Ogden column: Olympic Wrestling Trials were great event, but ...

... action slowed too often by odd scoring, rules

JR Ogden
Published: April 23 2012 | 12:35 pm - Updated: 3 April 2014 | 5:07 pm in
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IOWA CITY — A friend, who is great friend of wrestling, posted on Facebook early Monday morning that parts of the just concluded U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials at Carver-Hawkeye Arena were “tedious and asinine.”

Another friend called them “boring” and didn’t come back for Sunday night’s finals.

My father-in-law, a longtime wrestling fan who had two sons compete in college, noted he couldn’t grasp some of the rules, blaming it on his years away from this discipline.

I told him those rules have probably changed 20 times — or more — in the years he has missed freestyle.

Let’s get one thing straight. The University of Iowa, led by Les Steenlage, and the Iowa City/Coralville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau did a fantastic job hosting an event that features some of the best athletes in the world.

“This is wrestling,” Iowa assistant coach Mike Zadick said of Iowa City and the state of Iowa.

I couldn’t have said it better.

I’ve covered the last three Olympic Trials, first in Indianapolis in 2004, next in Las Vegas in 2008. I also saw a bit of the 2000 Trials in Dallas while on vacation.

This was by far the best — the best run, the best attended and the only one that felt like a real wrestling tournament.

The problem isn’t the organizers or the venues — but wrestling in Vegas? In June? — and the athletes do their best to put on a fantastic show. The emotion of seeing a wrestler win, lose and retire is inspiring to all.

The problem is freestyle wrestling, with all its unique rules. Wrestling fans in this country live in a folkstyle world. We love our youth, high school and college events.

There are parts of freestyle that should be incorporated into folkstyle — the elimination of riding time for one — but there are many parts that grind the action to a halt.

The best-of-three concept in each bout is an interesting concept, forcing wrestlers to be aggressive from the start. But the scoring makes it difficult for most to grasp. Things like winning a match by simply scoring the last point in a tie — unless, we found out, your opponent trumps that with a higher-scoring move earlier in the match — or getting a point for pushing your foe out of bounds, as long as he or she goes out first.

And reaching blindly into a bag to see who gets to go on offense after a period tie? Who came up with that one?

We have to remember the rest of the world is all freestyle and maybe that’s our problem when it comes to understanding a sport — or a variation of a sport we love — we pay close attention to once every four years.

But rules changes are too common in freestyle and something needs to be done to keep the action rolling so there isn’t all that dead time between challenges and matches. The finals between Brent Metcalf and Jared Frayer, as well as the women’s freestyle championship at 105.5 pounds, were thrilling — when there was action on the mat.

There also was a very cool ceremony late Sunday that most of the 13,712 fans missed because it took place after all the finals during the introduction of all the Trials champs.

Let’s hope the Trials return to Iowa City in 2016. With a record four-session crowd of 54,766, as well as a single-session record 13,784 Sunday morning, it’s evident this is the right place for the event.

As Zadick said, Iowa City — and Iowa — is wrestling.

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