IOWA CITY — Trailblazers. Tablesetters. Trendsetters. Dynamic duo.
Any number of superlatives can be used to describe Thomas Gilman and Cory Clark, the two senior leaders at the top of the lineup for the University of Iowa wrestling team.
Perhaps the best way to describe Gilman and Clark is winners. Because that is what they have done since they stepped into the Iowa lineup four years ago.
Gilman, ranked No. 1 at 125 pounds, has an 82-11 career record and is a two-time All-American.
Clark, ranked No. 1 at 133, has an 85-12 record and is a three-time All-American and two-time NCAA runner-up.
Gilman and Clark have been the hammer and nail for the Hawkeyes the last three years. And while Clark currently is out of the lineup nursing an injury, they are the battery that makes the Hawkeyes go.
“I’ve kind of used the term ‘trailblazer’ over the last couple of years. I like to go out there and I like to blaze the trail. I like to get the fans excited, get my teammates excited, start the dual off the right way. I do that by going out there and scoring a lot of points and dominating my opponent. We follow that up with what Clark does best. He does the same thing. I blaze a path for him and then he does his thing,” Gilman said.
“We’re one-two, 125-133. We both have similar goals and similarities in wrestling. We’ve been through the trenches together. It’s pretty easy to become buddies in that situation,” Clark said. “Who else would you rather follow up after? We have a lot of good guys in our lineup. Gilman is one of the better ones. It doesn’t really get any better than Thomas Gilman.”
“You see that the dynamic of the two has not changed much as it is a one-two punch. McDonough-Ramos — a lot of good wrestling there. Gilman-Clark — a lot of good wrestling there,” Iowa head coach Tom Brands said. “But their styles are different. McDonough liked to roll around. He didn’t mind guys being in on his legs. Gilman doesn’t let guys in on his legs. Gilman is more stingy. So I’m more comfortable watching Gilman. Now we have to get Gilman to the top of the stand. McDonough was a two-time champ. Gilman has yet to reach the promised land.”
Gilman and Clark as a tandem have been nearly unstoppable. The rev up the crowd at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, setting the stage for the eight teammates to follow.
Yet as close as they are as the first two wrestlers in the lineup, they are equally different.
Gilman is Mr. Intensity. He has a fiery, outgoing personality, but when it comes to wrestling he is downright stingy. Clark is a little more laid back, more reserved. On the mat, he loves to get into scrambles, which he comes out on top of in most instances.
“it’s my job. It’s not hard to stay focused when you have a job to do. That’s how I look at it. This is my job. I have a job to do. I come to work every day to get something accomplished. When you look at it like that it’s not hard to stay motivated because there’s always something to improve on. There’s always some way to get better,” Gilman said.
“I focus on getting ready to go and scoring points and doing things the way I know they need to be done,” Clark said.
“Cory Clark and Ramos? Ramos was very stingy. Ramos was a goer. He won matches by staying in position and forward, forward pressure. Clark is a little bit more scrambly, a little bit more of let it fly. That’s his best way of wrestling,” Brands said.
Gilman and Clark are about as different as night and day personality-wise. Gilman is more outgoing, yet very intense. He is the team leader without question.
“I’m a lot more accountable for my actions and the actions of my teammates. If something goes astray, it’s more on me. I accept that. Just holding people accountable for their actions, from big things — for example, not running sprints hard or putting your head on the mat or goofing off downtown,” Gilman said. “Holding those issues accountable. But also holding the little things accountable, like not keeping the locker room picked up, picking up your towels, things like that. All of those go toward getting better. If we can’t have a clean living environment, then that’s going to carry over to wrestling out here. Just holding people accountable for that they do. But also letting them know that they can hold me accountable because there’s no sense in me holding them accountable if they’re scared or feel threatened and they can’t hold me accountable. It’s a mutual kind of respect between me and my teammates. Tom says it’s my program. I don’t know how I feel about that. It’s our program. When you say it’s my program, it seems like I’m kind of the boss around here. I might be a leader and I set the tone and direction, but I’m also here to be humbled as well. So if someone wants to come kick my butt or they want to say, hey you’re goofing off, I accept that, too.”
