

Age: 26
Club/affiliation: NYAC

When you make an Olympic team at 21, as Provisor did, expectations are going to follow in near perpetuity. It’s almost a given that from then on, there shouldn’t be laundry list of obstacles standing in your way when it’s time to make World Team rosters. But that is all they are — expectations. They aren’t realities. Provisor came off of 2012 with a target on his back but strangely enough, that wasn’t the problem, not by itself. It was more that his body wound up breaking down piece by piece. It has all been well-documented. Provisor’s injury history is one that is more congruent with the end of a career more so than the beginning. None of this stopped him from consistently competing with the top in his class or anything, but it certainly set him back quite a bit.

Then he began healing. Just like the injuries, this systematic re-assembly of his body came in steps. Provisor wound up with a new functional strength training regiment, a new attitude, and wound up emerging from the Olympic Trials looking better than ever. His body was able to perform tasks he probably couldn’t have asked of it previously. It all paid off with his second consecutive Olympic team spot. Provisor didn’t win a match in Rio, though he sure won a fight. He repeatedly beat on returning World silver medalist Rustam Assakalov but couldn’t muster any points at critical times. Some of that is on him, some of it the officiating. Regardless, any worries that his Trials performance was a one-time fluke were quickly shut down on optics alone.

Provisor is only 26 and has already intimated his desire to continue on. His overall resume in conjunction with a healthy physical outlook have once again elevated him to the front of this weight division. To stay there, he will have his work cut out for him. There will still be plenty of familiar faces for Provisor to battle with (provided Jordan Holm stays in the picture along with Jon Anderson). Patrick Martinez (NYAC) is another one to keep an eye on, as are National Team member Hayden Zilmer (Crosby/Hay), Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP), and Ryan Hope (NYAC/CKWC).

Robby Smith
Weight: 130 kilograms
Age: 29
Club/affiliation: NYAC

If Bisek is the face of the program, Smith is its voice. This guy presents a unique package. He’s one of the very few athletes in the country who got a head start in Greco Roman wrestling as a youth. He fought his way up the depth chart over the last quad. And when he got his chance to shine, he made the most of it. Smith has been a National Team member for over half a decade and a World Team member for four of them (counting the Olympics). As an actual competitor, Smith is an in-your-face heavyweight who loves to score from his feet. Snatching arms, front headlocks, throws…he runs the table. Coming off of a memorable fifth-place finish at last year’s Worlds, the 29-year old sauntered into Rio as a threat to medal, which is saying something when you look at the elite names who filled up the brackets. Things didn’t go his way, as a 2-0 lead was dissolved quickly via a series of Sabah Shariati gutwrenches in the second period.

One item people need to remember is that Smith is not a natural heavyweight. He made himself this way. Smith started out in the old 96 kg class and virtually re-shaped his body to be able to compete up. Not an easy thing to do. Plus, at barely 6’0, he is almost always looking up to his opposition. But even within these parameters, Smith has enjoyed a highly-successful run that he can look back on and hopefully be proud of.

There had been rumors circulating for a while that Smith was maybe going to call it a day after Rio. Like Bisek, there would undoubtedly be coaching opportunities available once the word was out. In addition, Smith’s engaging personality has led to a good deal of exposure off the mat, including a night as the emcee at the last Beat the Streets event. Could he be an actor? A WWE performer? A game show host? Who knows? No matter, these questions won’t be answered anytime soon — Smith confirmed that he is indeed staying put and will be vying for a spot on the 2017 World Team.

Outside of Adam Coon (CKWC), who many think is the next in line, there isn’t a wealth of challengers for Smith coming down the pike. Toby Erickson (NYAC) has been around for a little while (and is still young), but thus far hasn’t broken through the field the way Coon has. And Smith is still comfortably ahead of Coon. So while the big guy probably won’t be around for Tokyo, it would at least appear his path to France in 2017 is looking pretty good.

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