Former Iowa wrestler Thomas Gilman takes questions ahead of the UWW Freestyle World Cup, set for April 7-8 in Iowa City. Cody Goodwin/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Thomas Gilman stands inside the Hansen Football Performance Center 214 days removed from his silver-medal performance at the 2017 Senior Freestyle World Championships in Paris, and he swears that that success hasn’t changed him one bit.
To prove it, the former Iowa wrestling star is surrounded by a throng of media. One reporter asks about the importance of a first-place showing at the upcoming UWW Freestyle World Cup.
Gilman cracks a grin.
“I mean, that’s kind of a silly question,” he says. “How important is it? It’s everything.”
So yeah, maybe he hasn’t changed.
Moving forward, Gilman seeks that kind of consistency in his wrestling. Many hours on the mat went into developing and molding his technique to help him become one of the world's best. That same dedication will be necessary in order for him to stay there.
“I think he knows something was left undone,” Iowa associate head coach Terry Brands said. “As good as he was and as ready as he was in Paris, he has to be ready that much more because he was ready to win.
“If I’m Thomas Gilman, I have to do a better job of getting myself ready for that next level, and (the World Cup) is a step toward that. He’s going to see some really good competition. This is an extremely important event, and a great test to see where he’s at right now.”
Former Iowa star Thomas Gilman discusses focusing exclusively on freestyle wrestling ahead of the UWW Freestyle World Cup. Cody Goodwin/HawkCentral
Gilman’s wrestling style always lent itself more to freestyle, the Olympic discipline that closely resembles folkstyle, which is wrestled collegiately. During his Hawkeye days, he was a terror on his feet, using a catch-and-release style to rack up takedowns and wear down his opponents.
The Council Bluffs native ultimately became three-time All-American with 107 career victories, including 30 major decisions, 19 technical falls and 28 pins. He never captured an NCAA title, but his attention turned forward quickly after his senior season concluded.
Every month after featured a new competition for Gilman, and he passed every test while showcasing his freestyle skills along the way.
Two months after his final NCAA tournament, Gilman rallied from a 6-0 deficit to beat Daniel Deshazer 7-6 to win the Last Chance Qualifier in Rochester, Minnesota, securing his spot in last June’s World Team Trials.
There, Gilman beat Darian Cruz, Tyler Graff, Nico Megaludis and Nathan Tomasello — four wrestlers with a combined three NCAA titles and 14 All-American finishes — in succession to reach the best-of-three finals. He then dispatched fellow former Iowa star Tony Ramos with two-straight victories to make the World Team at 57 kilograms (roughly 125.5 pounds).
A month later, Gilman made his Senior-level international debut with a gold-medal showing at the Spanish Grand Prix. A month after that, he stormed into the world finals with four wins in about five hours, outscoring his opponents 25-7. He ultimately fell to Japan’s Yuki Takahashi and brought home silver, a somewhat disappointing end to a successful summer.
“We expected to win that thing,” said Mark Perry, Gilman’s coach at the Hawkeye Wrestling Club. “A lot of the credit goes to Tom and Terry (Brands). When they competed, they forced their opponents to wrestle at their pace. Gilman did that, too.
“In any combat sport, if you can dictate where the match goes, where the fight goes, where the movement goes, you’ll be in control. Sooner or later, if you’re forcing those guys to wrestle at a pace they’re not used to, they’re going to crumble and wilt.”
In the months since, Gilman’s focus has been on fine-tuning his already-prolific wrestling technique. He competed for Titan Mercury at the World Clubs Cup, going 3-1. He lost to Iran’s Reza Atrari, a matchup he won during his run to the world finals a few months before.
The entire experience taught Gilman a lesson — that staying power as one of the world’s best requires continuous work and consistent improvement. Fellow national team members Kyle Snyder and Jordan Burroughs, who have combined for six world titles and two Olympic golds, provide the example.
“People always use the phrase that someone has ‘arrived,’” said Bill Zadick, the United State’s national team coach and former Iowa wrestler, “but at this level, you have to keep moving. It’s a dynamic pursuit. If you don’t enhance your knowledge and skills, you’ll fall by the wayside.
“The guys that make adjustments and refinements to perfect skills and add new angles and opportunities to their repertoire are the ones that continue to progress and consistently perform. Thomas has done that throughout his career to get here, and he can still make a lot of growth.”
Gilman can showcase the strides he’s made at the World Cup, set for April 7-8 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Many of the world’s best will compete, and in the case of Gilman, Japan is expected to bring Takahashi — and the U.S. and Japan are scheduled to wrestle each other first.
The United States hasn’t won the UWW Freestyle World Cup since 2003, and is considered the favorite after winning the team title at the 2017 World Championships. Despite an individual silver there, Gilman was proud of the team accomplishment.
His goals are no different for this event, either.
“Silver does not sit well,” Gilman said. “When you’re getting congratulated for getting second best or being the first loser, that doesn’t sit very well.
“Now, getting congratulated with gold around your neck? That feels pretty dang good.”
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.
THOMAS GILMAN’S INTERNATIONAL ACCOLADES
2011, Cadet World Team, 54 kilograms, 10th place
2013, Junior World Team, 55 kilograms, 8th place
2014, Junior World Team, 55 kilograms, bronze medal
2017, Senior World Team, 57 kilograms, silver medal
2018 UWW Freestyle World Cup
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
Saturday, April 7 (All Times, CST)
10:00 am: Session I
2:00 pm: Opening Ceremonies
2:30 pm: Session II
Sunday, April 8
10:00 am: Session III
12:30 pm: Fifth Place Match (Mat A); Seventh Place Match (Mat B)
2:15 pm: Bronze Medal Match (Mat A)
4:00 pm: Gold Medal Match (Mat A)
*Times subject to change*