Philadelphia, PA – One of the oldest sports to date, wrestling has been part of the Olympics since the first modern games in Athens in 1896 and dates back much further to the ancient games in 708 B.C.
The 2012 Games will have Olympians compete in both freestyle and Greco-Roman disciplines. There are seven weight classes in both men's freestyle and Greco- Roman; 55kg, 60kg, 66kg, 74kg, 84kg, 96kg and 120kg and four weight classes in women's freestyle; 48kg, 55kg, 63kg and 72kg. The competition will be held at London's ExCeL Exhibition Centre from Aug. 5-12.
The main difference between the two wrestling disciplines is that in Greco- Roman, a wrestler may not use his legs to execute a move and may not attack below his opponent's waist.
The former USSR has garnered the most medals in the sport with 132 overall, including 68 golds. The United States ranks second with 125 medals (50 golds), with Sweden checking in at a distant third with 83 medals (28 golds).
The 2012 U.S. Team is a seasoned group that could bring in a nice haul of medals, as 17 Americans will compete for the 18 gold medals.
However, reigning gold medal winner Henry Cejudo (55kg) did not make the 2012 squad, so Jordan Burroughs seems to be the only real threat for American gold at 74kg. Burroughs has been on a tear, winning a pair of collegiate national titles, followed by a world title last year in Istanbul, the first for the U.S. in freestyle since 2006.
While there may not be much gold handed out to the Americans during this event, other names for the U.S. with legitimate medal aspirations are Jake Herbert (84kg), Jake Varner (96kg) and Tervel Dlagnev (120kg).
The Greco-Roman squad for the U.S. lacks any favorites to win gold, although both Justin Lester (66kg) and Dremiel Byers (heavyweight) could get on the podium if things break right for them.
The U.S. is not considered the favorite by any stretch of the imagination in London, as that distinction belongs once again to the Russians overall. Russia's contenders in freestyle are Besik Kudukhov at 60kg and Beylal Makhov at 120kg. A shocking result at the Russian Nationals left two-time World Gold medalist Viktor Lebedev (55kg) on the outside looking in, as Jamal Otarsultanov knocked off Lebedev in the finals and could end up adding another gold to what is sure to be a treasure trove for the Russians in London. Roman Vlasov (74kg) is Russia's best bet for gold in Greco-Roman.
Iran is a major player in the sport as well and could present the stiffest challenge to Russia from a team standpoint. The squad boasts of a pair of 2011 world champions in Mehdi Taghavi (66kg) and Reza Yazdani (96kg). With Russia's Lebedev not in the mix, the door has been opened at 55kg and Iran's Hassan Rahimi may walk through it to join his teammates atop the podium.
The Azerbaijani wrestling team may reek in the wrestling room like their recently released Febreze commercial would suggest, but they could smell like roses in London. Wrestlers with a good shot at medals for Azerbaijan include Yabrail Hasanov (66kg) and Sharif Sharifov (84kg) in freestyle and Ravshan Bayramov (55kg) in Greco-Roman. Sharifov earned his first world title in 2011, beating American legend and former Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson along the way. Bayramov is the reigning world champion and captured the silver medal at the 2008 Games in Beijing.
The U.S. women's squad gained a bit of unwanted notoriety when Stephany Lee was recently suspended after testing positive for marijuana. The women's team shouldn't miss a beat though, as former Olympian Ali Bernard has been given Lee's spot at 72kg. Clarrisa Chun (48kg) and Elena Pirozhkova (63kg) may be the best bets for medals for the U.S. women in London.
Nine wrestlers will compete for Canada in London. The most accomplished Canadian wrestler comes on the women's side of things at 48kg, where Carol Huynh returns after winning Olympic gold in 2008. However, Huynh has been battling a knee injury leading up to the Games and will have a tough time repeating.
Teammate Tonya Verbeek will vie for gold as well in London, although Japan's two-time defending gold medalist Saori Yoshida stands in the way at 55kg. Yoshida has won 11 international titles and with gold in London, will match Russian legendary heavyweight Aleksandr Karelin with 12. Teammate Kaori Icho is a heavy favorite at 63kg and comes in as a two-time defending gold medalist as well. Japan adds a third big time talent at 48kg, where Hitomi Obara will give Huynh all she can handle.
Japan certainly gets the nod as a heavy favorite on the women's side of the sport, as three wrestlers could take home gold.