Looking back a few years, the 2016 Rio Olympics were shaping up to be quite a sad time for the wrestling world, as the sport had been choked out by the International Olympic Committee. Not only did wrestling lose its status as one of the 26 core-sports in the Summer Olympics, but it had been removed from the 2020 games, as well as all future games.
Fortunately, Raphael Martinetti, the former president of FILA (now United World Wrestling), stepped down after he lost a vote of confidence among the federation’s members, and in came Nenad Lalovic. Under new leadership, the sport made some major changes: altering the rules to make wrestling easier to understand, and began rewarding more aggressive wrestling styles. The new modifications were deemed satisfactory by the IOC, and wrestling was awarded its rightful spot back in the Summer games: the wrestling world could finally breathe again.
Now, the 2016 Rio games are not going to be a farewell tour for one of the Olympic’s founding sports; instead, we can actually enjoy the competition and the individuals participating.
The United States continue to hold the lead in the overall medal count (125) in wrestling at the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean they have been dominant recently, only bringing home three medals in men’s wrestling in 2012. We also know the Americans are not a threat in the Greco-Roman style, as an incredible 110 of their 125 total medals have come in the freestyle events; a total they should be able to add to in this year’s games.
The country who has reigned supreme recently is Russia; and, fortunately for them, their 2016 Olympic ban does not include wrestling. On the men’s side, they’ve collected 19 combined medals (nine of which were gold) during the last two Summer Olympics, leading the field both years. Russia may not be able to maintain that pace in Rio, but they still remain the favorites in both the gold medal count, and total medal count for the men.
While no country has a shot at prying away the Soviet Union’s grasp on the all-time gold medal count in wrestling, there are a few countries who will be shooting for the legs of Russia at Rio. (Only in freestyle, of course.)
Here are the favorites to leave Rio with the most gold medals, and total medals, in men’s Olympic wrestling. (Assuming they don’t get stolen before leaving.)
2016 Men’s Olympic Wrestling Odds
Gold Medal Count
Russian athletes are heavy favorites for at least two gold medals: Abdulrashid Sadulaev in the 86-kg freestyle (8/11 odds), and Roman Vlasov in the 75-kg Greco-Roman division (11/8). On top of those two, Anzor Boltukayev is also the odds-on favorite for gold in the 97-kg freestyle (7/4); however, he will face much tougher competition than the other two. There is a very good chance Russia takes three gold medals in the men’s categories, which is more than any other country is projected to win.
The United States are the country that could really shake things up in the gold medal count. If Kyle Snyder (2/1) can take gold from the aforementioned Boltukayev, then there may be a logjam of countries with two gold medals. Their other gold medal should come from Jordan Burroughs, who is looking to defend his London 2012 gold in the 74-kg freestyle category (10/11).
Cuba is another country who has a very good chance of winning two gold medals, as Ismael Borrero Molina is the favorite for the 59-kg Greco-Roman division (6/4), and Mijain Lopez looks to win his third-consecutive gold in the 130-kg Greco-Roman class (13/8).
Countries that legitimize the field’s chances are: Ukraine, Italy, Armenia, Georgia, and Germany, who are all favorites for at least one gold medal.
Total Medal Count
Along with the three gold medals that Russia is favorite to win, they should medal in at least three other events as well: Aniuar Geduev has the second-best odds in the 74-kg freestyle class (5/2); while Islam Magomedov (9/2) and Soslan Ramonov (6/1) possess the third-best odds in their respective categories.
Azerbaijan may not be favorite to win any gold medals, but they have a good chance to take at least four medals, with Rovshan Bayramov (11/4) being their best shot at obtaining gold in the 59-kg Greco-Roman class.
The field’s odds may take a hit in the total medal count, but Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Korea should all obtain at least one medal in the games.
(Photo Credit: Simon Q (Flickr: Olympic Freestyle Wrestling) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)])