Photo courtesy Tony Rotundo
As the Olympics were delayed a year, so many stories have changed in the women’s divisions of freestyle wrestling.
Saturday night, six women punched their ticket to the Tokyo Games and will wrestle from August 1-7 to hopefully become Gold medalists.
Two familiar faces will be returning to the Olympics: 53 kg Gold Medalist in the 2016 Games Helen Maroulis (who qualified a weight up at 57 kg) and Adeline Gray at 76 kg, who looks for her first medal. Joining them are Sarah Hildebrandt (50kg), Jacarra Winchester (53 kg), Kayla Miracle (62 kg), and Tamyra Mensah-Stock (68 kg).
Maroulis faced Jenna Burkert in a two out of three series to qualify for the Olympics. Both women had a tough road to get here.
Maroulis had suffered two concussions which could have ended her career. She was also diagnosis with post traumatic stress disorder. She fought back to hopefully gain her second gold, this time at 57 kg.
Burkert had lost her mother only a week before the trials after complications from open-heart surgery. She was the #1 seed heading into the tournament .
The first match went to Maroulis by decision 5-3.
The second match saw Burkert rally to win a decision 6-5.
The rubber match saw Maroulis be aggressive out of the gate, getting the win and guaranteeing her spot in Tokyo. It was emotional for both as many wished both could go.
One of the biggest stories to come out of the weekend is two 17 year olds that made it to the final qualification matches; Kylie Welker and Kennedy Blades. The reason why they qualified for this tournament was due to the delay in the Olympics. If you are 18 years of age in an Olympic year, you can try out for the team. Both will turn 18 in 2021.
The Cinderella story has been Kylie Welker. She was the 14th seed at 76 kg; the bottom most seed in the tournament. She would take out the #4, #5, #1, and #2 seeds to get into the Olympic qualifying match.
She would face Adeline Gray, 13 years her senior, in the best of three series. Gray had a disappointing Olympics in 2016 in Rio, losing in the quarterfinals. She would bounce back soon after, as she would secure two more World titles to make her a five time champion, more than any women in USA women’s wrestling history. The Olympic medal is the only thing alluding her.
As tremendous a tournament Welker had, Gray was just too much for her as Gray sweep 2-0 with two tech falls to head to Tokyo.
Blades, a high school junior, had already come with a solid reputation as the #3 seed at 68 kg. She would upset #1 seed Forrest Molinari to make her way to the Olympic qualification match.
Tamyra Mensah-Stock won the world championships in 2019 and sought her first Olympics.
Stock would ultimately win 2-0 by a tech fall and decision to earn her Olympic spot.
To say that the future is bright for Olympic wrestling is an understatement with two 17 year olds making it this far. Saturday also saw the 30th state (North Dakota) sanction high school girls’ wrestling. It is estimated over 21,000 girls and young women are currently participating in wrestling. The hope is more Olympic weight classes will be added in the future.
It was a heartbreaking end to a tournament for Macey Kilty, who had fought back after losing the first match of the 62 kg qualifying series against Kayla Miracle, who was seeking her first Olympic birth as well.
Kilty won the Challengers tournament for the qualifier, and in the rubber match with Miracle, Kilty injured her shoulder while Miracle was going for a takedown. Kilty tried to come back after an injury time out, but her shoulder was just too bad and was unable to continue.
Number 4 seed at 53 kg Ronna Heaton saw back to back falls; including one over the #1 seed Katherine Shai, to make the Olympic qualifying series.
Jacarra Winchester won the World Championships in 2019 and will make her first Olympics after sweeping Heating 2-0.
Multi-time world champion Sarah Hildebrandt got two tech falls over Victoria Anthony to get the 50 kg spot in the Olympics to round out the team.
Two wrestlers have stated their Olympic dreams maybe over.
Jackie Cataline officially retired from wrestling, leaving her shoes on the mat. Cataline has been training MMA and BJJ, so we could seeing her compete on other combat sports soon.
Julia Salata, who didn’t say she was out completely in wrestling, pondered her future (see tweet to the left). She had told us a transition to MMA was in the cards for her if she didn’t make the Olympics. She will also be doing competitive submission grappling. Salata coaches wrestling and helps with the “Beat The Streets” program in New York.