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University of Iowa women’s wrestling is in hurry-and-wait mode, quickly building a scholarship program while hoping other Power Five conference members add their own.
In the meantime, women’s wrestling gets a great showcase this coming Saturday and Sunday when the Men’s and Women’s Freestyle World Cup is held at Coralville’s Xtream Arena.
It’s a dual meet competition that is resuming after a couple years off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The teams of Japan, China, Mongolia and Ukraine will join the American women.
The men’s freestyle World Cup was at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in 2018. This is the first time the women’s event, which dates to 2001, has been held in the U.S.
Many of the best amateur wrestlers on Earth will gather in Coralville. One who will be present but not competing is Adeline Gray, a six-time World champion and a 2021 Olympic silver-medalist. But Gray, her husband, and their 4-month-old twins will attend as spectators.
Gray plans to return to competition, with her sights set on the 2024 Olympics. She has competed in several World Cups, an event she says will be fan-friendly because of the dual-meet format.
“I think this feels more familiar to people for wrestling,” she said. “They line up the matches one after another.
“I love the World Cup. It’s an amazing tournament where I think there’s great wrestling that happens, there’s great athleticism. I think it sets a great platform for a fan base to get introduced to women’s wrestling if they’re not used to it.”
Japan has won the last five women’s World Cups and 11 overall, while the U.S.’ lone win was in 2003. The Americans were runners-up in 2019, in Narita, Japan.
This week, the U.S. has the home-mat advantage. It’s also the first World Cup in which the men and women are together.
“Typically,” Gray said, “our World Cups are not at the same time. I think it’s cool to get to compete (at the same site) with them and kind of ride those highs and lows as we compete through the tournament.”
Women competed in the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials in Iowa City in 2012 and 2016, but many wrestling fans here in wrestling country have never seen high-level women’s competition.
“You’re going to see people be aggressive,” Gray said. “You’re going to see great technique, and women going out there ready to battle.
“I think it’s exciting to see that women are able to go out there and be athletic, to be fast, to be strong. And this is just more display in how we’re able to do that in all aspects of our lives.”
Asked about the Hawkeyes’ women’s program in October, former Iowa men’s wrestling coach Dan Gable said “Everybody's watching, and I think we're on display. I think we have a good setup. I don't think it'll take long once they see the positives.”
In the meantime, girls’ wrestling was sanctioned by the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union earlier this year. Its first season is underway, and over 2,000 girls in the state are participating.
Now the quest is for more universities to add the women’s sport to their athletic programs. All those girls in Iowa and around the nation who wrestle need and want their own higher level.
“I’m excited for that first school (Iowa) to be taking a jump,” said Gray, “but I’m more excited for those next couple schools to build and allow more opportunities for women.”
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