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Bold, new changes in wrestling get sneak preview at Dave Schultz Memorial at OTC

November 1, 2017 Updated: November 2, 2017 at 9:02 am
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Hayden Zillmer of the USA tosses an opponent in the preliminary rounds of the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial International. Photo courtesy of Richard Immel.

Almost getting booted from the Olympics gave wrestling a chance to get a reboot.

It seems to be working.

Not only did the sport earn reinstatement for the upcoming 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, wrestling earlier this year received an overhaul with major, sweeping changes set to take effect next year.

But at the 20th Dave Schultz Memorial, which started Wednesday and continues through Saturday at the Olympic Training Center, fans are getting a sneak preview of this ancient sport, the same in its core but improved in many areas.

"It took a slap in the face to realize our sport needed to figure things out," said Cody Bickley, national teams high performance manager, in between sessions Wednesday. "That bell has been answered. We're excited about the growth and positive change in wrestling. Now, there are more opportunities that cater to the welfare of the athletes."

Most notably, the number of weight classes stands at a bulked-up 10, up from six at the 2016 Rio Games and eight from last summer's world championships in Paris.

A two-day competition format, with same-day weigh-ins, was another big change from year's past, as opposed to one day of bouts with weigh-ins taking place the day before, giving athletes 24 hours to cut weight if needed.

"Since we're past the world championships, we're getting a jump-start on the shift," Bickley said. "We decided to use the two-day format so the athletes can get used to it. And going from eight to 10 weight classes provide more opportunities. It's exciting. We know it's going to take time to build depth in the new weight classes, but that's a good problem to have."

The tournament, which got its start in 1999, honors the late Schultz, an Olympic and world champion wrestler who was one of the most popular athletes in the world. It is one of the longest consecutive international sports event held in Colorado Springs on an annual basis.

This edition of the Schultz marks the 20th event, and it's actually the second of its kind this calendar year. The previous tournaments took place in February but it was moved to help strengthen and grow the event.

This year, the field features athletes from the United States, Armenia, Brazil, Georgia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Mexico, Mongolia, Norway and Russia.

Previously, there have been 13 Olympic gold medalists who have won Schultz titles, and past event champs include 39 individual world champions who won a combined 54 world gold medals. Team USA boasts 12 past world champions who have won gold at the Schultz.

Expected U.S. athletes include two-time world team members Tony Ramos in men's freestyle and Victoria Anthony in women's freestyle, and 2016 Olympian Jesse Thielke in Greco-Roman. The field will feature dozens of past Olympians and world team members from the participating countries.

Team USA pushed six Greco-Roman wrestlers into the finals after a wide-open semifinal at Sports Center I.

But most of all, a fresh start seems to have invigorated wrestling at the international level.

"We're excited about it," Bickley said. "I think there's a lot of growth and positive change going on in our sport. We had poor leadership, internationally, before. Now, the right people are helping lead the sport forward."

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