Takeaways from the 2024 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials

In one of the biggest surprises at U.S. Olympic Trials, 23-year-old Aaron Brooks defeated reigning Olympic gold medalist David Taylor in a best-of-three series to claim the men's freestyle 86kg spot for the Paris Games. (Usa Today Sports)

The 2024 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials took place at Penn State University, and now the Olympic roster for Paris is nearly set.

Thirteen athletes secured their spots on the U.S. Olympic team this summer, while five other athletes took a pivotal step closer to Paris but still have some work left to do.

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Here are the key stories coming out of an event filled with plenty of surprises.

No returning gold medalists for Team USA

The U.S. is coming off a historic Tokyo Olympics where it won medals in nine of the 12 freestyle divisions. That massive medal haul included three golds, the country's most in 25 years.

But if the U.S. is going to repeat that feat in Paris, it will have to do so without any of the wrestlers who won Olympic titles in Tokyo.

Tamyra Mensah-Stock retired from competitive wrestling after joining WWE. Gable Steveson, who also joined WWE, considered a run at the Paris Games but didn't end up competing at Olympic Trials. That just left David Taylor, the Tokyo gold medalist in men's freestyle 86kg, as the lone holdover.

Taylor, whose rivalry with Iran's Hassan Yazdani has been one of wrestling's best in recent years, entered Trials as the gold medal favorite for the Paris Olympics but was stunned by 23-year-old Aaron Brooks, a fellow Penn State alumnus. Brooks, who recently won his fourth straight NCAA championship, made his way through the challenge tournament and then swept Taylor in the best-of-three championship final, beating Taylor by a combined score of 7-2 across the two rounds.

Brooks won a U23 world title last year and will now try to join the likes of Kyle Snyder (Rio 2016) and Steveson (Tokyo 2020) in successfully making the quick transition from NCAA champion to Olympic champion.

SEE MORE: Aaron Brooks dethrones David Taylor at U.S. Olympic Trials

Amit Elor set for breakout Olympics?

With Taylor missing out on Paris, the top U.S. gold medal favorite this summer may very well be 20-year-old Amit Elor.

Elor, who has won a total of eight world titles across different age groups, is the two-time reigning world champion in the non-Olympic 72kg weight class. To make it to the Paris Games, she had to shift weight classes and opted to move down to 68kg.

Because she qualified the weight class at a Pan American qualification tournament, Elor had a bye into the best-of-three finals at Olympic Trials. Facing Forrest Molinari in those finals, Elor controlled the first match with a 6-0 victory, then held on in the second match for a 2-1 win to complete the sweep.

Elor was one day too young to be eligible to compete at the last Olympic Trials. Since then, she's already become the youngest American wrestler to win a world or Olympic title, and now she's the youngest U.S. female wrestler to ever make an Olympic team.

SEE MORE: Amit Elor wins Olympic Trials, makes U.S. wrestling history

Helen Maroulis makes U.S. wrestling history

In 2016, Helen Maroulis became the first American woman to win a wrestling gold medal. Now, she's the first American woman wrestler to make three Olympic teams.

Because she qualified the women's freestyle 57kg weight class for the Paris Olympics, Maroulis received a bye into the best-of-three championship final. There, she faced a formidable opponent: Jacarra Winchester, the silver medalist at last year's World Championships in the non-Olympic 55kg weight class.

It was a dominant showing for Maroulis. She pinned Winchester in the first match, then won the second match with a 6-0 shutout to complete the sweep.

Maroulis earned medals at each of her first two Olympic Games (gold at Rio 2016, bronze at Tokyo 2020) and won a world title as recently as 2021.

SEE MORE: Maroulis defeats Winchester to qualify for third Olympics

Freestyle team loaded with medal potential

Can the U.S. match the nine freestyle medals it earned at the last Olympics? Based on the track record of the Olympic Trials winners, it's certainly possible.

Brooks currently has limited international experience at the senior level, but the other three men who made the Olympic freestyle team (Kyle Dake, Snyder and Mason Parris) all won medals at last year's World Championships. Dake and Snyder are multi-time world champions who both won titles as recently as 2022.

