Thomas Gilman wants to become wrestling mainstay at World Championships
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Thomas Gilman’s leap from folkstyle to freestyle wrestling was supposed to be more than a flash in the pan.
The former three-time All-American at Iowa will get a chance to prove that on the senior level Friday, competing in his first men’s freestyle World Championships in Paris.
Gilman is the American representative at 57 kilograms (125.5 pounds) less than six months removed from a third-place finish at the NCAA Championships, with the ability and intent to become a mainstay on the international circuit.
“You can only go so far with folkstyle, and I guess that was always kind of how I thought,” Gilman said earlier this month before departing for training camp in Germany. “If you want to reach the pinnacle of the sport, this is it.
“It’s like the lid has finally been taken off.”
Gilman and Penn State’s middleweight phenom Zain Retherford are the lone rookies on the eight-man World Team roster for the United States. The Council Bluffs native always planned to continue his freestyle career after college, but the return after decorated cadet and junior runs has risen faster than most wrestling observers expected.
Gilman is in the first of four weight classes competing in a single-day elimination tournament and finals on Friday, starting at 3 a.m. CDT inside AccorHotels Arena.
“Gilman is an elite-level fellow,” Iowa associate head coach and Gilman’s cornerman Terry Brands said. “He just gets it. He always has gotten it.”
The 57-kilogram division’s 29-man bracket was released Thursday by United World Wrestling and features none of the 2016 Olympic medalists.
Gilman’s draw pits him against Ukraine’s Andriy Yatsenko, a 19-year-old former Cadet world champion who most recently finished second at the 2016 European Championships. Should the Hawkeye Wrestling Club and Titan Mercury Wrestling Club representative advance beyond Yatsenko, his opponent would either be 15th-ranked Reza Atrinagharchi of Iran or 20th-rated Zoheir El Ouarraqe of France. Gilman entered UWW’s freestyle rankings for the first time in August at No. 19.
“He always does what he’s supposed to do,” Iowa head coach and Olympic gold medalist Tom Brands said. “Now, it’s just a matter of that showing up on the mat. At a certain point in your training, it has to carry over to the competition. He did that in Lincoln, Neb. And he’s got to do that in Paris.”
The highest-rated wrestler on Gilman’s top half of the lightweight bracket is Azerbaijan’s fifth-ranked Makhir Amiraslanov, who edged out his fellow countryman and world No. 1 Giorgi Edisherashvili at a June tournament.
After making multiple training trips for Team USA following his stunning win at the World Team Trials, Gilman was coolly confident to square off against the new crop of international talent at his weight class. The history buff tried to make the most of experienced practice partners and working out around reigning Olympic medalists.
“I like all those guys,” Gilman said of the World Team roster. “They all have their quirks, but so do I. The thing I really respect is that when it’s time to wrestle, it’s go-time. When we’re training, they train really hard. It doesn’t look the same as here or how I train, but they’re all going hard.
“Just being around guys that have experience makes you feel experienced yourself. Even if you’ve never been there before. Like Terry. It’s reassuring.”
The Brands brothers both credit Gilman’s focus and work ethic as the most likely reasons he could make a multiyear career at the top flight of freestyle wrestling. Iowa has practice partners for him to continue to raise his ceiling, with NCAA-champion Cory Clark expected to return from injury, Illinois’ two-time national champ Jesse Delgado joining HWC, current college competitors and former standouts Daniel Dennis and Matt McDonough still in the room.
And Gilman’s coaches see another possible pathway once he decides to set down his wrestling shoes.
“I think he would be a potential candidate for being a great coach,” Terry Brands said. “I like the way that he talks to people. I like the way that he leads. He doesn’t hold words back. He’s not afraid of what people think. That’s a valuable commodity. He’s a detail guy, for sure.”
For now, Gilman is focused on Yatsenko and the other international opponents he’ll be facing for the first time. As other more popular Americans and multitime NCAA champions sit at home, the proud former Hawkeye is strapping on his singlet in France.
“Those guys are more caught up in being household names than winning matches,” Gilman said. “There’s a reason they’re not on a World Team.”
MEN’S FREESTYLE WRESTLING
What: United World Wrestling Senior World Championships
Where: Paris, France
When: Friday and Saturday, 3 a.m. (CDT) elimination tournament, noon (CDT) finals
Web: Livestream at trackwrestling.com, $9.99 per tournament
TV: Delayed on NBC Sports Network, 6-8 p.m. (CDT); Finals live on Olympic Channel
Friday: 57 kilograms, 61 kilograms, 86 kilograms, 125 kilograms
Saturday: 65 kilograms, 70 kilograms, 74 kilograms, 97 kilograms