The crowd wanted the backflip.
Nick Gwiazdowski and Gable Steveson just wanted to go to the Olympics.
Steveson, and the crowd, got what they wanted.
The 20-year-old from the University of Minnesota dominated Gwiazdowski, the two-time NCAA champion and two-time World bronze medalist from Duanesburg, in the freestyle heavyweight finals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Fort Worth, Texas, on Saturday.
Gwiazdowski, the No. 1 seed, couldn’t keep Steveson off his legs in the best-of-three Championship Series, losing by technical superiority 10-0 in Round 1 and 10-1 in Round 2.
Another former Section II star, Shenendehowa graduate Jesse Porter, had a much better result, winning the 77kg class in Greco Roman, but the U.S. Olympic Trials did not offer an automatic trip to the Tokyo Games, since that weight class in Greco Roman is not yet qualified for U.S. participation. Porter still has to make it through the World Olympic Games Qualifier in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 6-9 to get to the Olympics.
The 28-year-old Gwiazdowski, who won NCAA titles at North Carolina State in 2014 and 2015, gave up two leg shots in the first three-minute period against Steveson and was behind 6-0.
Steveson scored on another shot in the second period.
To open the second round of the series, Steveson scored two points on a forceout and was up 6-1 in the second round when he scored a two-point takedown. The match never made it to Round 3.
Steveson had defeated Gwiazdowski in a previous match four months ago, and was coming off a national championship for Minnesota at the NCAAs.
Afterward, the crowd at Dickies Arena chanted for Steveson’s trademark backflip, and he obliged with a handspring into a backflip.
“It’s been a long three weeks, the NCAAs, now this,” Steveson said on the NBCSN broadcast right after the match. “I’m so happy to be here, it’s crazy. It means the world. We train for moments like these. I don’t even know how to explain it.”
Porter’s 77kg Greco Roman match, against Peyton Walsh, also ended after just two of three rounds in the series, but the outcome wasn’t so decisive as the Gwiazdowski-Steveson match in freestyle 125kg.
Porter, a senior at Northern Michigan University, won an 8-1 decision over Walsh in Round 1, but Round 2 was tied 7-7. The referee stopped the match and raised Porter’s arm because he had won on criteria with a five-point throw.
Up 7-0, Porter had let Walsh tie it, but neither wrestler appeared to know who was winning in the latter moments of the round.
“I wasn’t really sure if I got a five,” Porter said on Zoom conference. “I thought I was down, so I was going hard. I thought he was up.
“That’s something I need to pay a little more attention to, because if I get a five, I’ve got criteria, you get bigger points. I saw the score was 7-7, and I was like, ‘I’m not chancing that, I need to score.'”
Porter had a poor performance in his previous tournament, and came into the U.S. Olympic Team Trials seeded 10th.
Undaunted by the seeding, he won a 6-0 decision over Corey Hope in the round of 16, beat RaVaughn Perkins by technical fall 10-0 in the quarterfinals and got past Patrick Smith 5-3 in the semifinals before facing Walsh.
“I expected no less than a win, because I was here for a very, very specific reason,” Porter said. “And that was make a statement for Greco, have exciting matches, excite the crowd, be active and just fight.”
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