What is Greco Roman wrestling: From rules to Olympic history

Greco Roman wrestling is one of the oldest sports disciplines to feature at the Olympics Games.

5 min By Utathya Nag
Greco GettyImages-1331940375
(Picture by 2021 Getty Images)

One of the nine original sports to feature at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Athens, the first modern Olympic Games, Greco Roman wrestling holds a special place in Olympic history.

The Greco Roman style of wrestling has been a regular fixture in the Games since the 1908 Olympics, pre-dating it’s cousin, freestyle wrestling, which secured a regular spot in the Games programme at Antwerp 1920.

Here’s everything you need to know about Greco Roman wrestling.

Greco Roman wrestling rules and scoring

Like most amateur wrestling formats in the world, the core objective of Greco Roman wrestling is to either pin both of the opponent’s shoulders to the mat to win the match or accumulate more points at the end of a designated time-frame to secure victory.

A match or bout consists of two three-minute halves or periods separated by a 30-second break. Wrestlers can score points by executing holds, locks, throws or other legal takedowns.

The points awarded for moves and holds depend on the respective difficulty levels of their execution.

From a single move, a maximum of five points can be scored through a grand amplitude throw that ends in a ‘danger position’ (exposing the opponent’s back to the mat for several seconds). The move largely involves picking up and throwing the opponent to the ground and controlling him.

Points can also be earned through reversals – gaining control over an opponent from a defensive position – or if the opposition wrestler commits an infraction, resulting in a caution.

Scoring is cumulative, meaning points are added up at the end of two rounds and the highest scorer wins the match.

In case of a tie, the winner is determined according to the following criteria in decreasing order of priority – 1. Highest value (point) move executed through the match. 2. Least number of cautions received and 3. Last technical point scored.

A victory can also be attained through fall, which involves pinning the opponent down for a sufficient duration with both his shoulders touching the mat. A pin results in an instant victory.

Another way to outright win a bout is through technical superiority or building up a fixed lead over the opponent. An eight-point lead constitutes a win by technical superiority.

Furthermore, a wrestler can also win a match if the opponent gets disqualified, injured or hands him a walkover.

Greco Roman wrestling techniques

While the scoring and rules of a match in Greco Roman and freestyle wrestling are more or less similar, there are some key technical differences between both.

The biggest is that in Greco Roman wrestling, holds below the waist are prohibited and neither is a Greco Roman wrestler allowed to use his legs actively to perform any offensive or defensive actions.

Hence, wrestlers have to rely a lot on their upper bodies to gain the advantage as compared to freestyle wrestling.

With both wrestlers starting at an upright position and since it’s disallowed to throw opponents off-balance by targeting their, Greco Roman wrestlers have to rely heavily on throws or suplexes to execute a scoring takedown.

While freestyle wrestling focuses a lot on transitions and fluidity, the onus in Greco Roman wrestling is on explosive movements and getting into a position to execute a throw quickly.

The prohibition on using legs also adds the concept of leg fouls in Greco Roman wrestling, which is not present in freestyle. If a wrestler, during his execution of a move, inadvertently makes contact or blocks with his legs, he is penalised.

In case a wrestler commits a leg foul while on the offensive, he receives a warning for the first violation and if repeated, his opponent is awarded 1 point and a formal caution is issued to the guilty wrestler.

If a leg foul is committed while on the defensive, the wrestler is immediately given a caution and his opponent is awarded two points. A second infraction results in the guilty wrestler losing the bout.

Additionally, it is also necessary to accompany the opponent to the ground and to stay in contact with him throughout for a hold to be valid.

Passivity in Greco Roman wrestling

Ordered par terre, or passivity penalty, often plays a big role in Greco Roman wrestling bouts.

A wrestler is considered passive if he is being excessively evasive and is content with trying to neutralise a more active opponent’s attacks rather than trying to execute holds, locks or throws himself.

Passivity also exists in freestyle wrestling but there’s a distinct difference on how they play out in the two formats.

In Greco Roman wrestling, a passivity violation immediately rewards the active wrestler with a point whilst giving him the choice of continuing the bout either in a standing or a par terre position. In a par terre position, the passive wrestler lies down at the centre of the ring on his stomach with his arms and feet outstretched while touching the mat.

A par terre position gives the active wrestler a distinct advantage in Greco Roman wrestling.
A par terre position gives the active wrestler a distinct advantage in Greco Roman wrestling.

The active wrestler can take up a position at any side and put his opponent in a hold, placing himself in a favourable position to score more points.

After the first two passivity calls, the active wrestler stops getting the bonus point but can still choose whether to resume the match from a par terre or standing position.

Greco Roman wrestling at Olympics

Having made its debut at the Olympic Games in 1896, Greco Roman wrestling has been a permanent fixture in the Games’ catalogue since 1908. And unlike freestyle, it has been exclusively a men’s only event at the Olympics.

According to United World Wrestling (UWW), the international wrestling federation governing the sport globally, the first edition was won by Germany’s Carl Schumann.

Besides clinching the top honour in the unified wrestling event in 1896, Schumann also won three other gymnastics events at Athens that year. At that time, winners received silver medals with olive branches. The tradition of gold medals only started in 1904.

In Greco Roman wrestling at the Olympics, countries from the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, Sweden, Finland, Japan and South Korea have been hugely successful.

At the Tokyo Games, Greco Roman wrestling featured six weight categories – 60kg, 67kg, 77kg, 87kg, 97kg, 130kg.

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