For myself, one of the more fascinating aspects of the 2016 Olympic Cycle was the qualifying process. We started the podcast in 2014, which forced me to pay more attention and I became enthralled. Perhaps, this is the first cycle that you (the person reading this) is paying this close of attention so I thought I would hit some points to summarize.
Let’s start off with a startling fact/reality: No country qualified all 18 weights in 2016. Russia led the way with 17 and USA, Turkey, and Azerbaijan tied for second with 14. Countries qualify the weight class through a set of standards, and can send whomever they want. It doesn’t have to be the one who qualifies the weight. For example, Jordan Holm qualified the 85 kg Greco weight via the Pan Am Qualifier in March, but Ben Provisior won the trials in April to go to the Olympics.
To qualify, the first method is to wrestle in a medal match in the 2019 World Championships. Since there are two bronze medals, that means six at each weight will qualify this September. Even though the US hosted the 2015 World Championships, only five Americans qualified this way and the Western hemisphere had a sub-par performance. This becomes a factor in the next step.
The continental qualifiers are the next step in March, 2020. The Pan Am is in Ottawa, Canada and there are two spots for each weight. This is where the USA picked up four more spots in 2016. Since the Pan Am events aren’t the toughest tournaments, Americans feel good about their chances. However, there isn’t repechage (or a true 2nd) so you must make the finals. Having other Pan Am countries do well at the 2019 World Championships becomes something to keep an eye on because you do not send a competitor if you already qualified that weight (think that it’s really good to see medals for Canada’s Women and Cuba’s Men if we didn’t qualify that weight yet). Otherwise you can have something like Brent Metcalf, albeit in controversial fashion, losing to Franklin Gomez (Puerto Rico) and Jake Herbert losing to multiple time world medalist, Salas (Cuba), to have the US Men’s Freestyle team surprisingly still looking for two spots.
The last chance is the “World Qualification Tournament” in Bulgaria starting on April 30th. There is only one “last chance” qualifier as opposed to two in 2016 with there being less spots in 2020. The top two qualify. The US qualified their last four spots through these in 2016 and then Frank Molinaro was moved up when there was a positive drug test. This tournament is not where you want to be. There are tough competitors after the Asian and European Qualifiers still looking to qualify. If you look at the people who qualified this method in 2016, they are from traditional power countries showing this certainly isn’t a sneak into the Olympics method. Remember, no country qualified all 18 weights. Iran qualified all 12 Men’s weights, but even they had to send their 59 kg Greco rep to the 2nd qualifier.
The only caveat is there are spots for host country and the Tripartite Commission (spots in each sport so more countries who aren’t typical Olympic powers have representatives). Japan doesn’t really need the help like Brazil did to get Wrestlers in the competition so that’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
USA Wrestling is having a much better quad than they did leading to Rio, but it is important to remember these spots aren’t given away and there are fewer of them.