Clark? Well, perhaps one incident during his freshman year at Iowa best describes his personality.
“I don’t know what the heck. It was like a 6 a.m. deal and I was totally out of it. I didn’t get enough sleep the night before or something. I just got out of my car. I forgot to shut it off and left my lights on. Someone’s like, ‘Clark, you left your lights on out there.’ I was like, ‘I actually left my car on.’ That was a freshman year deal,” Clark said with a laugh.
Gilman and Clark are friends on and off the mat, but they have different circles of friends. They hang out together once in a while outside the room, but are there to help one another in the room. They share pointers and advice and once in a while they’ll roll around together. Iron sharpens iron and they don’t come much sharper than Gilman and Clark.
“I learn how to wrestle from Clark. He’s a dynamic wrestler. He’s a very different wrestler than me. He brings some things as far as working on top and scrambling that I can improve on that he’s really good at. I grab his leg and he’ll roll on me or scramble with me. I’ve kind of developed a little bar arm of my own. But I always like feeling how he puts that bar arm on guys,” Gilman said. “When you wrestle a guy of that caliber, it’s hard to go with him all the time, especially when you’re trying to keep your body somewhat fresh week in and week out. But there are times to beat yourself down and go with guys of that caliber. We go head to head, but it’s one of the things where we’re best friends, we’re workout partners. You need some guys you can whoop up on and control more. Whenever we go together it’s a scrap and it’s calculated, as far as we’re not going to go together the day before a meet and beat each other up. We’re both competitive and we’re both trying to get better. Neither one of us is going to back down. From our point of view, it’s got to be smart when you’re going with a guy like that. Even if we’re not going together head to head, we’re going together as far as working on things. He has a lot to offer me and I have a lot to offer him as far as advice or technique or tips.”
“Every now and again we’ll hang out together outside of the room, but it’s more just the way we think alike when it comes to wrestling. We approach each workout similar. We evaluate our wrestling afterwards and we both put a lot of time and effort into wrestling. We kind of became buddies through wrestling and in the room. We hang out outside the room, but not too often. Just every now and again,” Clark said. “Every now and again we’ll grab each other and work on positions. The other day he was asking me about a single and I was saying what I felt like. We don;t necessarily critique each other’s wrestling. We leave that for our coaches to do.”
Gilman once compared himself and Clark to Matt McDonough and Tony Ramos, the previous Iowa wrestlers at 125 and 133. There are many similarities, but there is one glaring difference — McDonough and Ramos were each national champions. Gilman and Clark are aiming to duplicate that this season.
“I feel like me and Clark are a lot different than Ramos and McDonough. Those two kind of did their own thing and it kind of came together as far as the dual meet. But there wasn’t a lot of interaction between those two outside what anyone saw,” Gilman said. “McDonough would go out and wrestle and Ramos would go out and wrestle. There is a better relationship between me and Clark. There’s more chemistry there. We work on things together. We work on things with each other. We work out together. That’s what has made us so good.”
“I’m feeling good about where I’m at. Each day by day where I kind of evaluate how I feel and where I’m at with my wrestling,” Clark said. “That’s what I came here to do. Without it I didn’t accomplish the main goal that I set. That’s the only way to come out of here is with my name up on the wall.”
“All four of those guys have been big to this program. If you look at the amount of points they score, if they’re a fan favorite or not. A one-two punch. Very similar in that regard,” Brands said. “They meant a lot. Now we just have to keep getting better and that’s what we do. Neither one of those guys has been a national champion. We’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the end of the semester even academically. And then we’ve got a lot to do between now and March to get them ready to conquer their weight classes. We’re really excited about these guys’ senior years, Clark and Gilman.”