Impressions of Olympic Wrestling Trials

April 25, 2012

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IOWA CITY, IA - APRIL 21:  Jake Varner (red) w...

Jake Varner (red) will represent the United States in the 96 kg freestyle class.

Why Iowa City?

This year’s US Olympic Wrestling Trials were held in Iowa City, where I live. For those unfamiliar with the sport of wrestling, this may seem like an odd choice. To those who are familiar with wrestling, it probably seems very logical. The University of Iowa – located in Iowa City – has been a dominant force in collegiate wrestling since the mid 1970s. Since 1975, they have won 23 national titles, fifteen of them by wrestling icon Dan Gable.

And the University of Iowa isn’t the only program in the state. Intrastate rival Iowa State (my alma mater) has won eight national titles. Additionally, two of the greatest collegiate wrestlers in history – Gable and current Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson – wrestled for the Cyclones. Suffice it to say that wrestling is far more popular in Iowa than in most other states.

Oddly, Iowa City had never hosted the Olympic Trials before. When the location was announced, many expected the 2012 Trials to break the attendance record. The record was 9434 set in Dallas at the final session in 2000. Session 3 set the all-time record with 13,784 fans. The other three sessions all drew at least 13,500 fans. The record wasn’t simply broken, it was obliterated.

Kosmo is in the house!

I’m a casual fan, but I love the Olympics, and this seemed like a chance to attend a very cool event. My wife agreed to watch the kids on Saturday while I attended session 1. The kids were already up when I left the house at 7:15. I got to Carver Hawkeye Arena, scored a good parking spot, and bought a single session ticket for $20. Fifteen minutes later, the doors open and the crowd entered. I bought a t-shirt and found my way to my seat. it wasn’t a great seat, but the view wasn’t too bad, considering that I bought a ticket at the last moment.

I also bought a program so that I could figured out what was going one. The weight classes had been split into two days. In the first session each day, there would be a “challenge tournament”, with the top two wrestlers at each weight advancing to the night session. In the night sessions, the top two wrestlers would face off in a best-of-3-matches contest, with matches at least a half hour apart. Wrestlers who had done particularly well in international competition were given automatic berths in the championship round.


The atmosphere was very cool – lots of excitement in the air. It was also cool to see wrestlers who weren’t part of the first session milling around the arena. 2008 Olympian Dremiel Byers (who would end up as the Trials champion in the 120 kg Greco-Roman class this year as well) showed a woman to a seat in my row (more about her later).

When the matches started, it was pretty crazy. There were 148 matches scheduled for the session, which was slated to run between 9 AM and 3 PM. There were four mats being used, and the action was fast and furious, with one match beginning quickly after another ended. To add to the craziness, there were men’s freestyle, women’s freestyle, and men’s Greco-Roman matches all occurring at the same time. Although I’ve watched wrestling on TV before (yeah, college wrestling and the high school state tournament is televised here), I had never actually been to a live event before. So it took some time to get my bearings.

December 8, 2005 Army World Class Athlete Prog...

Iris Smith (red) in 2005 photo.

About a half hour into the event, the woman next to me casually mentioned that her daughter had wrestled earlier. The woman had been cheering someone in nearly every match (or so it seemed) and I had no idea one of them was her daughter (Iris Smith, 2005 World Champion at 72 kg). from that point on, our little section cheered for Iris (who, sadly, finished third in her weight class, much to our disappointment). We saw a former world champion and member of the US Army who had a rooting section of one person – and we felt that she deserved more fans. Smith’s mom was very classy in her rooting style – not a bad word about any of the other wrestlers.

I spent some time getting to know Iris’s mom. She was very impressed by the turnout, and she discussed some of the events she had been to over the years. Also, she told me to avoid the New York New York casino in Vegas, because the slots didn’t pay very well. In turn, I shared my knowledge of Iowa with her. At one point, she turned to me and asked “what year are you in college?”. I turn 37 next month, so I took this as a compliment.

The action

My favorite bout of the session was former Iowa State wrestler Trent Paulson facing Kyle Dake at 74 kg freestyle. Dake had won the second period in overtime by carrying Paulson out of bounds for the one point. It was a quick move and Paulson couldn’t reaction. It would have seemed that Dake had all the momentum – but then Paulson came out and dominated in the third session to win the match. The crowd’s response was one of the loudest of the session … for a guy who had wrestled collegiately for a big rival.

The guy who impressed me the most in session one, though, was Tommy Rowlands in the 96 kg class. Rowlands had been a two time national champion for Ohio State at heavyweight, but had since dropped down to the 96 kg freestyle class. Rowlands absolutely steamrolled is way through the early session on Saturday, allowing just two points to be scored against him in three matches (while scoring 22 points himself). I’m definitely a novice fan, but Rowlands caught my eye time and time again.

