Freestyle wrestling is a style of amateur wrestling that is practiced throughout the world. Along with Greco-Roman, it is one of the two styles of wrestling contested in the Olympic games. American high school and college wrestling is conducted under different rules and is termed scholastic and collegiate wrestling.
Freestyle wrestling, like collegiate wrestling, has its greatest origins in catch-as-catch-can wrestling and, in both styles, the ultimate goal is to throw and pin the opponent to the mat, which results in an immediate win. Freestyle and collegiate wrestling, unlike Greco-Roman, allow the use of the wrestler's or his opponent's legs in offense and defense. Freestyle wrestling brings together traditional wrestling, judo, and sambo techniques.
According to wrestling's world governing body, United World Wrestling (UWW), freestyle wrestling is one of the four main forms of amateur competitive wrestling that are practiced internationally today. The other main forms of wrestling are Greco-Roman and grappling (also called submission wrestling). The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended dropping wrestling as a sport from the 2020 Olympic Games, but the decision was later reversed by the IOC.
Modern freestyle wrestling, according to UWW (formerly FILA), is said to have originated in Great Britain and the United States by the name of "catch-as-catch-can" wrestling. "Catch-as-catch-can" wrestling had a particular following in Great Britain and the variant developed in Lancashire had a particular effect on freestyle wrestling. "Catch-as-catch-can" wrestling gained great popularity in fairs and festivals during the 19th century. In catch-as-catch-can wrestling, both contestants started out standing and then a wrestler sought to hold his opponent's shoulder to the ground (known as a fall). If no fall was scored, both wrestlers continued grappling on the ground, and almost all holds and techniques were allowable. A Scottish variant of Lancashire wrestling also became popular which began with both wrestlers standing chest to chest, grasping each other with locked arms around the body and, if no fall was made, with the match continuing on the ground. In addition, there was the Irish collar-and-elbow style, where wrestlers started out on their feet with both wrestlers grasping each other by the collar with one hand and by the elbow with the other. If neither wrestler then achieved a fall, the contestants would continue both standing and on the ground until a fall was made. Irish immigrants later brought this style of wrestling to the United States, where it soon became widespread, especially because of the success of the wrestling champion of the Army of the Potomac, George William Flagg from Vermont. Catch-as-catch can was the style performed by at least a half dozen U.S. presidents, including George Washington, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Because of the widespread interest in and esteem of professional Greco-Roman wrestling and its popularity in many international meets in nineteenth century Europe, freestyle wrestling (and wrestling as an amateur sport in general) had a tough time gaining ground on the continent. The 1896 Olympic Games had only one wrestling bout, a heavyweight Greco-Roman match. Freestyle wrestling first emerged as an Olympic sport in the Saint Louis Olympics of 1904. All 40 wrestlers who participated in the 1904 Olympics were American. The 1904 Olympics sanctioned the rules commonly used for catch-as-catch can, but imposed some restrictions on dangerous holds. Wrestling by seven weight classes—47.6 kg (104.9 lb), 52.2 kg (115.1 lb), 56.7 kg (125.0 lb), 61.2 kg (134.9 lb), 65.3 kg (143.9 lb), 71.7 kg (156.7 lb), and greater than 71.7 kg (158 lb)—was an important innovation in the Summer Olympics.
Since 1921, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), which has its headquarters near Lausanne, Switzerland, has set the "Rules of the Game", with regulations for scoring and procedures that govern tournaments such as the World Games and the competition at the Summer Olympics. These were later adopted by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) for its freestyle matches. Freestyle wrestling gained great popularity in the United States after the Civil War. By the 1880s, tournaments drew hundreds of wrestlers. The rise of cities, increased industrialization, and the closing of the frontier provided the affable environment for amateur wrestling, along with boxing, to increase in esteem and popularity. Amateur wrestling teams soon emerged, such as the wrestling team of the New York Athletic Club, which had its first tournament in 1878. Professional wrestling also developed, and by the 1870s, professional championship matches offered allowances of up to $1,000.
