Given an ultimatum and forced to choose only one style of wrestling, Brent Metcalf would have considered bypassing college and all of the glory he experienced at Iowa.
“If I had a choice growing up, I would’ve done the Pico route,” the two-time NCAA champion said this week, referring to California prep phenom Aaron Pico, who five months ago announced he was skipping college and his last three high school seasons to gear his training toward the 2016 Olympics. “I would’ve dropped out of high school to wrestle freestyle.”
After a brief pause, Metcalf continued: “Not really, because I had aspirations to do things in college and high school, but I loved freestyle more. If you made me do one or the other, I would’ve done freestyle because I loved it that much, it was fun.”
In the past 14 months, freestyle wrestling for Metcalf has evolved from a source of frustration back into the sport he fell in love with as a teenager in Michigan. It’s fun again for the 27-year-old, who is aiming this week in Madison, Wis., to make the U.S. World Team for the third time.
By virtue of winning U.S. Open championships in April, Metcalf and Iowa State product Jake Varner, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist, earned automatic passes to the best-of-three championship series.
Metcalf went undefeated at the World Cup in March, dusted his U.S. Open opponents by a collective 39-0 count at 143 pounds and followed that up by toppling World No. 1 Russian Magomed Kubanaliev this month in New York City. The former Iowa star said technical advances have played a role in his success, but perhaps no American benefited more than Metcalf when FILA, wrestling’s international governing body, ripped up its rulebook last year.
Since cumulative scoring replaced the tennis-like best-of-three-periods format, wrestlers have been rewarded more for offensive activity than strategy, which suits Metcalf’s style and stamina far better than the rules that went into place in 2005 during his senior year of high school.
“I’m not going to say I contemplated quitting (before the rule changes), but I was frustrated because I was training my (butt) off and I wasn’t doing what I wanted,” he said. “It was frustrating because I lost in (last year’s U.S. Open) semis and didn’t get scored on.”
Without surrendering a legitimate takedown, Metcalf lost a 1-0, 0-1, 1-0 decision to Jordan Oliver, whose points came via the leg clinch, the now-defunct tiebreaker that was slanted heavily in favor of the wrestler, who, by luck of the draw, won the offensive starting position.
Metcalf hasn’t lost to an American since. His only defeats in the last year came at the hands of two-time World champ Medhi Taghavi and Russian Soslan Romanov.
“It’s a wrestling match now,” he said. “You’ve eliminated the game planning, at least from my point of view. You just go out and wrestle. What (had been in) place was different. Guys made it work. Jordan Burroughs made it work. I wasn’t making it work. I was doing well, but not as well as I feel now because you can wrestle.”
Other Iowans to watch
–Fresh off winning the U.S. Open in his first tournament on American soil as an Olympic champion, Iowa State two-time NCAA champion Jake Varner received a pass to the best-of-three championship series at 213 pounds.
–Former Iowa teammates Matt McDonough and Tony Ramos could clash in the 125.5-pound bracket.
–Iowa State national champion Jon Reader and three-time All-American Phil Keddy of Iowa are both ranked in the top six at 189.
–Though his best chance to make the U.S. team might come later this summer when trials are held for the non-Olympic-year weight of 154 pounds, Northern Iowa All-American Moza Fay could compete this weekend at 163.
Friday: 9 a.m. – FILA Junior World Team Trials freestyle and Greco-Roman Challenge Tournament; 2:30 p.m. — Championship series.
Saturday: 10 a.m. — Challenge Tournament for men’s freestyle at 125.5, 213 and 275 pounds and women’s freestyle at 105.5, 128 and 152; 6 p.m. — Championship series.
Sunday: 10 a.m. — Challenge Tournament for men’s freestyle at 143, 163 and 189 pounds and women’s freestyle at 114.5, 138.75 and 165; 6 p.m. — Championship series.
Register wrestling reporter Andy Hamilton will cover the tournament this weekend in Madison. You can follow him on Twitter @Andy_Hamilton.