Minnesota-connected wrestlers blasted out to a fast start Sunday on the final day of the Olympic wrestling trials in Iowa City. But things fell apart fast, leaving automatic finals qualifier Andy Bisek the only athlete with state ties who will wrestle tonight for an Olympic berth.
Joe Rau of the Minnesota Storm club won the trials title in the Greco-Roman 98-kilogram class Saturday and must qualify his weight to wrestle for the U.S. in Rio. Bisek already qualified the U.S. at the Greco 75kg spot by winning bronze at the 2015 world championships. That also gave Bisek an automatic spot in the Olympic trials finals. He will face either Geordan Speiller or Cheney Haight in the best-of-three championship series Sunday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City.
The Minnesota contingent went 6-0 to start the day Sunday, then failed to move on from there. Apple Valley senior Mark Hall (74kg freestyle) won his opening match 13-11 before falling to Andrew Howe--a three-time Big Ten champ for Wisconsin and a 2010 NCAA champion--by technical fall (10-0) in the quarterfinals. In Bisek's class, the Storm's Jake Fisher and Alec Ortiz won their openers by tech fall, then lost in the quarterfinals. Mason Manville, a former Apple Valley and Storm wrestler who beat Fisher 3-3 on a tiebreaker in the quarters, lost in the semifinals by technical fall to Speiller.
The rest of the Storm also came up short of the finals. Former Gopher Scott Schiller (97kg freestyle) had a first-round bye and lost in the quarterfinals to Kyven Gadson (technical fall, 13-2). In the Greco-Roman big boy class (130kg), Patrick Carey won by tech fall (8-0) before being pinned by finals qualifier Robby Smith. Parker Betts of St. Michael had a bye to the quarterfinals, where he lost by tech fall (12-4) to Jacob Mitchell. Donny Longendyke, a former NCAA D-III champ for Augsburg, won his first-round match by technical fall (8-0) before losing the same way to Adam Coon (9-1).
So it's up to Bisek to keep alive the Minnesota streak of having at least one Greco-Roman wrestler on every U.S. Olympic team dating to 1968. I'm still not sure whether Rau--a Chicago guy--counts. He's lived in the Twin Cities for three years, training with the Storm. But Saturday night, in the finals, he wore his lucky Chicago-flag socks. For the record, Rau is very happy that Giordano's opened a branch in Uptown, so he can get his Chicago deep-dish pizza fix.
In other news, John Shuster earned a big medal for the Americans on Sunday. The curler from Duluth skipped the U.S. team to a bronze in the world championships, the first world medal for the U.S. since Mankato's Todd Birr brought home a bronze in 2007.
Shuster was part of the Pete Fenson rink that won Olympic bronze in 2006, still the only Olympic curling medal won by the Americans. In 2010 and 2014, Shuster was the skip of the men's Olympic team and took plenty of heat when those teams did not do well. Sunday's bronze earned qualification points for the U.S. toward the 2018 Olympics and signaled a significant step forward for the American men.
Shuster's team includes fellow Duluthians Tyler George and John Landsteiner, plus Matt Hamilton of McFarland, Wis., and Kroy Nernberger of Madison, Wis. The group finished 10-4 at the world tournament, tying the record for most victories by a U.S. men's team at the world championships.
"It feels great,'' Shuster told USA Curling's Terry Davis. "We worked the whole year to be here in this moment. To bring a medal home for our country is something special. I'm extremely proud of how well our team functioned this week.''