Nineteenth century wrestling matches were particularly long, and especially Greco-Roman bouts (where holds below the waist and the use of the legs are not allowed) could last as many as eight to nine hours, and even then, it was only decided by a draw. In the 20th century, time limits were set for matches. For more than forty years into the twentieth century, freestyle and its American counterpart, collegiate wrestling, not have a scoring system that decided matches in the absence of a fall. The introduction of a point system by Oklahoma State University wrestling coach Art Griffith that gained acceptance in 1941 influenced the international styles as well. By the 1960s international wrestling matches in Greco-Roman and freestyle were scored by a panel of three judges in secret, who made the final decision by raising colored paddles at the match's end. Dr. Albert de Ferrari from San Francisco who became vice president of FILA, lobbied for a visible scoring system and a rule for "controlled fall", which would recognize a fall only when the offensive wrestler had done something to cause it. These were soon adopted internationally in Greco-Roman and freestyle. By 1996, before a major overhaul of FILA rules, an international freestyle match consisted of two three-minute periods, with a one-minute rest between periods. Today, wrestlers from Post-Soviet states, Iran, U.S., Bulgaria, Cuba, Turkey, and Japan, have had the strongest showings. Alexander Medved of Belarus won 10 world championships and three Olympic gold medals, in the period of 1964-1972. Many collegiate wrestlers have moved on to freestyle competition, particularly internationally with great success.
In the spring of 2013, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted wrestling out of the core sports for the summer Olympics beginning in 2020 As a result of this news the wrestling community started a massive campaign in order to reinstate the sport. A largely online group called 2020 vision lead the movement. They had several campaigns as well as Facebook and Twitter pages that spread awareness and gathered support for the cause of wrestling's return to the Olympics. They had a mission of gaining 2,000,020 signatures (online and offline) in support of wrestling's return to the Olympic Games. In September 2013 the IOC voted to allow wrestling back into the Olympics for 2020 and 2024 as a probationary sport. In order to achieve this FILA, the international governing body of wrestling made several changes to the rules as well as changes to the weight classes. There are also discussions about uniform changes as well as changes to the competition mat.
Currently, international men's freestyle wrestling is divided into six main age categories: schoolboys, cadets, novice, juvenile, juniors, and seniors. Schoolboys (young men ages 14–15; or age 13 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from 29 to 85 kg (64–187 lb). Cadets (young men ages 16–17; or age 15 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from 39 to 100 kg (86 to 220 lb). Juniors (young men ages 18 to 20; or age 17 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in eight weight classes ranging from 46 to 120 kg (101–265 lb). Seniors (men ages 20 and up) wrestle in seven weight classes ranging from 50 to 120 kg (110 to 260 lb). For men, there is also a special category for some freestyle competitions, "Veterans", for men ages 35 and older, presumably featuring the same weight classes as seniors. Also, all of the men's age categories and weight classes can be applied to Greco-Roman wrestling.
Women currently compete in freestyle wrestling in one of four age categories on an international level: schoolgirls, cadets, juniors, and seniors. Schoolgirls (young women ages 14–15; or age 13 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from 28 to 62 kg (62–137 lb). Cadets (young women ages 16–17; or age 15 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from 36 to 70 kg (79–154 lb). Juniors (young women ages 18 to 20; or age 17 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in eight weight classes ranging from 40 to 72 kg (88–159 lb). Seniors (women ages 20 and up) wrestle in seven weight classes ranging from 44 to 72 kg (97–159 lb). Wrestlers after weigh-in may only wrestle in their own weight class. Wrestlers in the senior age category may wrestle up a weight class except for the heavyweight division (which starts at a weight more than 96 kg (212 lb) for the men and more than 67 kg (148 lb) for the women). Different nations may have different weight classes and different age categories for their levels of freestyle competition.
A typical international wrestling tournament takes place by direct elimination with an ideal number of wrestlers (4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) in each weight class and age category competing for placement. The competition in each weight class takes place in one day. The day before the wrestling in a scheduled weight class and age category takes place, all the applicable wrestlers are examined by a physician and weighed-in. Each wrestler after being weighed on the scale then draws a token randomly that gives a certain number.
