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Eastern Iowa rolls out ‘red carpet’ for wrestling World Cup
Find out who to watch and how to see Friday through Sunday action
CORALVILLE — After a “herculean” effort to cut through thick red tape, the men’s Iranian freestyle wrestling team arrived Wednesday night in Cedar Rapids for this weekend’s World Cup in Coralville — flanked by political tension amplified by a U.S. win over Iran in the other World Cup, for soccer, attracting international eyes.
But the Iranian freestyle squad’s focus this week — like the rest of the global wrestling community — is fixed on Iowa as it rolls out the red carpet for male and female competitors from Iran, Japan, China, Mongolia, Georgia, Ukraine and other parts of the world and United States.
This wrestling World Cup — featuring opening ceremonies Friday and wrestling all day Saturday and Sunday — is the first in history to combine the men’s and women’s tournaments, running matches side-by-side.
That adds to the area’s growing list of wrestling firsts — especially in the women’s wrestling arena — as this inaugural co-ed World Cup experience also is the first women’s wrestling World Cup on U.S. soil, set in the community that just launched the first Power Five conference female wrestling program at the University of Iowa.
“We’re pretty proud of all of that,” said Josh Schamberger, president of Think Iowa City, the Iowa City/Coralville area convention and visitors bureau, who helped make the male-female World Cup happen.
After this community’s success hosting the Olympic wrestling trials in 2012 and 2016 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, United World Wrestling — the official international governing body for wrestling — asked if Iowa City would host the 2018 World Cup, which it did.
In 2019 and 2020, Schamberger began talking with UWW about hosting again — but with amendments.
“We suggested that they go away from doing a separate women's World Cup and they combine it,” he said. “There's no reason whatsoever that, with the growth and trajectory of women's wrestling and girls wrestling in the world, that these two shouldn’t be on an equal stage at the same event.”
If it would commit to combining the two, Schamberger said, Iowa City-Coralville would commit to hosting the first two and “set it on its course for the future.”
“I wanted to make it known that from now going into the future that the men and women were competing on the same stage equally, and that all started here in Iowa,” he said.
Olympic golds, world titles
The international governing body in January awarded both the 2022 and 2023 Men’s and Women’s Freestyle World Cup events to Xtreme Arena in Coralville.
The United States, Japan and Mongolia qualified on both the men’s and women’s sides. On the men’s side, Iran and Georgia also qualified. On the women’s side, China and Ukraine also qualified.
And, for the first time, both sides will include an “all-world team” comprised of top athletes whose countries didn’t qualify in the 2022 Senior World Championships in Serbia in September. For next year’s World Cup in Coralville, Russia will host the qualifying 2023 Senior World Championships.
Given each team has 10 weights with two wrestlers per weight — one starter and one backup — plus a delegation of support staff and coaches, Schamberger said Coralville this week is hosting about 480 people from overseas and across the country, including the sport’s top names and biggest stars.
Americans competing in Coralville this weekend include Olympic gold medalist and six-time world champion Jordan Burroughs; gold medalist and world champion Kyle Snyder; and other world and national champions like Yianni Diakomihalis; Mark Hall; Jason Nolf; Zahid Valencia; and Kollin Moore.
Wrestlers for the U.S. women’s team include Hawkeye recruit Felicity Taylor, of Spillville.
“They are so so grateful to be here,” Schamberger said of the wrestlers, recounting his experience with the just-arrived Iranians Wednesday. “When I got on the bus with them last night, they all wanted to know if they could meet Terry Brands” — the legendary UI wrestling coach.
When teams began arriving at The Eastern Iowa Airport, they were greeted by a “living” wrestling exhibit in the baggage claim area — coordinated by the convention and visitors club, with help from North Liberty-based Big Game Wrestling Club.
Club members Ethan Humphrey, 14, and Ashur Whitmer, 11, sparred on a square of wrestling mat — inciting grins from the international wrestlers, some of whom whipped out their phones to grab the greeting on video.
Big Game also hosted the U.S. team in its North Liberty facility to train and prepare all week — with some big names sticking around to talk with kids before evening practices.
"I love having the ability to pop into wrestling rooms across the country and touch pockets of the country that I haven't gotten a chance to spend a lot of time in,“ Burroughs told The Gazette before a team workout Thursday at Big Game. "Seeing the kids faces light up when they get to see me in person and then also go and root me on and watch me compete this weekend, it's pretty special.”
Having wrestled at venues across the country and world, Burroughs said “fans always show up” in Iowa.
“A lot of people consider this a mecca of wrestling,” he said.
Beadology Iowa City hand made blue-and-yellow bracelets for members of the women’s Ukranian team.
“We've had people from the community call and say, how can I help?” Schamberger said, highlighting one who said, “I just want to give you my credit card. I'd like to buy a flower arrangement for every member of Ukrainian women delegation.”
City managers for Iowa City, Coralville and North Liberty have offered staff and others to ensure the event runs smoothly. The convention and visitors bureau has assigned ambassadors to every visiting country — pulling several UI students to help translate.
Bennet Luethje, an assistant coach for the UI women’s soccer team, will serve as Japanese ambassador for the second time — having done so for the 2018 World Cup.
“Back in 2018, one thing the wrestlers told me after the event is that they’d never competed in a facility that was completely packed and so full of passionate fans,” he said. “They said compared to the big international cities, the experience was amazing.”
That, Schamberger said, is the goal this time, too — as the event airs live around the world and boosts not only the local economy but the community’s marketing power.
“Certainly from a marketing perspective, it continues to cement Iowa as the epicenter of the sport of wrestling in this nation,” he said.
What: 2022 Men’s and Women’s Freestyle World Cup
When: Opening ceremonies at 6:45 p.m. Friday; wrestling starts at 10 a.m. Saturday; medal matches start at 11 a.m. Sunday; awards at 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Complete schedule at https://worldcupiowacity.com/schedule/.
Where: Xtreme Arena at 200 E Ninth St. Coralville
Tickets: Ticket packages and general admission tickets are for sale online or in person for single days or all sessions. More details at worldcupiowacity.com/tickets
For more information visit: worldcupiowacity.com
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