IOWA CITY, Ia. — Diehard black and gold fans only ever saw Thomas Gilman lose twice inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena during his successful Iowa career. This past weekend, at the 2018 UWW Freestyle World Cup, those same wrestling enthusiasts watched him lose twice in as many days.
Gilman went 1-1 on Day Two of the Wrestling World Cup on Sunday. In his first match, he stormed back to beat Georgia’s Teimuraz Vanishvili, 6-4. In his second, which opened the Gold Medal match against Azerbaijan, Gilman dropped an 8-7 thriller to Giorgi Edisherashvili.
Ultimately, the United States won twice Sunday to win its first UWW World Cup title since 2003. Team USA topped Georgia, 8-2, in the morning, then beat Azerbaijan in the Gold Medal match, 6-4.
“Proud of this team. Proud of my teammates,” Gilman said afterward. “They did a hell of a job, up and down the lineup. They pulled a lot of weight that I wasn’t able to pull this weekend.”
Sunday was an up-and-down day to cap an up-and-down weekend for the former Hawkeye wrestler, who was making his competitive return to Carver just nine months after his silver-medal showing at the 2017 world championships. That result set the stage for some big expectations.
For the weekend, Gilman went 2-2, but wrestled just three times. After receiving a forfeit in the United States’ first dual of the competition against India, Gilman lost to Japan’s Yuki Takahashi in a rematch of the world finals, a result that left the 23-year-old feeling encouraged.
“I think he made a little bit of ground there,” said Bill Zadick, the United States men’s freestyle head coach. “We have to continue to improve our positioning and bring that same amount of intensity and fire.
“Obviously, Thomas wrestled really hard. It was a great match. I think he has to be able to open it up a little bit sooner.”
On Sunday, those feelings were replaced by frustration.
In Gilman’s first match, he did not score a takedown even though he piled up six points. He trailed 2-1 after Vanishvili scored a takedown in the first period, but used a heavy pace to score five push-out points.
It was enough to hold off Vanishvili, who added another takedown later in the second period.
“I heard (Iowa coach Tom Brands) say it, I heard (Hawkeye Wrestling Club coach Mark Perry) say it — 'Just move your feet,' ” Gilman said afterward. “Even the fans were saying it. Shows you how much those fans know. ‘Move your feet, move your feet.’
“A couple of times, I maybe wasn’t moving my feet as much. He hit that misdirection shot and I froze up a little bit.”
Gilman’s second match didn’t have the same happy ending, despite scoring three takedowns. After taking a 2-1 lead, Edisherashvili regained the advantage with a two-point exposure, then extended his lead with a four-point throw. A failed challenged after made it 8-3, Edisherashvili.
Gilman continued to fight, scoring two takedowns, but ran out of time before he could score another.
“Just need to be more solid,” he said afterward. “I need to work a little bit more on my setup and spend a little bit more time getting to the corner. I got caught out front in that last match, with that chest lock. I can’t give up those big points.
“The first shot I took, I got to the corner right away. I went right through him, corner and up. I just need to emulate that. There are positives there.”
The result was the first of an exciting, back-and-forth affair between the United States and Azerbaijan. It was tied 2-2 after four matches, but the United States regained the lead after three straight wins from Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Dake and David Taylor at 74, 79 and 86 kilograms, respectively.
Azerbaijan stayed in it with Aslanbek Alborov’s win over J’den Cox at 92, but Kyle Snyder clinched the team title for the United States with a technical fall at 97 kilograms, the same way he clinched the 2017 world team title back in August with his win over Russia’s Abdusalim Sadulaev.
Afterward, Team USA stepped up to the top of the podium in the south end of Carver-Hawkeye Arena and smiled as they received their gold medals and the World Cup. Gilman was there, making his first appearance since his loss to Edisherashvili.
He cracked a small grin, perhaps the perfect way to end a bittersweet weekend.
“This is kind of a funny feeling,” Gilman said. “Similar to worlds, where we won the team title but I came up short in my goals and aspirations.
"I’m just proud of my team."
Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.