When the first session ended, it was time for me to go – but the Trials continued. My favorite moment of the Trials was one that I didn’t see – when the previously dominant Rowlands fell to former Iowa State wrestler (and 2011 world bronze medalist) Jake Varner in the finals at 96 kg. We had a chance to have two Cyclone wrestlers on the team, but Travis Paulson (twin brother of the aforementioned Trent) lost in the finals at 84 kg.

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How’s Your Bracket Doing?

March 21, 2011

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The first weekend of the NCAA tournament is over, and what havoc the upsets have wrought!  Three of the regions have at least one seed 8th or lower still alive, and the wacky Southwest region has the 10, 11, and 12 seeds still alive – ensuring that a 10 seed or worse will make it to the elite 8.

Virginia Commonwealth won three games in a span three games in a span of six days, beating USC in the play-in game (now known as a “first round” game) before beating #6 seed Georgetown and finally thrashing #3 seed Purdue 94-76 on Sunday.  The Rams face the Seminoles of Florida State (10 seed) in the next round.

Michigan made tournament history in their first round game, becoming the first team to ever win a tournament game without making a single free throw.  It’s not as bad as it sounds, though – the Wolverines only attempted one free throw.

I went out on a limb this year and picked a lot of upsets in my bracket.  Unfortunately, I picked the upsets that didn’t happen, while missing the ones that did.  While I correctly picked Butler to make it to the Sweet 16, I also predicted that Belmont and Bucknell would still be dancing.  Akron and Princeton also let me down, failing to win their games against Notre Dame and Kentucky.

Overall, my bracket is in horrible shape – but it can still be saved.  I have San Diego State cutting down the nets on April 4.  If that happens, I can stll emerge victorious.  Aztec Nation, I am one of you!

Disappointing sports weekend for the state of Iowa

While none of the men’s teams from Iowa made the NCAA tournament, Iowa State, Northern Iowa, and Iowa all made the field for the women’s tournament.  Unfortunately, they were all wiped out in the first round.  I forgot that the ISU women’s game was on ESPN2 until halfway through the second half.  I switched over the game, only to see Marist in full control.

At the NCAA wrestling tournament, Iowa State’s Jonathan Reader won a title in an otherwise disappointing weekend for the Cyclones.  The only bright spot was the fact that arch-rival Iowa was thwarted in their quest to win a third straight national title, as the Hawkeyes finished behind Penn State and Lehigh.  Even that silver lining had a cloud, as Penn State was lead by former Iowa State wrestler and coach Cael Sanderson.  The Nittany Lions won their first title in more than 50 years.

Get your baseball geek on

A friend of mine has developed a baseball simulation engine.  You pick a pitcher and a hitter, and he’ll spit out the results of a full season’s worth of plate appearances.  The app is now available as a web app and on Facebook, and will soon be available for Android.  More details from the mouth of the developer:

AtBatSim puts advanced simulation into the hands of baseball fans. Simulate at-bats between an MLB pitcher and hitter of your choice. While you’re watching a game, try out the simulator to get the inside track on what might happen next.

Sabermetric research has shown that pitchers have limited influence on what happens when a hitter puts a ball in play. This simulator puts an average defense on the field, and lets them react to hit balls. Fast players beat out more ground balls and stretch outfield hits into doubles and triples more often. You can simulate 700 plate appearances in seconds and get one detailed play as an example.

AtBatSim is available on the web and as a Facebook app at . AtBatSim is targeting a release of an Android App by Opening Day 2011.

You can help by trying it out and offering feedback so the ratings and simulator improve over time…and of course by spreading the word on Facebook and telling your friends and co-workers about it.

Catch and Release

February 25, 2011

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Tiffany Butler took a moment to consider how lucky she was to be in this situation. At mid-season, her record had stood at a mere 5-10. She had wrestled better in the second half of the season, but had also been the recipient of some good luck. An upset had knocked the top wrestler out during the regional tournament, and she picked up another win when her opponent was forced to forfeit due to injury.

Tiffany’s record for the season was unspectacular 15-16, but she found herself on the mat, getting ready for a state tournament match. She was blazing a new trail for girls everywhere. As the lowest seeded wrestler in the tournament, she had drawn the state’s top 112 pound wrestler as her first round opponent.

Garrett McCormick relished the opportunity to defeat Tiffany. Some guys were reluctant to wrestle a girl. All Garrett saw was an easy victory that would put him one step closer to his third consecutive state championship.

Thirty seconds into the match, Garrett had affirmed his initial thought – he would have no problems controlling Tiffany. He saw opportunities to pin her, but decided to draw things out in order to make the loss more humiliating for her. Garrett toyed with Tiffany for the entire first period before scoring a takedown at the end up the period.