That group could potentially be joined by Zain Retherford, the reigning world champion in the non-Olympic 70kg weight class. Retherford was the Trials champion at 65kg but will still need to qualify the weight class at an international tournament in May.

It's a similar story on the women's side as five of the six Olympic qualifiers have won medals at recent world championships. Elor, as mentioned above, has won back-to-back world titles at a higher weight class, and Dominique Parrish was the 2022 world champion at 53kg. Sarah Hildebrandt, Maroulis and Kayla Miracle have also earned world medals within the last two years.

The only woman on the team currently without a world medal, 20-year-old Kennedy Blades, defeated the most decorated woman in U.S. wrestling history at Olympic Trials. Blades was one of the weekend's most dominant athletes, with all three of her challenge tournament matches ending via technical superiority. She faced Adeline Gray, owner of nine world medals and an Olympic silver medal, in the best-of-three final and swept her (11-6 in the first match, 8-3 in the second match) to claim the 76kg Olympic spot.

SEE MORE: Blades beats Gray at Olympic Trials to qualify for Paris

Three Greco-Roman wrestlers secure Olympic spots

Greco-Roman wrestling provided some of the most drama, as all three championship finals that determined Olympic spots went down to a decisive third match during the best-of-three series.

In the end, Payton Jacobson, Joe Rau and Adam Coon all won their third matches and earned spots on the U.S. Olympic team.

Jacobson was one of the weekend's biggest surprises. The 21-year-old started the tournament as the No. 7 seed out of just nine wrestlers in the field but worked his way through the challenge bracket and then defeated Spencer Woods in the 87kg final.

Rau, 33, is finally headed to the Olympics after years of near misses. In 2016, he won Olympic Trials but didn't qualify the weight class afterward. In 2021, he qualified the weight class but then controversially lost the Trials final and left his shoes on the mat to indicate retirement. This year, he had to come all the way through the challenge tournament before knocking off Alan Vera in the 97kg final series.

Coon, a former rival of Snyder while at the University of Michigan, is also headed to his first Games after coming through the 130kg challenge tournament and taking out Cohlton Schultz in the best-of-three final.

The U.S. is seeking its first Olympic medal in Greco-Roman wrestling since 2008.

SEE MORE: Jacobson wins decisive third match to capture Olympic spot

Five wrestlers headed to the qualification tournament

Most of the focus at Olympic Trials was on the 13 weight classes that were already qualified for the Paris Games, but the results in the other five weight class also carried importance.

As of now, two men's freestyle weight classes (57kg, 65kg) and three Greco-Roman weight classes (60kg, 70kg, 77kg) remain non-qualified for the Paris Olympics. The Trials champions in those weight classes now have the right to attend a last-chance World Qualification Tournament this May in Istanbul. If any of them finish in the top three, they will qualify the weight class and automatically make the Olympic team.

Of particular interest will be the two men's freestyle champions: Spencer Lee (57kg) and Retherford (65kg). Lee was a three-time NCAA champion at the University of Iowa, while Retherford won a world title last year in the non-Olympic 70kg weight class.

Olympic Trials results

The Olympic Trials champions in every weight class are listed below.

*Wrestlers in italics are not yet on the Olympic team — they will need to qualify the weight class during the last-chance tournament in May.

Men's Freestyle
57kg: Spencer Lee*
65kg: Zain Retherford*
74kg: Kyle Dake
86kg: Aaron Brooks
97kg: Kyle Snyder
125kg: Mason Parris

Women's Freestyle
50kg: Sarah Hildebrandt
53kg: Dominique Parrish
57kg: Helen Maroulis
62kg: Kayla Miracle
68kg: Amit Elor
76kg: Kennedy Blades

60kg: Dalton Roberts*
67kg: Ellis Coleman*
77kg: Kamal Bey*
87kg: Payton Jacobson
97kg: Joe Rau
130kg: Adam Coon

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