If an ideal number is not reached to begin elimination rounds, a qualification round will take place to eliminate the excess number of wrestlers. For example, 22 wrestlers may weigh-in over the ideal number of 16 wrestlers. The six wrestlers who drew the highest numbers after 16 and the six wrestlers who drew the six numbers immediately before 17 would then wrestle in six matches in the qualification round. The winners of those matches would then go on to the elimination round.
In the elimination round or "blood round", the ideal number of wrestlers then pair off and compete in matches until two victors emerge who will compete in the finals for first and second place. All of the wrestlers who lost to the two finalists then have the chance to wrestle in a repechage round. The repechage round begins with the wrestlers who lost to the two finalists at the lowest level of competition in the elimination round. The matches are paired off by the wrestlers who lost to one finalist and the wrestlers who lost to the other. The two wrestlers who win after every level of competition are the victors of the repechage round.
In the finals, the two victors of the elimination round compete for first and second place.
In all rounds of the tournament, the wrestlers compete in matches paired off in the order of the numbers they drew after the weigh-in.
After the finals match, the awards ceremony will take place. The first place and second place wrestlers will receive a gold and silver medal, respectively. (At the FILA World Championships, the first place wrestler will receive the World Championship Belt.) The two repechage round winners will each be awarded third place with a bronze medal. The two wrestlers who lost in the finals for the third place are awarded fifth place. From seventh place down, the wrestlers are ranked according to the classification points earned for their victories or losses. If there is a tie among wrestlers for classification points, the ranking is determined in this order from the highest to the lowest:
Wrestlers who remained tied after that will be awarded placements "ex aequo." Wrestlers classified from the fifth to the 10th place will receive a special diploma. The wrestling tournaments in the Olympic Games and the Senior and Junior World Championships are designed to take place over three days on three mats.
The match takes place on a thick rubber mat that is shock-absorbing to ensure safety. For the Olympic Games, all World Championships, and World Cups, the mat has to be new. The main wrestling area has a nine-meter diameter and is surrounded by a 1.5-metre (4.9 ft) border of the same thickness known as the protection area. Inside the nine meter in diameter circle is a red band of one meter (3 ft 3 in) in width that is on the outer edge of the circle and is known as the red zone. The red zone is used to help indicate passivity on the part of a wrestler; thus, it is also known as the passivity zone. Inside the red zone is the central wrestling area which is seven meters 7 metres (23 ft 0 in) in diameter. In the middle of the central surface of wrestling is the central circle, which is one meter in diameter. The central circle is surrounded by a band 10 centimeters (4 in) wide and is divided in half by a red line eight centimeters (3 1⁄8 in) in width. The diagonally opposite corners of the mat are marked with the wrestlers' colors, red and blue.
For competition in the Olympic Games, the World Championships, and the Continental Championships, the mat is installed on a platform no greater than 1.1 metres (3 ft 7 in) in height. If the mat lies on a podium and the protection margin (covering and free space around the mat) does not reach two meters (6 ft 6 in), the sides of the podium are covered with 45° (degree) inclined panels. In all cases, the color of the protection area is different from the color of the mat.
A match is a competition between two individual wrestlers of the same weight class. In freestyle wrestling, a jury (or team) of three officials (referees) is used. The referee controls the action in the center, blowing the whistle to start and stop the action, and supervises the scoring of holds and infractions. The judge sits at the side of the mat, keeps score, and occasionally gives his approval when needed by the referee for various decisions. The mat chairman sits at the scoring table, keeps time, is responsible for declaring technical superiority, and supervises the work of the referee and judge. To call a fall, two of the three officials must agree (usually, the referee and either the judge or the mat chairman).
In Greco-Roman and freestyle, the format is two three-minute sessions. Before each match, each wrestler's name is called, and the wrestler takes his place at the corner of the mat assigned to his color. The referee then calls both of them to his side at the center of the mat, shakes hands with them, inspects their apparel, and checks for any perspiration, oily or greasy substances, and any other infractions. The two wrestlers then greet each other, shake hands, and the referee blows his whistle to start the session.
A wrestler wins the match when he has outscored his opponent at the end of the two three-minute sessions. For example, if one competitor were to score four points in the first session and his opponent two, and then two in the second session, his opponent zero, the competitor would win. Only a fall, injury default, or disqualification terminates the match; all other modes of victory result only in session termination.