He took the down position in the second period and quickly escaped, running the score to 3-0. They danced around the mat before he scored another takedown. Garrett allowed her to escape a moment later. He could have easily pinned her again, but played catch and release with Tiffany, taking her down four times and allowing her to escape each time.

A quick escape from her down position at the beginning of the third period allowed Tiffany to close the gap to 11-5. Garrett decided to put on a show for the folks in the crowd. He scored seven takedowns in rapid succession, each time allowing his prey to escape – running the score to 25-12. He had to give the girl credit – she had a lot of fight in her. The match would be over in a moment – he needed just one more takedown to force a technical fall.

Garrett glanced up at the crowd and saw his girlfriend in the midst of the mass of humanity. Alycia was zooming her camera in for a shot. Garrett smiled broadly and struck a pose that he knew would look great in the school newspaper.

As he saw the camera flash, he felt himself lose control of his opponent. Before he could fully focus his attention back on the match, Tiffany had complete control of him and he felt his shoulders touching the mat. He struggled in vain to free himself. His dreams of another state title were over – he had been pinned by a girl.

Murder, incest, money, sports

March 20, 2009

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Josef Fritzl

Josef Fritzl of Austria was sentenced to life in a psychiatric prison. Fritzl is the man who kept his daughter imprisoned in a secret basement in his house for 24 years. He repeatedly raped her and fathered seven of her children. One child died after Fritzl refused to allow medical attention. He later threw the baby’s body into a furnace. Fritzl faced charges that included murder (murder by neglect for refusing to allow medical care for the infant), incest, rape, and enslavement.

Fritzl would be eligible for parole in 15 years. However, he is 73 years old, making it quite likely that he will die in prison.

I hope Fritzl’s daughter can see this is as final chapter of this story and somehow put the past behind her and have a happy and productive life. Of course, this is easier said than done.

Weird tangent: I saw the story of Fritzl pleading guilty to the murder charge when I was at a restaurant. I could see the TV screen and read the closed captioning, but couldn’t hear anything. The closed captioning and video were a bit out of sync. I saw an image of Don Imus getting out of a car, and saw closed captioning talking about incest and murder. Say what you will about Don Imus, but he has never (to my knowledge) been accused of incest or murder, so I wasn’t sure what the actual story was. Eventually, the closed captioning got to the Imus story – he has prostate cancer. Why, exactly, can’t the news shows just dump the teleprompter feed into the closed captioning system? You have a script for the show – use it!

AIG Bonuses

On Thursday, the US House of Representative passed a bill that would tax recipients of the AIG bonuses at a rate of 90% The method of using language that was clearly intended to isolate one specific group of individuals, combined with the angry statements from some legislators, makes this bill walk the fine line between proper legislative activity and a bill of attainder (in essence, convicting someone of a crime and penalizing them without benefit of a trial.

Personally, I would like to see these bonuses looked at on a case-by-case basis. I’m really not sure why congress is in such a rush. They could spend a bit more time taking a deeper look at the issue, and if they still felt that this was an appropriate course of action, they could pass this legislation.

World Baseball Classic

Game 5 of pool 2
Japan’s Hisashi Iwakuma and Toshiya Sugiuchi combined on a five hit shutout of Cuba. This knocks Cuba out of the WBC. The semifinalists are now set – US, Venezuela, Korea, and Japan. Evan Longoria will replace Kevin Youkilis on the US team because of an injury.

NCAA Basketball

The biggest story of the day was almost an upset of #2 seed Memphis. Memphis was down to Cal State Northridge late in the second half, but Memphis was able to rally and win. A Memphis loss would have been tragic to my bracket, since I have them as my champion.

In the end, the lowest seed to win in day one of the tournament was #12 seed Western Kentucky, which knocked off #5 seed Illinois. The Hilltoppers led by 10+ points for much of the game, before allowing a rally that let the Illini pull to within two points. Western Kentucky was able to seal the deal, though, and will advance to a second round game against Gonzaga.

An interesting image of the day is Oklahoma star Blake Griffin getting flipped by Morgan State’s Ameer Ali. Ali was immediately ejected from the game. Griffin missed time earlier this year because of a concussion. Griffin scored 28 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in the game.

NCAA Wrestling

My alma mater, Iowa State, is tied for the lead with archrival Iowa after day one of the NCAA wresting tournament. Unfortunately, Iowa has more wrestlers still alive in the winner’s bracket (6 for Iowa, 5 for ISU) and they are generally higher seeded. Still, we do have some opportunities. David Zabriskie is the top seeded heavyweight, and Jake Varner is seeded #2 at 197. Nick Gallick, #6 seeded at 141, is the second highest seed still remaining at that weight, as four of the top five have lost.

Hopefully Iowa will suffer some losses, the Cyclones will nab some wins, and the ISU guys who lose are able to claw their way back in the consolation bracket. Let’s get a title for coach Cael Sanderson!