Top things to know about the U.S. Wrestling Olympic Trials 2021

Your one-stop guide to the USA Olympic Wrestling Trials, including qualification, format, and the favourites to make the team for the Tokyo 2020 Games in 2021.

By Andrew Binner
Picture by REUTERS

The only way a wrestler can represent Team USA at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, is by winning the USA Wrestling Olympic Trials.

That's because Olympic qualification berths (which are earned by the athletes in major competitions) are awarded to the nation, and not the athlete themselves.

In most countries, the wrestler who earned his or her nation's berth will also be the one that competes at the Games. But the plethora of talent in each wrestling weight category in the United States means that there must be a final, internal, trials to see which grapplers will wear the USA singlet in Japan.

Last year's event at Penn State University was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. As restrictions still exist in Pennsylvania, the 2021 trials will take place at Dickies Arena, Fort Worth, on 2-3 April.

There will be Covid-19 safety restrictions in place, and the stadium will be limited to 50% occupancy.

The format

The trials will mimic the Tokyo 2020 Olympic format, with 18 categories split evenly between the two freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines.

Only one athlete will be selected to represent Team USA in each weight category for the Games in 2021, meaning there will be six team members in each of the men's freestyle, women's freestyle, and Greco-Roman competitions.

For a detailed breakdown of the new Olympic weight categories in Tokyo, take a look at our article here.

Men's Freestyle Qualification

Any Senior Freestyle USA World Championships participant and Final World Team Trials champion from 2017 onwards automatically gets a spot at the trials.

This means that several top male athletes will be in Fort Worth, including Olympic gold medallists Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder.

Senior World Championship medallists at an Olympic weight in 2019 will proceed straight through to the trials finals, while non-Olympic weight medallists will be given a place in the semi-finals of any weight category of their picking.

Gold medallists from the Pan American Olympic Qualifier 2020 will also compete, alongside any anyone that qualified their weight category at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier.

In addition, any 2019 Junior Freestyle and U23 Freestyle USA World Championships winners are given a berth, meaning upcoming talents like Bo Nickal, David Carr and Mason Parris will compete.

Women's Freestyle Qualification

All past USA World Championships participants and Final World Team Trials champions, like Rio 2016 gold medallist Helen Maroulis and reigning world champions Adeline Gray, will take part.

Any 2019 Junior World medallist qualified in the category of their choosing.

Top-6 finishers in Olympic weight categories at the 2019 Senior World Championships, will go straight into the finals at trials, while non-Olympic weight medallists will begin in the semi-finals of the category of their choosing.

The highest-placed USA medal winners at the 2019 Bill Farrell International Open, and who are not already qualified for the trials, will also compete at weight division of their choice.

Greco-Roman qualification

Similarly to the men's freestyle stipulations, any Senior Freestyle USA World Championships participant and Final World Team Trials champion from 2017 onwards automatically qualifies for a place at these trials.

As does any 2019 Junior World medallist, while top-6 finishers in Olympic weight categories at the 2019 Senior World Championships will be put straight into the finals. Non-Olympic weight medallists will go through to the semi-finals of the category of their choosing.

All U-23 world medallists will compete alongside any 2020 Pan American Championships winners, while 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier champions will go straight into the finals.

The highest-placed 2020 U.S. Armed Forces Championships gold and silver medal winners per weight category who have yet to qualify, will be given a berth.

The favourites

There is no such thing as a given in wrestling, as one small slip could see you pinned and eliminated. The chances of this are even higher at the US Trials, where seasoned veterans will be contesting every weight category.

In the men's divisions, expect fireworks at 74kg. London 2012 Olympic champ Jordan Burroughs will likely face off with reigning two-time 79kg world champion Kyle Dake for a place in Japan.

David Taylor, aka the Magic Man, is back after a lengthy injury layoff of his own, and is the one to watch in the 86kg division.

Hours before the competition began, it was announced that two-time reigning world champion J'den Cox had been pulled from the event as he did not make weight. This means there will be no showdown at 97kg between himself and the now heavy favourite Olympic gold medallist Kyle Snyder.

In the women's events, we will likely see the long-awaited return of 57kg Rio 2016 gold medallist Helen Maroulis. Since winning in Brazil, she has suffered a series of concussion issues, but is now ready to defend her crown.

Then there is five-time world champion Adeline Gray. The 76kg wrestler is looking to put her Rio 2016 woes (where she suffered an injury) to bed. Also keep an eye out for reigning world champions Tamyra Mensah-Stock - who beat Gray in an exhibition bout - and Jacarra Winchester.

Over in the Greco-Roman competition, Pan American Games champion Pat Smith will look to pin down a place in Tokyo, alongside the likes of G'Angelo Hancock and Ildar Hafizov.