In freestyle, if no wrestler scores in two minutes, the referee of the match will then identify the more passive wrestler, and that wrestler will be given a thirty-second window of opportunity to score, and if he doesn't, then his opponent will be awarded a point.
When the session (or match) has concluded, the referee stands at the center of the mat facing the officials' table. Both wrestlers then approach each other, shake hands, and stand on either side of the referee to await the decision. The referee then proclaims the winner by raising the winner's hand. At the end of the match, each wrestler then shakes hands with the referee and returns to shake hands with his opponent's coach.
In freestyle wrestling, as well as in Greco-Roman wrestling, points are awarded mostly on the basis of explosive action and risk. For example, when one wrestler performs a grand amplitude throw that brings his opponent into the danger position, he is awarded the greatest number of points that can be scored in one instance. Also, a wrestler who takes the risk to briefly roll on the mat (with his shoulders in contact with the mat) could give a certain number of points to his opponent. Scoring can be accomplished in the following ways:
Classification points are also awarded in an international wrestling tournament, which give most points to the winner and in some cases, one point to the loser depending on the outcome of the match and how the victory was attained. For example, a victory by fall would give the winner five classification points and the loser no points, while a match won by technical superiority with the loser scoring technical points would award three points to the winner and one point to loser.
The full determinations for scoring are found on pages 34 to 40 of the FILA International Wrestling Rules.
A match can be won in the following ways:
In an international wrestling tournament, teams enter one wrestler at each weight class and score points based on the individual performances. For example, if a wrestler at the 60 kg weight class finishes in first place, then his team will receive 10 points. If he were to finish in tenth place, then the team would only receive one. At the end of the tournament, each team's score is tallied, and the team with the most points wins the team competition.
A team competition or dual meet is a meeting between (typically two) teams in which individual wrestlers at a given weight class compete against each other. A team receives one point for each victory in a weight class regardless of the outcome. The team that scores the most points at the end of the matches wins the team competition. If there are two sets of competitions with one team winning the home competition and one winning the away competition, a third competition may take place to determine the winner for ranking purposes, or the ranking may take place by assessing in order: 1) the most victories by adding the points of the two matches; 2) the most points by fall, default, forfeit, or disqualification; 3) the most matches won by technical superiority; 4) the most periods won by technical superiority; 5) the most technical points won in all the competition; 6) the least technical points won in all the competition. This works similarly when more than two teams are involved in this predicament.
At the collegiate, world, and Olympic levels, women wrestle freestyle. During competition the wrestlers will either wear a red singlet or blue singlet depending on where they are placed in the bracket. All female competitors are required to wear a women’s cut singlet with proper fitting to minimize any distracting incidents.
The United States is still behind Canada with regard to the acceptance of Women’s Wrestling. The U.S. struggles with implementing high school teams for girls. As a result, many high school girls participate on the boys' team where they wrestle American Freestyle. However, the U.S. has made strides amongst universities boasting 14 schools registered on the Women’s Collegiate Wrestling Association website offering opportunities to continue wrestling while getting an education. Gator Wrestling Club, Titan Mercury Wrestling Club, New York Athletic Club, Army World Class Athlete Program, Sunkist Kids, and the Pennsylvania Wrestling Club are domestic sponsors that support many of the nations top girls.
In addition to colleges and universities, there are programs like the Beat the Streets-Girls Wrestling Program. This organization is highly successful at targeting inner city kids and introducing them to the world of wrestling at no cost. Other notable organizations include Chick Wrestler, which was created in January 2012 to market and promote women’s wrestling at the Olympic Level.
Women’s wrestling made its Olympic Debut in Athens 2004. Typically the females have 7 weight classes (48 kg, 51 kg, 55 kg, 59 kg, 63 kg, 67 kg, 72 kg) that compete in a World Championships. Though, during the Olympic year, the weights are reduced to only 4 (48 kg, 55 kg, 63 kg, and 72 kg). Only one representative from each weight class is permitted to enter Olympic Competition.
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