Thomas Gilman has thrived in Iowa City.
As a University of Iowa wrestler, he was a three-time All-American and NCAA finalist. He extended his success in freestyle with the Hawkeye Wrestling Club, adding a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships to his 2014 Junior World bronze.
Gilman will now look to continue his career elsewhere, announcing via Twitter that he will be leaving Iowa City. He will join the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club at Penn State.
“I feel good about my decision,” Gilman said in an interview with USA Wrestling’s Communications Manager Taylor Miller. “I feel good with the direction I’m going. There’s no questions. I’m full steam ahead.”
The news came as a shock to many in the wrestling community and accompanied the news that HWC Coach Mark Perry was leaving for a position at Arizona State and the Sunkist Wrestling Club, which Iowa Coach Tom Brands confirmed in an interview with trackwrestling.com.
“I had a conversation with him (Friday) morning and he said he was going to leave our program and he showed me nothing but respect and love in that conversation and I showed him nothing but respect and love,” Brands said of Gilman. “That’s a hard one. That hurts me. Not because there’s bitterness but because I’m a Thomas Gilman advocate, a fan. Thomas Gilman is a presence in that locker room. I’m not talking about that wrestling room, I’m talking about that locker room and that’s important. Being a presence in a locker room is different and he carried that bat so to speak. He’s definitely going to be missed.”
Gilman said he was planning on staying with the HWC through the current Olympic cycle, including the Olympic Trials that were postponed after being originally set for April 4-5. When everything was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Gilman assessed the situation and the new timeline.
“You have a lot of time to think and evaluate things,” Gilman said. “We have about 15 to 16 months until the Olympics, so I’m just trying to put myself in the best position to be an Olympic gold medalist. Not saying I couldn’t do it here, do it anywhere else or Penn State. I’ll do it in my basement, but I just feel this is a good opportunity for me to grow my wrestling, my mind and as a person and step outside my comfort zone.”
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Gilman and Perry had grown closer over the last three years since Perry returned to Iowa City, leaving his coaching position at University of Illinois to lead the HWC. Perry’s departure had an impact but in the end Gilman made a difficult choice that made the most sense to him. He chose NLWC over staying with the HWC, following Perry and a couple other clubs.
“There’s a lot of emotion that goes into it, right, but it wasn’t an emotional or rash decision,” Gilman said. “It didn’t have anything to do with anything other than me personally and my development.”
Gilman has been very appreciative of his time at Iowa and his mentors, especially Brands. It was just time to move on, joining the likes of Zain Retherford, David Taylor and Kyle Snyder, who had all been previous USA teammates of Gilman.
He received a call from Penn State Coach Cael Sanderson a couple weeks ago and then things progressed. Gilman said finances had nothing to do with the switch.
“I’m excited to get in that room and learn,” Gilman said. “Maybe expose some of more weaknesses of mine and just get rolling and win that Olympic gold.”
Gilman and current Iowa two-time NCAA champion Spencer Lee will both be top contenders to represent the U.S. at 57 kilograms in the Tokyo Olympics that were moved to 2021. Gilman actually qualified for the U.S. at a recent tournament before the pandemic halted competition. Lee was also not a factor, according to Gilman.
“One thing I will say is Spencer and Gilman were very professional with each other,” Brands told trackwreslting.com. “Not cold but not warm either. But very professional. They would converse and they would talk and they would talk wrestling. It didn’t happen a lot. But that doesn’t have a whole lot to do with it.
“Is the room crowded there? No, I think it’s a great environment and Gilman even said that multiple times. We want to make sure that in our room there’s harmony, but there’s also competition and competition is healthy. Mentorship is important to our Hawkeye Wrestling Club and I think Thomas Gilman was a good mentor to Spencer Lee.”
He insisted there is no animosity or hard feelings that surround the decision.
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“It’s sad,” Gilman said of the move to another club. “It’s not a freaking easy decision to do it. Sometime when you don’t move or you don’t make a decision you’re getting stagnant. I felt maybe I was getting a little stagnant, so I need to make a move. That’s nothing against the program.
“They gave me a lot. I cut my teeth here. I learned how to wrestle that Iowa style. I learned a lot from Tom and (Iowa associate head coach) Terry (Brands). They gave me pretty much everything.”
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