Sports

A World Cup without two world wrestling powers

No Iran, no Russia, and perhaps no stopping the U.S.

India and Mongolia will be added. Iran and Russia will not.
India and Mongolia will be added. Iran and Russia will not.

IOWA CITY — The United States won’t be able to expel Russians from Carver-Hawkeye Arena this weekend in an enjoyable way, by overwhelming them on a wrestling mat.

And, while the U.S. team seems to be a good bet to end Iran’s six-year winning streak in the UWW’s World Cup event that will be held here Saturday and Sunday, it won’t be able to defeat the Iranians on the way to getting that trophy.

In a disappointing development, Russia and Iran won’t bring their teams to the annual eight-team extravaganza.

Iran has issues with United World Wrestling, amateur wrestling’s governing body, that appear to have nothing to do with global politics. The UWW denied Iran’s request to host this year’s Greco-Roman World Cup this autumn instead of this spring, and Iran’s refusal to send a team to Iowa City seems to be its reaction.

But who knows? Iran finished a mere ninth at last year’s World Championships and was only in this year’s World Cup in the first place because Turkey dropped out in January. Is it reach to say Iran didn’t want to come here and be embarrassed by a stacked U.S. lineup? The Americans won the freestyle title at last year’s World Championships in Paris.

The Russia thing is a they said/we said deal, and isn’t it always?

As the story goes, the Russian team couldn’t get travel visas OK’d in time to make the trip. The U.S. Embassy in Moscow blamed the Russian government for limiting the diplomatic staff available to interview the wrestlers for travel visas. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the U.S. refused to schedule the interviews, and accused the U.S. of “direct and open discrimination.”

Believe whomever or whatever you want, but it’s all very tedious and it deprives the fans and the sport itself. Russia (and the Soviet Union before it) has never before missed a World Cup dating to the event’s debut in 1973. It was second to Iran in 2013, 2014 and 2016. The U.S. was second in 2015 and 2017.

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Mongolia and India have replaced Iran and Russia. How the U.S. wrestlers feel about that depends on who you ask. Thomas Gilman, the three-time All-American at Iowa who earned a silver medal at last year’s World Championships, says it doesn’t matter.

“No, it doesn’t at all,” Gilman said here Tuesday before his team worked out in the Iowa wrestling room at Carver. “We just wrestle whoever is put on the mat.

“Russia didn’t medal at the Worlds at my weight. Neither did Iran. I wrestled Iran at that tournament (and won, 3-0.)

“India has a World medalist, one of the best guys at 125 (pounds) here. Mongolia has a two-time World medalist at my weight.

“They’re not teams to look past, either. India is up-and-coming, and a hard-nosed team. Mongolia has a tradition of wrestling going back to the beginning of time.”

OK, but ... they aren’t Iran and Russia. American Jordan Burroughs is one of the world’s all-time great wrestlers, a five-time Olympic and World champion. He has a different read on this.

“We definitely want to beat Russia and Iran,” Burroughs said. “Those are the best teams in the world outside of our team.

“We want to beat the best competitors because you want the validity with beating the best guys. You never want an asterisk next to anything you’ve done. ‘Oh, they won the World Cup but these teams weren’t there.’ Like at the ‘84 Olympics. ‘Oh, they won this, but the Soviet Union wasn’t there.’

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“It was none of our faults that those teams aren’t here. All we can do is prepare to the best of our abilities to go out and compete at the highest level, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

U.S. Coach Bill Zadick said “It’s disappointing they weren’t able to make it because they have a great wrestling tradition. Despite our differences in politics from a government side, our federations share a brotherhood and a really positive relationship that I think both sides value at a high level.

“Last year we had to work real hard to get to the World Cup. It was in Kermanshaw, Iran, and we were able to make it.”

Why the Russians didn’t get their visa issues handled long ago, who knows? It seems like a bunch of red smoke to me. But maybe it’s best if I don’t poke the bear anymore, if you get my drift.

Mikhail Degtyarev, chairman of fhe State Duma’s (the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia) Committee for Physical Culture, Sports, Tourism and Youth Affairs, said this:

“With a strong desire to annoy Russia, the United States is now bringing into a question its own ability to organize major global sports events.”

Omigosh. That’s one thing we still can do. Did you see the NCAA men’s basketball title game Monday night? It had a 3D laser light show before the game and the “One Shining Moment” video afterward.

Ah, well. Bring on Japan and Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan and Georgia and Cuba. And India and Mongolia. The U.S. can win the World Cup for the first time since 2003, asterisk or not.

l Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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