Taking an Olympic redshirt year used to be as easy as the energy expended in making the statement. A few more credentials are needed these days.
With the 2012 Summer Olympics set for London a year from now, a number of student-athletes yet to graduate will challenge the United States’ best freestylers and Greco-Roman stars for a chance to compete in the World’s toughest wrestling tournament.
In the past, it’s been no secret that many student-athletes took advantage of the system, taking a redshirt during an Olympic year and barely competing in either freestyle or Greco-Roman, the two disciplines of the Olympics. In others words, athletes who had no chance of qualifying for the U.S. squad and actually didn’t really even make an attempt. It was an abuse of the system.
“The old (Olympic redshirt) rules were that there were no rules,” said Cornell head coach Rob Koll.
Last fall the NCAA approved a new Olympic redshirt criteria pushed by USA Wrestling, a new criteria that begins with the 2011-12 collegiate campaign. Eight Division I head coaches met with USA Wrestling representatives and ironed out a new plan.
“We felt that it was extremely important that if there was going to be an Olympic redshirt criteria developed that the coaches that would be most affected and involved would be included in the process of developing the criteria,” said USA Wrestling National Teams Director Mitch Hull.
The Olympic redshirt criteria includes current athletes who are:
• A past Senior World or Olympic Team member; or
• A top eight finisher at the 2011 Senior World Team Trials; or
• A top three finisher at the NCAA Championships and a top two finisher at the University National Championships.
A Wisconsin trio and a 2011 national champion got the ball rolling.
Andrew Howe, Tyler Graff and Travis Rutt each met at least one of the criteria and didn’t take long to announce on July 15 that they will sit out the 2011-12 collegiate season in hopes of making the Olympic squad. Howe, a three-time All-American and 2010 NCAA champion, is following in the footsteps of his head coach, Barry Davis, who redshirted during the 1983-84 collegiate season and went on to earn a silver medal at the Olympics in Los Angeles in 1984. Davis came back to complete his career at Iowa with a third NCAA title in 1985.
“They’re going to be able to go overseas, participate in some of their own tournaments while focusing solely on freestyle and Greco-Roman,” Davis said. “I think right now that’s what those guys need. That experience is going to go a long way for them. It will make a big difference going into the Trials.”
Howe lost to 2011 NCAA champion Jordan Burroughs in the U.S. World Team Trials freestyle final at 163 pounds in June, two months after finishing third at the 2011 NCAA Championships.
Graff is a two-time All-American at 133 pounds. At the Trials, competing at 132 pounds in freestyle, Graff finished among the top eight.
Rutt, with one year of eligibility remaining, finished seventh at 184 pounds as a junior. The Minnesota native was among the top six in Greco-Roman at 185 pounds at the Trials.
2011 NCAA champion Dustin Kilgore, who would be a senior at Kent State in 2011-12, finished third in freestyle at the Trials at 211.5 pounds. He has already filed the proper paperwork to sit out the coming season.
Two-time NCAA champion Kyle Dake of Cornell competed in freestyle at 163 pounds in Oklahoma City (host to the Trials) after winning the 2011 NCAA title at 149 pounds. He was among the top eight at the Trials. According to Koll, Dake will not redshirt this season in hopes of leading the Big Red to a title run in St. Louis. After winning NCAA titles at 141 and 149, the junior is set to go at 157 pounds in 2011-12.
A handful of others may or may not join the list.
Jake Deitchler went from Atoka High School in Minnesota to the 2008 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman squad. He competed in Bejing but upon his return decided to turn in the red, white and blue for Gopher colors in Minneapolis. Injuries have kept him off the folkstyle mat but he does meet the first criteria as a former World Team member.
Gopher heavyweight Jake Kettler, a redshirt-freshman in 2010-11, was fifth at 264.5 pounds in Greco at the Trials.
The 2011 NCAA team champion Penn State Nittany Lions have a pair of candidates. Andrew Long was third at the 2011 NCAA Championships at 133 and won a University Nationals title at 138.75 pounds. Quentin Wright also claimed a University Nationals title and was the NCAA champion at 184 pounds in 2011.
Ohio State’s Logan Steiber started for the Buckeyes as a rookie before an injury ended his 2010-11 campaign. In Oklahoma City at the Trials, Steiber was fourth in freestyle at 132 pounds. Another Buckeye, Nikko Triggas, finished sixth at the Trials in Greco at 121 pounds.
Missouri heavyweight Dom Bradley, who was third in freestyle at 264.5 pounds, and Central Michigan’s Jarod Trice, an All-American in 2011 at heavyweight who was among the top six at the Trials, also meet the criteria.
Oregon State’s Chad Hanke was 23-12 as a junior 197-pounder, going 1-2 at the 2011 NCAA Championships. However, Hanke, a solid freestyler, advanced to the Trials 211-pound final where he fell to former Iowa State star Jake Varner. Hanke was the University Nationals champion in 2011.
Winning Olympic medals – actually just making the U.S. team – while still competing in college happens infrequently.
Stephen Abas took an Olympic redshirt in 1999-2000 but did not make the team. Upon returning he won 69 consecutive matches and two NCAA titles to finish his career with a 144-4 record and three titles.
Oklahoma State head coach John Smith lost in the 1985 NCAA final to end his sophomore season. He took a redshirt year the following season (1985-86) and captured his first NCAA title in March of 1987. He then earned a spot on the U.S. freestyle team that summer and went on to capture a gold medal at the 1987 World Championships in France. He returned to Oklahoma State and won his second NCAA title in 1988. Like ’87, Smith made the U.S. team and eventually won the first of his two Olympic gold medals in 1988. He remains the only U.S. wrestler to win a World title while still in college.
At the 2000 Olympics Garrett Lowney wrestled to a bronze medal at 213.75 pounds in Greco. He came back to earn All-America honors for Minnesota in 2001 and 2002. Another former Gopher, Brandon Paulson, won a silver medal in Greco at the 1996 Olympics before finishing among the top eight for J Robinson in 1998.
Dan Hodge, while in the navy and before enrolling at Oklahoma, made the 1952 Olympic freestyle team.
Competing collegiately and working part-time on freestyle – obviously – hasn’t lead to a U.S. team spot 99.99-percent of the time. Smith, Davis and a handful of others have been the exception rather than the rule.
An interesting question: Does Cael Sanderson, the United States’ top 185-pounder in freestyle and head coach at Penn State, get a “redshirt” from coaching in 2011-12?