World Team Trials preview at 71 kg/156 lbs. in Greco-Roman

BY TAYLOR MILLER, USA WRESTLING

Chris Gonzalez of the United States after a victory at the 2016 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Photo by Kadir Caliskan.

In this month’s World Team Trials, we are likely to see the U.S. Greco-Roman program flex its depth at 71 kg/156 lbs., with championship potential coming from several wrestlers.

2016 World Team member Chris Gonzalez looks to hold down the top spot at 71 kg. A relatively new name in Senior Greco-Roman, Gonzalez stormed past Alejandro Sancho, a tournament favorite, in the best-of-three finals series of the World Team Trials last November in New York City. He went on to represent the U.S. in the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, where he took home a 10th-place finish in his first international outing against the world’s best.

In 2015, Gonzalez earned a bronze medal at the Eduardo Campbell Cup, where two of his three opponents were American. That was his only previous international experience. Although bouncing back from an injury, Gonzalez is as confident as ever to prove himself again as the nation’s No. 1 wrestler at the weight.

Eyeing the World Team spot is 2016 Olympic Team Trials champion at 66 kg, RaVaughn Perkins. With the weight not yet qualified for Rio, Perkins was tasked with competing at the 1st and 2nd World Olympic Games Qualifier. He earned bronze at the first qualifier in Mongolia, but it was not enough, because he lost the special Olympic qualification match to Edgaras Venckaitis of Lithuania. That sent Perkins to Turkey for the second qualifier, where he finished eighth.

This year, Perkins decided to move up to 71 kg and has already proven to be a force at the weight. At the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial International in January, his first competition back since May, he defended his 2016 title and won gold, defeating Japan’s Shogo Takahashi in the finals. Not long after, he traveled to the Thor Masters in Denmark and Grand Prix Zagreb Open in Croatia, where he had solid showings in both tournaments. He left Croatia with a bronze medal.

Greco veteran Patrick Smith is a strong contender who continues to improve. After capturing what was once an elusive U.S. Senior Nationals championship, Smith is on the right track to becoming a U.S. World Team member.

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