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Greco-Roman wrestling is a style of amateur wrestling that is practiced throughout the world. Along with freestyle, it is one of the two styles of wrestling contested in the Olympic games.
Colloquially referred to simply as Greco, this style of wrestling forbids attacks below the waist. As a result, throws are encouraged as the Greco-Roman wrestler cannot avoid being thrown by simply hooking or grabbing his opponent’s leg. Otherwise, the sport is similar to freestyle.
Arm drags, bearhugs, and headlocks found in freestyle have greater prominence in Greco-Roman. Throws especially known as a suplex are used, in which the offensive wrestler lifts his opponent in a high arch while falling backward on his own neck to a bridge in order to bring his opponent’s shoulders down to the mat. Even on the mat, a Greco-Roman wrestler must still find several ways to turn his opponent’s shoulders to the mat for a fall without legs, including (but not limited to) techniques known as the bodylock and the gut-wrench.
According to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), Greco-Roman wrestling is one of the four main forms of amateur competitive wrestling practiced internationally today. The other three forms are freestyle wrestling, grappling (also called submission wrestling), and sambo.
Greco-Roman wrestling actually derived from a 19th century French form of show-wrestling popular for its high throws. It is speculated that many styles of European folk wrestling may have spurred the origins of Greco-Roman wrestling. The British wrestling styles that originated in Cumberland and Westmoreland have some holds that are not allowed in Greco-Roman, but restricted arm holds to the upper torso, and was quite similar to Greco-Roman. The styles of Devon and Cornwall also had the wrestlers using their holds above waist level. According to FILA, a Napoleonic soldier named Exbroyat first developed the style. Exbroyat performed in fairs and called his style of wrestling “flat hand wrestling” to distinguish it from other forms of hand-to-hand combat that allowed striking. In 1848, Exbroyat established the rule that no holds below the waist were to be allowed; neither were painful holds or torsions that would hurt the opponent. “Flat hand wrestling” or “French wrestling” (as the style became known) developed all throughout Europe and became a popular sport. The Italian wrestler Basilio Bartoletti first coined the term “Greco-Roman” for the sport to underline the interest in “ancient values.” Many others in the 18th and 19th centuries sought to add value to their contemporary athletic practices by finding some connections with ancient counterparts. So, it was widely believed soon enough that Greco-Roman wrestling emerged from a Greek wrestling competition known as “upright wrestling” in which only upper body holds were allowed. The 18th century work Gymnastics for Youth by Johann Friedrich Guts Muths described a form of schoolboy wrestling called “orthopale” (used by Plato to describe the standing part of wrestling) that did not mention any lower-body holds. Real ancient wrestling was quite different; see Greek wrestling.
The British never really enjoyed Greco-Roman wrestling in comparison to its more unrestrictive counterpart, freestyle, but on the continent, the style was highly promoted. Almost all the continental European capital cities hosted international Greco-Roman tournaments in the 19th century, with much prize money given to the place winners. For example, the Czar of Russia paid 500 francs for wrestlers to train and compete in his tournament, with 5,000 francs awarded as a prize to the tournament winner. Greco-Roman wrestling soon became prestigious in continental Europe and was the first style registered at the modern Olympic games, beginning in Athens in 1896 with one heavyweight bout, and grew in popularity during the 20th century. It has always been featured in the Olympic games, except during the Paris Olympic Games in 1900 and the St. Louis Olympic Games of 1904, when freestyle first emerged as an Olympic sport.
Greco-Roman wrestling never really caught on in the English-speaking world, despite its connection in style to many British styles of folk wrestling and the efforts of William Muldoon (a successful New York barroom freestyle wrestler who served in the Franco-Prussian War and learned the style in France) to promote it in the United States after the Civil War. Muldoon’s matches in particular drew large crowds but failed to gain a foothold among Americans. Instead, freestyle became the wrestling of choice in Great Britain and the United States, where it later influenced the development of collegiate wrestling. Perhaps, the most well-known of Greco-Roman wrestlers in the nineteenth century was Georg Hackenschmidt born in Estonia and nicknamed “The Russian Lion.” Hackenschmidt in 1898 at the age of 21 and with 15 months of training defeated the experienced Paul Pons in a match in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 1900, he won professional tournaments in Moscow and St. Petersburg and a series of international tournaments after that. After defeating Tom Jenkins (from the United States) in both freestyle and Greco-Roman matches in England, Georg Hackenschmidt wrestled exclusively freestyle in order to compete better against English, Australian, and American opponents. Winning more than 2,000 victories in Greco-Roman and freestyle, Hackenschmidt served as the physical education adviser to the House of Lords after his retirement.
