IOWA CITY, Ia. — Eighteen wrestlers will be crowned Olympic Trials champions this weekend inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Only nine will be celebrated as Olympians.
The other half still have work to do to punch their tickets to Rio de Janeiro.
USA Wrestling secured five Olympic qualifying berths last September with top-five individual performances at World Championships in Las Vegas. Three more wrestlers booked Olympic tickets by reaching the finals of last month’s Pan Am Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Texas.
Only two more Olympic qualifying opportunities remain: April 22-24 in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia and May 6-8 in Istanbul.
The process has changed since 2008, when Mike Zadick won the Trials in Las Vegas at 132 pounds. The tournament occurred then in June, after the Olympic qualifiers were completed, and Zadick thought his hopes of wrestling in Beijing hinged on receiving one of the seven wildcard tickets into the Games.
The wildcards went to wrestlers from other countries, but Zadick got into the Olympics under bizarre circumstances. Bulgaria’s 132-pounder ruptured his Achilles tendon while playing basketball in Beijing and the country’s first alternate, while en route to the airport to fly to China, suffered a broken rib when he lost control of his car, went into a ditch and struck a tree.
It was the culmination of a strange process for Zadick, who was shuffled in and out of pictures with the Olympians after he won the Trials.
“I like how the process is now,” Zadick said. “Before, it was more of a roller coaster.”
USA Wrestling still has four unqualified weights in women’s freestyle, three in Greco-Roman and two in men’s freestyle, including the 143-pound bracket that features former Iowa star Brent Metcalf, a four-time World Team member.
Metcalf is in a one-step-at-a-time mode. He’s not looking to the possible task ahead overseas. He’s not looking back at missed opportunities, either, including one that ended in controversy at the Pan Am Olympic Qualifying Tournament when he covered Puerto Rico’s Franklin Gomez before time expired for what appeared to be the winning takedown of their opening-round bout.
The call didn’t go Metcalf’s way.
“There are calls that go either way, but that was not a call that could’ve went either way,” former Iowa coach Dan Gable said. “We should already be qualified at 65 kilos (143 pounds).”
Gomez went on to win the tournament. Metcalf placed third.
“The way it went down, it’s unfortunate maybe from the perspective of a wrestling fan or the USA in general because we have two weight classes that aren’t qualified,” Metcalf said. “But for me personally, it is what it is, let’s build, let’s move on, let’s learn because ultimately you gave up nine points in that match early, so let’s figure that out and let’s get better for this and make the team.”