Pan-Ams Preview: USA juggernaut the challenge for others
Wednesday, May 3, 2023 - 12:14 By Gaurav Bhatt
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (April 28) -- It’s Pan-American Championships time again, which means the best wrestlers in North, Central, and South America will square off for continental supremacy. This time, the Pan-Am showpiece will run from May 3 to 6 in Buenos Aires.
280 athletes from 19 nations are in the fray, but only one burning question: Can anybody stop the American juggernaut?
While they couldn’t replicate the 2021 Guatemala City heroics of capturing all ten freestyle gold medals, Team USA triumphed in 8 categories last year in Acapulco, topping the freestyle team charts for the eleventh straight year. And this year is shaping up to be more of the same.
The USA men’s freestyle team competes May 5-6 and comprises seven 2022 World Championships medalists. This star-studded line-up includes World champions Kyle DAKE (74 kg), Jordan BURROUGHS (79 kg), David TAYLOR (86 kg), Kyle SNYDER (97 kg), and world silver medalists Thomas GILMAN (57 kg), Yianni DIAKOMIHALIS (65 kg) and Zain RETHERFORD (70 kg).
Leading the charge will be Dake, the four-time world champion who is looking for a Pan Am title hat trick. Last September, the Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist joined John SMITH (USA) as the only Americans to accomplish a four-peat at the Worlds. Dake won his first two World championship titles at the non-Olympic 79kg weight class and the last at 74kg.
The 32-year-old is also a 2018 World Cup champion, winning U.S. Open titles in 2016 and 2018. Dake was a four-time NCAA champion for Cornell, winning titles in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. He was the first wrestler to win four NCAA Division I title in four different weight classes.
But his Twitter bio sums up Dake’s intentions best: “Made History! But I still have a few things I want to do.”
The Lansing, N.Y.-native will start as the favorite in Argentina in a bracket that has familiar names in Franklin GOMEZ (PUR), Franklin MAREN (CUB), and Cesar ALVAN (BRA). Those three grapplers rounded off the podium in Acapulco last year, and the 36-year-old Gomez — a former Pan Am champion and world silver medalist — would look to avenge his 10-1 defeat in last year’s final against Dake.
Burroughs, Taylor, and Snyder are the other three reigning world champions in action.
Jordan BURROUGHS (USA) is the defending Pan-Am champ at 74kg. (Photo: UWW)
Burroughs, with his three Pan American Games crowns, six world titles, and an Olympic gold medal, has little left to prove. Last year — after winning the 79kg world title in Belgrade to become his nation’s most decorated freestyle wrestler ever — the 34-year-old sat down with Team USA to disclose what’s fuelling him now.
“I wanted to win the tallest trophy when I was a kid. Then I wanted to have my name in the paper and get a varsity jacket. Then I wanted to get a scholarship, get my name up in the rafters at my college, and then it became, I wanted to gain followers and make money and establish myself. Then it became I wanted to be the best ever,” Burroughs said. “Now, honestly, I'm getting back to the essence of why I started this, and that's just because I love it.”
Of course, there’s Paris on the horizon as well.
“It's gold or bust for me, literally every single year. 2023 is an exciting time because it leads up to 2024 [Paris Olympic Games]. You want to get that ball rolling and start to gain momentum,” Burroughs added.
Snyder, the 27-year-old phenom, meanwhile, is looking for a Pan Am-threepeat of his own. The 2016 Olympic champion has won a World or Olympic medal for Team USA for eight straight years, a run that has fetched him a 2020 Olympic silver, three World gold, two silver, and a bronze medal.
The reigning Olympic and World champion Taylor will be gunning for his fourth gold at the event. The ‘Magic Man’ — who was named United World Wrestling Freestyle Wrestler of the Year in 2018 — has won the 86 kg Pan Am title thrice, including in Buenos Aires in 2019.
The Pan-American Championships, taking place prior to the USA World Team Trials in June, are often considered a warm-up for American wrestlers. The last time the US failed to bring home a gold medal was in 2001 when Cuba dominated the tournament. However, for the past two decades, the US has won at least one gold medal at the event, and they are poised to continue this trend with their decorated team.
A few challengers, however, could thwart USA’s clean-sweep bid.
Among them is Alejandro VALDES (CUB) who is returning to the tournament after five years. The two-time world medalist, who won the Pan-Am title in 2013 and 2014, will look to challenge the likes of Diakomihalis.
Yurieski TORREBLANCA (CUB) has won the 86 kg gold at the Pan-American Championships thrice (2015, 2017, 2020) and has a silver (2018) to boot. That defeat in 2018, however, came against American Taylor with a tight 3-2 scoreline.
Queralta’s compatriot Reineris SALAS (CUB), meanwhile, will throw down the gauntlet in the 125 kg category. The three-time World medallist earned a bronze at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. With defending champion Amarveer DHESI (CAN) not entered, Salas will be the favorite to win the gold, his eighth.
Several of Puerto Rico’s silver linings from last year will take the mat with the hopes of upgrading their medals. These contenders include Darian CRUZ (57 kg), Joseph ANDRES SILVA (61 kg), Sebastian RIVERA (65 kg), and the aforementioned Gomez (74 kg).
Follow the Pan-American Championships live on uww.org or the official UWW App from May 3.
Share your thoughts.