Professional matches in Greco-Roman wrestling were known for their great brutality. Body slams, choke-holds, and head-butting was allowed, and even caustic substances were used to weaken the opponent. By the end of the nineteenth century, gouging with the nails, punching, and violently slamming the arms together around the opponent’s stomach were forbidden. Greco-Roman matches were also famous for their length. Professionally, it was not uncommon for there to be matches lasting two or three hours. William Muldoon’s bout with Clarence Whistler at the Terrace Garden Theater in New York lasted eight hours before ending in a draw. Even in the 1912 Olympics, a match between Anders Ahlgren of Sweden and Ivar Boehling of Finland lasted for nine hours before a draw was called and both wrestlers awarded the silver medal. The International Amateur Wrestling Federation (IAWF) took over the regulation of Greco-Roman wrestling in 1921. Since then matches have been dramatically cut short, and today all movements that put the life or limb of the wrestler in jeopardy are forbidden.
In terms of Olympic competition, countries of the former Soviet Union, Bulgaria, Romania, Japan, Sweden, and Finland have had great success. Carl Westergren of Sweden won three Greco-Roman gold medals in 1920, 1924, and 1932, and was the first Greco-Roman wrestler to do so. Alexander Karelin did the same in 1988, 1992, and 1996. Ivar Johansson of Sweden won gold medals in Greco-Roman in 1932 and 1936 and also a gold medal in freestyle in 1932. The United States Olympic delegation (exclusively wrestling freestyle before) first entered Greco-Roman wrestling in 1952 and has taken three gold medals, won by Steve Fraser and Jeffrey Blatnick in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, and by Rulon Gardner at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
Currently, international Greco-Roman wrestling is divided into four main age categories: schoolboys, cadets, juniors, and seniors. Schoolboys (young men ages 14-15; or age 13 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from 29 to 85 kg. Cadets (young men ages 16-17; or age 15 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from 39 to 100 kg. Juniors (young men ages 18 to 20; or age 17 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in eight weight classes ranging from 46 to 120 kg. Seniors (men ages 20 and up) wrestle in seven weight classes ranging from 50 to 120 kg. For men, there is also a special category for some Greco-Roman competitions, “Veterans”, for men ages 35 and older, presumably featuring the same weight classes as seniors. Also, all of the men’s age categories and weight classes can be applied to freestyle wrestling. Wrestlers after weigh-in may only wrestle in their own weight class. Wrestlers in the senior age category may wrestle up a weight class except for the heavyweight division (which starts at a weight more than 96 kg for the men). Different nations may have different weight classes and different age categories for their levels of Greco-Roman competition. Enrique Reyes is an upcoming wrestler for Greco Roman.
A typical international wrestling tournament takes place by direct elimination with an ideal number of wrestlers (4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) in each weight class and age category competing for placement. The competition in each weight class takes place in one day. The day before the wrestling in a scheduled weight class and age category takes place, all the applicable wrestlers are examined by a physician and weighed-in. Each wrestler after being weighed on the scale then draws a token randomly that gives a certain number.
If an ideal number is not reached to begin elimination rounds, a qualification round will take place to eliminate the excess number of wrestlers. For example, 22 wrestlers may weigh-in over the ideal number of 16 wrestlers. The six wrestlers who drew the highest numbers after 16 and the six wrestlers who drew the six numbers immediately before 17 would then wrestle in six matches in the qualification round. The winners of those matches would then go on to the elimination round.
In the elimination round, the ideal number of wrestlers then pair off and compete in matches until two victors emerge who will compete in the finals for first and second place. All of the wrestlers who lost to the two finals then have the chance to wrestle in a repechage round. The repechage round begins with the wrestlers who lost to the two finalists at the lowest level of competition in the elimination round. The matches are paired off by the wrestlers who lost to one finalist and the wrestlers who lost to the other. The two wrestlers who win after every level of competition are the victors of the repechage round.