After three years of coming up short at the NCAA Championships, Thomas Gilman needed less than six months to make a finals appearance on the international stage.
Iowa’s three-time All-American lightweight worked through his 57-kilogram (125.5 pounds) weight class on Friday in Paris, winning four matches before dropping a 6-0 decision to earn silver at the Senior men’s freestyle World Championships.
Gilman was the lone American in Friday afternoon’s finals and fell to Japan’s Yuki Takahashi in a tense gold medal match.
“I came here to be a world champ,” Gilman told media in the AccorHotels Arena after his semifinal victory. “People said, ‘Well, we’ll see, he came here to throw his hat in the ring.’ But I didn’t come here to throw my hat in the ring. I’m in the finals. I’m here to take the whole (expletive) thing.”
Gilman’s offense was overpowering in the tournament’s early rounds with Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands barking from the corner. Takahashi proved too elusive to take down with a gold medal on the line, countering the former Hawkeye’s shots and defending one last threatening attack with 30 seconds remaining on the edge of the mat.
That the Council Bluffs native even got an unseeded shot at the gold medal was a testament to his climb since the collegiate season. Gilman needed a shocking finals comeback at May’s Last Chance Qualifier in Minnesota, an unbeaten tournament and sweep at June’s World Team Trials in Nebraska, and four wins in under five hours on Friday in France to meet Takahashi.
“I’ll never be an NCAA champion,” Gilman said after qualifying as the United States representative at June’s World Team Trials. “I’m over that. I want to be a world champion.”
The 19th-ranked Gilman trailed Ukraine’s Andriy Yatsenko 2-0 in the first minute of his opening match, but fended off ankle lace attempts and ultimately strung together single-leg takedowns to win 5-2. After a tight 3-0 victory against Reza Atrinagharchi of Iran in the second round, Gilman opened up his offense against Uzbekistan’s Nodirjon Safarov for a 12-1 quarterfinals stoppage.
Patient on defense and aggressive in the tie, Gilman muscled his way to the semifinals where he outlasted North Korea’s Hak-jin Jong in a back-and-forth match that featured pushouts and scoring near the edge of the mat.
Gilman was the highest-placing American lightweight in the year’s top freestyle tournament since Henry Cejudo won Olympic gold in 2008.
“Things turn around really quickly, and I think that’s good for me,” Gilman said Friday. “I can recover quicker than a lot of guys, I think. I think this format favors me.”
The 23-year-old was competing in his first senior-level championships. He was a Junior freestyle bronze medalist in 2014.
GILMAN’S TOURNAMENT PATH
First round: Decision over Ukraine’s Andriy Yatsenko, 5-2
Second round: Decision over Iran’s Reza Atrinagharchi, 3-0
Quarterfinals: Technical superiority over Uzbekistan’s Nodirjon Safarov, 12-1
Semifinals: Decision over North Korea’s Hak-jin Jong, 5-4
Finals: Decision loss to Japan’s Yuki Takahashi, 6-0