Happy New Year to everybody in the wrestling community.
The 2008 year has reached its final day, and in a tradition that we have continued for many years on TheMat.com, I will present my top 10 wrestling stories of the year.
During an Olympic year, many major stories have come from the Olympic Games and the trials process which determines the athletes who competed in the Olympics. However, there were outstanding stories at all levels of our sport, which gave wrestling fans much to enjoy all year long.
The word “unexpected” appeared in many articles this year, especially on the Olympic level of the sport. The longer you are involved in high-level wrestling, the more you understand that it is very difficult to predict the outcome at major events, where there are so many talented and motivated athletes competing under pressure.
Here are my Top 10 wrestling stories in 2008:
1. Henry Cejudo wins Olympic gold medal “The Olympic Games in the ultimate showcase for athletic talent, as the attention of the world focuses on this amazing event once every four years. Winning an Olympic gold medal is the pinnacle of any career. Henry Cejudo put together a performance to remember with his stunning victory at 55 kg in the Beijing Olympics in men’s freestyle. At the age of 21, he became the youngest American Olympic wrestling champion ever. Cejudo lost the first period in all of his matches except the finals but wrestled with the confidence and skill of a veteran star. His victory was the highlight of the U.S. effort at the Olympic Games. His personal story, coming from a challenging childhood and moving to the U.S. Olympic Training Center as a high school junior, added to his tremendous achievement. Cejudo became a celebrity within the sports community after his victory celebration, and he has given our sport considerable positive national and international coverage ever since.
2. Univ. of Iowa returns to top of college wrestling “The Iowa Hawkeyes have a rich tradition in college wrestling, including some of the most dominant teams in the sport’s history. The 2007-08 Hawkeyes lived up to that lofty tradition by capturing the 2008 NCAA Div. I Championships in St. Louis, Mo. by almost 40 points over the field. Led by NCAA champions Brent Metcalf at 149 pounds and Mark Perry at 165 pounds, Tom Brands’ motivated team led throughout the tournament and clinched the team title before the finals. Metcalf was named the Outstanding Wrestler in the tournament, and wrestled with the kind of punishing style that was made famous by Hawkeye greats like Brands. It was the 21st team title for Iowa and perhaps the start of a new run of excellence for the program. Brands said it best when talking about their large margin of victory. “That’s a tribute to this team. They came not to squeak by, but to dominate,” he said.
3. Bouvaisa Saitiev wins third Olympic gold medal “Bouvaisa Saitiev of Russia has been recognized as the greatest freestyle wrestler of his era, starting his amazing Senior-level career with a gold medal in the 1995 World Championships in Atlanta, Ga. From that point on, Saitiev dominated almost every event he entered. He won Olympic gold medals in 1996 and 2004, and six World Championships gold medals. An injured Saitiev placed eighth at the 2006 World Championships, and the next year, his spot was taken over by Makhach Murtazaliev, a 2007 World Champion. Yet, Saitiev came back in 2008 to beat out Murtazaliev for the spot on the Russian team, then dominate the 74 kg weight class in Beijing to win his third Olympic title. He joins Greco-Roman star Alexander Karelin and freestyle star Alexander Medved as three-time Olympic wrestling champions. It may be many years before we see another freestyle wrestler with his combination of skill and toughness.
4. Clarissa Chun captures Women’s World title “It was a breakthrough year for Clarissa Chun, who has been a nationally ranked women’s freestyle wrestler for many years but has never made her mark on the international level. Chun surprised the wrestling world by defeating 2004 Olympic silver medalist Patricia Miranda to make the U.S. Olympic team. Her fifth-place finish at the 2008 Olympic Games featured some outstanding wrestling. Chun was not satisfied. She was the only U.S. Olympian to try out for the 2008 U.S. Women’s World Team and made the most of the opportunity by winning the 48 kg gold medal at the Women’s World Championships in Tokyo, Japan in October. She defeated a talented Makiko Sakamoto of Japan in the semifinals, and showed great composure in winning her finals match over Jyldyz Eshimova-Turtbayeva of Kazakhstan. Chun became only the fifth U.S. wrestler to win a Women’s World title, and an inspiration for those who have the perseverance to pursue their dreams.
5. Wheeler and Miller come through big with Olympic medals “The U.S. came home from the Beijing Olympic Games with three wrestling medals. Two of the medalists might have been considered considerable longshots. Adam Wheeler captured a bronze medal at Greco-Roman at 96 kg and Randi Miller won a bronze medal in women’s freestyle at 63 kg. Both defeated veteran international talents to make the U.S. Olympic Team, with Wheeler knocking off 1995 World bronze medalist Justin Ruiz in the Olympic Trials, and Miller stopping 1994 Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann. In Beijing, both had to bounce back from tough losses in order to win their medals. Miller was defeated in the quarterfinals by Japan’s Olympic champion Kaori Icho, and Wheeler dropped a close match to Germany’s Mirko Englich in the semifinals. Both came back with confidence and won their bronze-medal bouts. Miller stopped three-time World silver medalist Martine Dugrenier of Canada to claim her medal, and Wheeler stopped Korea’s Han Tae-Young for his medal.
6. Jake Deitchler makes Olympic Team at age of 18 “One of the most inspiring performances of the year came during the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Wrestling in Las Vegas, Nev. in June, when 18-year-old Jake Deitchler stormed the field at 66 kg in Greco-Roman. This weight class had been dominated by Harry Lester, who won World bronze medals in 2006 and 2007 and was No. 1 at the weight for three straight seasons. Deitchler, who had graduated from high school in Minnesota earlier in the spring, wrestled with aggressiveness at the Trials. He shocked Lester in the semifinals, losing the first period but coming back to win 0-5, 5-2, 5-3. In the championship series, he defeated talented Faruk Sahin in two straight matches to make the U.S. Olympic Team. He became the first wrestler from high school to make a U.S. Olympic team in wrestling since Mike Farina of Illinois qualified for the 1976 U.S. Olympic Team in Greco-Roman. Although Deitchler was unable to win a medal at the Olympic Games, he has decided to pursue his Greco-Roman career full-time, choosing to train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center rather than attend the Univ. of Minnesota to wrestle folkstyle. Expect to hear more about Deitchler in the future.
— View the rest at themat.com