Zain Retherford's about to wrestle at an international freestyle tournament once again. He last competed internationally at the 2017 World Championships and did not place, and has not wrestled at an international freestyle tournament since. His year-long sabbatical from freestyle wrestling ended after a loss to Jordan Oliver at the American Wrestling Event in the fall of 2018. However, Retherford showed the tenacity and aggression Penn State fans will remember so well. A great performance for him at the Yariguin could build some momentum and add some seeding points for what will be a difficult year.
The 2019 World Championships are going to be the beginning of a very tough qualifying period for the 2020 Olympics. The IOC has cut the number of wrestlers for each weight class to 16, which means there will be less spots available, so qualifying for the Olympics will be much tougher this time around. Six wrestlers will earn a spot for their country at the 2020 Olympics based on their 2019 World Championships performance.
Further, if a USA wrestler medals at the 2019 World Championships, they will earn a bye to the best of three series at the 2020 Olympic Trials. This can be a massive boost to sit out a series of grueling matches in a tournament, and allow a wrestler to be fresh for the finals. The qualifying tournaments are also going to be tougher for the 2019 and 2020 USA teams because non-Olympic weight wrestlers may choose to go to Olympic weight classes as well.
Rob, this all sounds great, you really know your stuff, but how does this relate to the Yariguin? Well, the Yariguin is one of the seeding tournaments on the United World Wrestling calendar. The winner of the Yariguin will earn eight seeding points for the 2019 World Championships. This is not a lot, but any little bit can help. If Zain can be seeded at the World Championships, he can improve his chances at the World Championships to not only earn a spot for the USA, but also a medal and bye into the finals of the Olympic Trials. A poor performance or loss will not be the end of his chances, but it would be a missed opportunity to improve his chances at earning a seed at Worlds.
Here is the roster of wrestlers competing at 65 kg in the Yaryguin this year (all rankings are listed per FloWrestling):
- Tian Zhenguang (CHN)
- Yuan Shaohua (CHN)
- Tornike Katamadze (GEO)
- Edemi Bolkvadze (GEO)
- Amiran Vakhtangashvili (GEO)
- No. 13 Tumur Ochir Tulga (MGL)
- Batchuluun Batmagnai (MGL)
- Narmandakh Lkhangarmaa (MGL)
- Ivan Guidea (ROU)
- No. 2 Ahmed Chakaev (RUS)
- Muslim Saidulayev (RUS)
- No. 2 (61 kg) Gadzhimurad Rashidov (RUS)
- No. 9 Nachyn Kuular (RUS)
- Kurban Shiraev (RUS)
- Perman Hommadov (TKM)
- Cengizhan Erdogan (TUR)
- Zain Allen Retherford (USA)
On Thursday morning, Retherford was handed one of the most difficult draws possible.
Zain top side, not sure if he has winner of Rashidov pigtail but would still have to get through Chakaev pic.twitter.com/0ithYZ2GGb
— The Wrestling Nomad (@wrestlingnomad) January 24, 2019
Retherford's tournament will start off against the winner of the pigtail round between No. 9 Nachyn Kuular (Russia) and Muslim Saidulayev (Russia). This is quite simply among the most difficult opening round draws that he could have had. If he manages to win that, it's very likely that No. 2 Ahmed Chakaev (Russia) will be waiting for him in the semifinals.
Kuular has been very successful in competitions against his age group, he's the 2017 U-23 World Champion, and beat Team USA representative Logan Stieber in the 2018 Yariguin tournament 10-4. He's a very talented wrestler, and will likely represent Russia in the World Championships some day.
Chakaev is a two-time world bronze medalist and is now 30 years old. Even at his age, he's still one of the world's best at 65 kg. He's obtained a number of high profile wins in his career as well, including a win over former world champion Logan Stieber and former Olympic and world champion Vladiemir Khinchegashvili (Georgia).
The other main guys to watch are Cengizhan Erdogan (Turkey) and No. 13 Tumur Ochir Tulga (Mongolia). It's very likely that if Retherford can withstand this gauntlet and reach the final, he would face No. 2 (61 kg) Gadzhimurad Rashidov (Russia). Rashidov is a two-time world silver medalist at 61 kg.
For Retherford, there is a very real chance he's going to have beat a top-10 guy in Nachyn Kuular just to have a chance to earn a bronze medal with Chakaev looming in the quarterfinals. Due to UWW's repechage rules, the only way a wrestler can earn a bronze medal is by losing to a finalist. For example, if Retherford loses to Kuular, who then loses to Chakaev or someone else before the final, he would be unable to wrestle for a bronze medal.
The spotlight will be on Retherford, and he is going to have a very difficult path to get to the final. If he can show the tenacity, motor and strength that netted him three NCAA Champioships, maybe he can shock the world in Krasnoyarsk.