Wrestling has been an integral part of the Summer Olympics since the inception of the modern Games in 1896. After a hiatus from the Olympic schedule in 1900, men’s wrestling events have continued uninterrupted to the present. Men compete in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling. Women’s Freestyle wrestling was added at the 2004 Olympics.
The primary difference between Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling is that Greco-Roman does not allow holds below the waist, placing an emphasis on throws, while Freestyle wrestling often sees a wrestler take down a competitor with moves directed at the legs.
At the 2012 London Games, men competed in seven Greco-Roman weight classes, and an equal number of Freestyle weight classes. Women, meanwhile, once again wrestled in four weight classes, and only in Freestyle wrestling.
OLYMPIC WRESTLING HISTORY SNIPPETS
Finland Dominates: 1912-1928: Finland was the best in Olympic wrestling at all of the Games between 1912-1928. The country’s wrestlers earned a total of 44 medals, including 15 golds. Finland’s competitors impressively won medals distributed throughout the various weight classes in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling.
Sweden Succeeds: 1932-1936: Sweden’s Olympic wrestlers continued to work their way to the top in the 1920s and wrested the team titles from Finland in 1932 and 1936. Sweden won 19 medals between those two Games, including 10 golds.
The Soviet Union Reigns Supreme: 1952-1988: The Soviet Union entered wrestlers in Olympic competitions between 1952-1988, with the exception of 1984. In just nine Olympic appearances, its best performers took home a still second-best 116 medals, with an unsurpassed 62 titles, and most of them in Greco-Roman events.
As a comparison, the U.S. leads the overall medal tally with 125, but with fewer golds at 50. Nearly all of the U.S. medal-podium finishes have occurred in Freestyle events. The U.S. has accomplished this at 23 Olympics since 1904.
Russia has continued to top the wrestling medal table since the demise of the Soviet Union. Since its reentry into the Olympics in 1996, the country has captured a leading 25 golds and amassed the highest cumulative medal total.
OLYMPIC WRESTLING GREATS
Carl Westergren: A Greco-Roman wrestler for Sweden, Westergren won three Olympic golds between 1920-1932, and each time in a different weight class.
Ivar Johansson: Another Swedish wrestling star before World War II, Johansson also captured three Olympic golds. Most notably, he was victorious at the 1932 Olympics in both Greco-Roman and Freestyle events.
Wilfried Dietrich: The German great is the most decorated Olympic wrestler with five medals, with a gold and two each of silver and bronze medals. Dietrich was equally adept at both Greco-Roman and Freestyle wrestling in the 1950s and ’60s.
Aleksandr Medved: Competing for the Soviet Union, Medved earned Freestyle golds at three consecutive Olympics between 1964-1972. He also put together an impressive list of accomplishments at World Championships, with nine medals-seven of them gold-over the course of a decade.
Dan Gable: Gable was a brilliant American Freestyle wrestler in the late 1960s and early ’70s. His three-year collegiate career saw him compile a 181-1 overall record and earn two NCAA titles. The winner of the 1971 World Championships gold at 68 kilograms, Gable capped his international career with an Olympic title in 1972 at the Munich Games. Most impressively, he did not give up a single point in his six matches on the way to the gold.
Aleksandr Karelin: The incomparable Karelin, widely regarded as the best-ever Greco-Roman wrestler, won four Olympic medals-three of them gold-and nine titles at World Championships. Karelin had an unblemished record in international competition for 13 years before he finished his career with a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics, shockingly losing the final to American Rulon Gardner.
Buvaisar Saitiev: Saitiev, a Russian Freestyle wrestler, won three Olympic golds in the 74 kilogram class, starting with the Atlanta Olympics and capping off his remarkable career with another title four years ago in Beijing. He also has six World Championships crowns to his credit.
Saori Yoshida: Yoshida is the greatest women’s Freestyle wrestler, and won the 55 kilogram titles at three consecutive Olympics from 2004-12. The holder of ten World Championships golds, she also put together a tremendous 119-match win streak between 2002-08. Yoshida’s teammate, Kaori Icho, also won three straight Olympic golds at 63 kilograms and is a seven-time world champion.
For statistics and other athlete information, please see: http://www.sports-reference.com/olympics/sports/WRE/