IOWA CITY, Ia. — Thomas Gilman knows the when and why for every step of his schedule ahead of this month’s World Championships in Paris.
The three-time All-American just doesn’t know who he’ll wrestle when he gets there.
Odd seeding procedures from United World Wrestling and a wide-open 57-kilogram (125.5 pounds) field have the former Hawkeye standout focused on his own development. And his assignment on Aug. 25 is to make a stunning senior-level debut.
“Names don’t matter. Countries don’t matter. It’s an opponent,” Gilman said before a recent practice at the Dan Gable Wrestling Complex. “And he’s trying to take what I want.”
The Council Bluffs native qualified for the year’s top international Senior freestyle wrestling event by winning June’s World Team Trials in Lincoln, Neb. He’s traveled and trained since then, and plans to leave Iowa for Germany on Saturday, where he’ll complete his camp before taking on the world’s best lightweights.
Former Hawkeye wrestler Thomas Gilman won Saturday's 57-kilogram title at the World Team Trials over former teammate Tony Ramos
“Everything from the (World Team) Trials to being in Colorado Springs to competing overseas, I’m learning something,” Gilman said. “That’s something that’s helped me in that time from NCAAs to the Trials. I got a fresh look. I took a step back, then came back, and I’ve learned something every single day. Whether it’s wrestling, about myself, my nutrition, my mindset, my lifestyle. I think that’s important.”
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Gilman will enter the World Championships as an unranked rookie, picking up his last international freestyle honors in 2014 as a Junior bronze medalist. Just five months removed from his collegiate career, he’s the American representative at a division in flux.
Last month, UWW seeded the top-four wrestlers at each weight class in an effort to “guarantee premier semifinal and finals matchups.” But none of the names listed at 57 kilos are currently expected to compete there.
No. 1 Vlad Khinchegashvili of Georgia, No. 2 Rei Higuchi of Japan, and No. 3 Haji Aliev from Azerbaijan have all been wrestling at 61 kilos, and No. 4 Hassan Rahimi underwent knee surgery just two weeks ago, according to Iranian media.
“It doesn’t matter right now,” Gilman said. “Those guys could still be down at my weight. Higuchi has been wrestling up at 61, but he’s kind of taking bumps and bruises at that weight, so who knows? He’s an Olympic silver medalist, he can pretty much do what he wants.
“The American qualifying system is pretty rigid. Other qualifying systems are pretty fluid, especially if you’re that successful and at that level. We’ll see when I get there.”
Sandwiched between World Team practice trips at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs was Gilman’s gold-medal performance at the Grand Prix of Spain last month. After allowing a four-point arm spin at the start of his opening match, the 23-year-old says he adjusted to the pace and style of European freestyle and was part of Team USA’s sweep atop the podium in Madrid.
The trip allowed Gilman to bond with his big-name teammates, make weight with a quick jog to the arena, and pick up on strategic tendencies of senior-level competition.
“The Spain trip, from my perspective as a coach, was kind of what I would have expected if I had to make a prediction,” Iowa associate head coach and Hawkeye Wrestling Club adviser Terry Brands said.
“It’s like, ‘Yeah, I know that’s the landscape of international wrestling, but I don’t know that I’m vulnerable to that.’ Now, he went there and he saw it and had it happen to him. He realizes that is the landscape of international wrestling and he better do something about it.”
Gilman credits the international coaching experience of Tom and Terry Brands and longtime freestyle adviser Mike Duroe for his quick acclimation to travel and senior-level competition. His Iowa City practices remain imposing — a recent session pitted him against a group with fresh opponents, including Terry Brands and Olympic qualifier Daniel Dennis, for every round — even if his schedule and responsibilities have increased as a Team USA member.
FloWrestling is expected to release an extended video interview with Gilman online Wednesday.
“His focus is always where it needs to be in his wrestling and in his life,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “While the last three months have been a whirlwind, he’s never lost sight of any perspective.”
Gilman’s bracket begins action at 3 a.m. CST (10 a.m. in Paris) on Aug. 25. The early trip to Germany is intended to acclimate his body to the time and conditions, but Gilman plans to learn about his World Championship competitors, whoever they might be.
“In the past when I’ve studied, especially Russian wrestlers, it’s been out of admiration,” Gilman said. “Some of these guys are the best at what they do. I’ll study my contemporaries, but it’s different. Where are they strong? Where are they weak? How do they hold themselves late in the second period? What do they act like when they’re ahead? What about when they’re behind?
“It’s not admiring them as much as studying them to beat them.”