Usually when you miss out on an opportunity to win a gold medal, you have to wait several months — if not years — to get another opportunity. But in the Age of COVID, things are not yet “usual” in the world of sports, and while that’s mostly resulted in a lot of unfortunate changes (delayed/cancelled events, limited/no fan attendance), in this case the COVID-afflicted schedule has resulted in a positive scenario for competitors in international wrestling. In addition to the Tokyo Olympics, postponed from summer 2020 to August 2021, this year also contains the regularly-scheduled Wrestling World Championships in Oslo, going on now in Oslo.
Under normal circumstances, the Wrestling World Championships are contested every year except during Olympic years, when the Olympic competition takes the place of the World Championships. But when COVID concerns pushed the Olympics from 2020 to 2021, United World Wrestling opted not to move the the Wrestling World Championships, already scheduled for Oslo in October. This created the extremely unique scenario of two world-class competitions within a span of just three months. It meant some wrestlers could have a chance at winning two gold medals in a short span of time — or that wrestlers who missed out on ultimate glory at the Olympics would have a near-immediate chance at redemption.
That latter scenario is exactly the one which has happily played out for Thomas Gilman this week. Gilman earned a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics, dropping a 5-4 heartbreaker to the eventual gold medal winner Zaur Uguev (Russian Olympic Committee) before winning a pair of repechage matches 20-2 to claim his first Olympic medal. Despite the loss to Uguev, Gilman wrestled brilliantly at the Olympics and showed that he was every bit as good or better than the other top challengers at 57 kg.
He carried that excellent form into this week’s World Championships — and finished on top of the podium. Gilman didn’t get a rematch with Uguev — the Russian did not compete in this event (I don’t know why) — but he dispatched all other challengers. Gilman absolutely stormed his way to the finals:
- def. Abubakr Mutaliev (Russian Wrestling Federation) via PIN (1:16)
- def. Vladimir Egorov (North Macedonia) via TECH FALL (11-1)
- def. Horst Lehr (Germany) via TECH FALL (15-5)
In the finals, Gilman faced Iran’s Alireza Nosratolah Sarlak, a bronze medalist at the U23 World Championships, and largely controlled the match from start to finish. He went up 1-0 on a penalty point when Sarlak was placed on the shot clock and unable to score. Gilman added a takedown near the end of the first period to go up 3-0. He extended that lead to 5-0 with another takedown with just over a minute to go in the match. Sarlak got on the board with a takedown of his own and a push-out point put to cut the deficit to 5-3, but he never got any closer than that.
With the victory, Thomas Gilman finally reaches the top of the podium in international competition and wins a gold medal for the first time. It also enabled him to complete his collection of international gold medals — in addition to the bronze medal he won at the 2020 Olympics, Gilman also won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships. The win puts Gilman in rarefied air among native Iowan wrestlers, too. He’s only the second native-born Iowan to win a gold medal at the World Championships (joining Dan Gable, who won gold at the 1971 World Championships).
Not many former Hawkeye wrestlers have accomplished the things Gilman has on the international stage, either. He’s the fifth former Iowa wrestler to win a gold medal at the World Championships; Chris Campbell (1981), Tom Brands (1993), Terry Brands (1993, 1995), and Bill Zadick (2006) are the other four to do so. He’s also the fifth former Iowa wrestler to win both an Olympic and World medal; Campbell, Tom Brands, Terry Brands, and Lincoln McIlravy were the other four. And he’s the sixth former Iowa wrestler to win multiple World medals; Campbell, McIlravy, Terry Brands, Barry Davis, and Joe Williams were the other five Iowa wrestlers to accomplish that feat.
In The Des Moines Register, Cody Goodwin provided some quotes from Gilman explaining his approach to the final:
“He’s a tough, tough competitor,” Gilman said. “You always know, when you wrestle an Iranian, they’re known for their toughness and their straight-forward hand-fighting, just like how I wrestle. In those first two minutes, we’re scrapping and he’s staying in there, so I’m like, let’s go.
“Iranians are really good there. They throw your head to the outside, bust your lock, and focus on those fundamental things. I chuckled to myself, because it felt familiar. I was looking for maybe four, but we got to the edge and he was strong there, so I dumped him and got the two. If I don’t get that takedown, maybe I lose. It was important.”
Mission accomplished. Ultimate success has eluded Gilman for several years. At Iowa, he was never able to win an NCAA Championship in his three years as a starter at 125 lbs. After college, Gilman has achieved tremendous success in making World and Olympic teams, but he wasn’t able to end those tournaments with gold medals — until now. Thomas Gilman, world champion. It has a nice ring to it. Congratulations on getting to the top of the mountain, Thomas.