Thomas Gilman loses first Olympic wrestling match in Tokyo, stays in contention for bronze medal

Cody Goodwin
Hawk Central

Thomas Gilman didn't have the ideal Olympic wrestling debut.

But the former Hawkeye still has a shot to finish on the podium.

Gilman dropped his first match in the men's freestyle competition at the 2020 Olympic Games on Tuesday night (CDT), a heart-breaking 5-4 loss to Russia's Zaur Uguev in the opening round at 57 kilograms (125 pounds).

Uguev broke a 1-1 tie with a takedown in the second period, putting him ahead, 3-1. Gilman countered with a step-out point and a takedown of his own to take a 4-3 lead. He carried that advantage into the final seconds, but the crafty Uguev scored a 2-point exposure with five seconds remaining to emerge victorious.

That eliminated Gilman's chances of winning a gold medal — but it wasn't necessarily the end of his medal hopes.

Thomas Gilman of the United States reacts after losing to Russia's Zavur Uguev in a men's freestyle 57kg match at the Tokyo Olympic Summer Games on Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021.

Uguev, the two-time defending world champion, prevailed in his next two matches to reach the Olympic finals. In the quarterfinals, the 26-year-old used more late theatrics to defeat Uzbekistan's Gulomjon Abdullaev, 6-6 on criteria. Uguev trailed 6-4 late in the second period, then hit an inside-trip for a takedown in the final 10 seconds to win again.

His semifinal match was much less dramatic, an 8-3 victory over Iran's Reza Atri. Atri was a surprise semifinalist, defeating a pair of past world medalists in his first two matches — 3-2 over Turkey's Süleyman Atlı and 5-1 over Mongolia's Erdenebatyn Bekhbayar. He could not conjure the same magic against Uguev.

So Uguev will wrestle for Olympic gold early on Thursday morning, against India's Ravi Kumar Dahiya.

And because of that, Gilman will get to wrestle back for bronze.

At the Olympic Games and world wrestling championships, there aren't traditional consolation or wrestleback matches. Once the two finalists are decided, the wrestlers they beat along the way are the only ones eligible to compete for bronze — in what's called the repechage.

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That's where Gilman is at as a result of Uguev making the final. The 27-year-old Council Bluffs native will take the mat again Wednesday night, against Abdullaev. If he wins, he'll wrestle Atri for bronze early Thursday morning.

It was not an ideal Olympic debut for Thomas Gilman. He went to Japan to win gold. He was paired with his weight's top competitor, and was mere seconds from pulling off what would've been the biggest individual win of his decorated wrestling career.

But he still has a shot to come back with some hardware, one of the benefits of such a tough first-round draw. The opportunity to cement his wrestling legacy with an Olympic medal is still very much there for the taking.

The rest is up to him.

Cody Goodwin covers wrestling and high school sports for the Des Moines Register. Follow him on Twitter at @codygoodwin.