The Greco-Roman wrestlers, however, might be forgiven for thinking that they deserve at least a taste of prime-time. America’s team upset at the world championships in Azerbaijan last year – in a sport that American high schools don’t even offer – ranks as an victory worthy of slow-motion montages.
“No one thought it could be achieved,” says coach Momir Petkovic.
It was, and there was something particularly American in the achievement, team members say. Despite winning the team title, the Americans didn’t win a single gold, finishing first collectively by virtue of Vering’s silver, two bronzes, and a fifth. It was scrappy, yeomanly work.
“We’re known for beating other countries up,” says Olympian T.C. Dantzler, also a member of the world-champion team. “Technically, we’re not where other countries are, but by the time we wear them down, their technique goes out the window.”
Now, the Americans are beating up on each other. One of the bronze medalists and the fifth-place finisher failed even to qualify for the Olympics. The bronze medalist, touted as America’s best Greco-Roman wrestler, lost to a high schooler, Jake Deitchler, who becomes the first high schooler to make an American Olympic wrestling team in 22 years.
“A lot of the young guys step up and say, ‘I’m glad you all won, but I’m here,’ ”
says heavyweight Dremiel Byers, a 2007 world bronze medalist and 2002 world gold medalist. “These guys are going to fight you tooth and nail. I like that.”
Coach Petkovic agrees that this is what makes American wrestlers unique. “In Yugoslavia, you are used to there being things that you can’t get,” he says. “But here the mentality is, ‘Why can’t I do this?’ That gives us an advantage.”
Before the Olympics, recent world championship results are often read like tea leaves. From them, experts try to discern the medal tables to come.