Freestyle wrestling returns to the 2021 Olympics after being placed on the chopping block.
Wrestling was almost eliminated as an Olympic sport by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) following the 2016 games. After decades, the organization felt freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling (the oldest Olympic sport) had passed their prime as part of the event.
Fortunately, the IOC overturned the decision after months of protest and outrage in the international wrestling community. And we will have competitions in both Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling this summer.
2021 Olympics: Freestyle wrestling rules summary
Freestyle wrestling differs from traditional Greco-Roman wrestling in one significant way. Unlike the sport’s older counterpart, freestyle allows the use of the wrestler’s or the opponent’s legs on both offense and defense. A freestyle wrestling competition is called a match and consists of two three-minute sessions.
Competitors meet in the center of the mat and shake hands, as a sign of respect for the sport and each other, before the referee blows a whistle to begin the match. A wrestler must outscore their opponent by the end of the two three-minute periods to win a match.
Competitors can earn up to five points per action, depending on the activity. Similar to Greco-Roman wrestling, competitors earn points primarily based on explosive action and risk. The scoring system is identical to Greco-Roman wrestling, with the specifics of the moves that are awarded points as the only difference. Only a fall, injury default, or disqualification ends the match; all other victories happen at the end of the two three-minute periods.
Unlike high school and collegiate wrestling that many are accustomed to, freestyle wrestling matches never go to extra periods. If neither wrestler scores in any two-minute stretch of the match, the referee will identify the more passive wrestler. That wrestler is given a thirty-second window to score. If the wrestler doesn’t score, then their opponent is awarded a point.
There are several different ways a wrestler can win a match. A “win by fall” means a wrestler pinned his opponent. A “win by tech fall” is reached when a wrestler has outscored his opponent by ten points at any point in the match. A “win by decision” means the wrestler outscored his opponent by the end of the match. A “win by default” means that a wrestler earned the victory because his opponent did not complete the match for reasons other than injury. A “win by injury” means the opponent was injured during the match and could not continue. Lastly, a “win by disqualification” means the opponent was given three “cautions” for breaking the rules and disqualified.
2021 Olympics: Freestyle wrestling rivalry to watch
American Kyle Snyder is hoping to repeat his success at the 2016 Olympic games with another gold medal. Snider, the youngest wrestler ever completed the wrestling Triple Crown (winning the World, NCAA, and Olympic championships in the same year), will have his hands full with a familiar opponent in his attempt to win back-to-back gold.
Abdulrashid Sadulaev is also an Olympic gold medalist and world champion at 86kg. The “Russian Tank” has a slew of national and international titles to his name. After deciding to move up in weight classes to 97kg, it was inevitable that he and Snyder would meet on the international stage.
Snyder and Sadulaev have faced off twice with the pair splitting wins. Snyder goes into the Olympics with the most recent success, pinning Sadulaev in the finals of the 2021 championships.
While there will be a ton of great wrestling this year, keep a close eye on both Snyder and Sadulaev. Likely, they will both make it to the gold medal match, which will also be their rubber match.
2021 Olympics: Freestyle wrestling teams to know
Japan’s women’s team is the most dominant globally, having won 11 of 18 Olympic gold medals since the introduction of the sport into the Olympics in 2004. They’ve also won 22 world team titles since the first women’s wrestling world championships in 1987, including 11 of the last 13 titles.
This year, we can expect the team to put on yet another strong performance as the event’s host nation. Led by current gold medalist at 57kg, Risako Kawai, the Japanese women’s team come into this summer’s games favored to take home more medals than any other nation in the sport.