By Richard Podhajsky
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa’s history with wrestling is well-known around the United States. Now it gets a chance to show off that prowess to the rest of the world.
Iowa City plays host to the 2018 United World Wrestling World Cup this weekend, welcoming in eight dual teams from around the globe. For Bill Zadick, the former All-American and NCAA champion at Iowa, this is his first trip back to Carver-Hawkeye Arena as USA Wrestling head coach and he’s ready to show off his former home.
“I’m very proud of my roots and history here and everything the University of Iowa has given me,” Zadick said. “And (former Iowa) coach (Dan) Gable and to be a part of that legacy. I’ve been back several times for the Olympic Trials and other events the last few years. It’s always exciting to be back in Iowa. The people love the sport of wrestling.”
Former Hawkeye wrestler Thomas Gilman isn’t quite as far removed from Iowa as Zadick, having just graduated in 2017 and still training in Iowa City. He says he’s ready to take advantage of the home mat advantage.
“It’s awesome having it here,” Gilman, a silver medalist at the 2017 World Championships in Paris, said. “Obviously, I don’t have to travel. I can sleep in my own bed, have my own facilities, have my own fans. They don’t have to travel because they’re right here.
“So, it’s an opportunity to perform for this town, this community, and my program. I can’t put that into words; it’s really a blessing.”
Even former Nebraska wrestler Jordan Burroughs, a four-time world champion and 2012 Olympic gold medalist, admits the atmosphere in Iowa City is a little different.
“I’m a big fan of the Iowa program and both of the Brands brothers and Dan Gable and everyone who has stepped in this room and created history,” Burroughs said. “The feeling of tradition and just the pure excitement of being in this room is evident.”
Burroughs says he’s been to Iowa several times despite the fact he hated the UI as a Cornhusker, noting he was “on the wrong side of a lot of butt-kickings” from former Hawkeye Brent Metcalf.
“It’s nice to walk into this room and be a champion already because guys here appreciate that,” Burroughs said.
But as several team members observed, it’s not just the competitors who have shown their appreciation for the wrestlers.
“We know Iowa has great wrestling fans and great wrestling tradition,” Zadick said. “And even as we’ve been out in the community, everywhere you go – I went into Best Buy to pick up something and people know you’re here. They know, ‘Hey, you guys are here for the World Cup. How’s it going? How’s the training?’ So, we know it’s culturally significant and important and that makes it great.”
The event has lost a little of its luster with Russia withdrawing due to visa issues and Iran, which has won the last six World Cup titles, also deciding not to attend.
But Gilman says he’s not worried about who isn’t in Iowa City.
“We just wrestle whoever’s put on the mat. I feel like I’ve been asked that question a lot in my career – well, what about this guy? He’s the best guy, yadda, yadda. Well, I mean, is he the best guy? Let’s dwell on the negative.
“But Russia didn’t medal at the World Championships at my weight and neither did Iran. So, are the best guys at 125 going to be there? Yeah, they will be.”
Gilman and Team USA start things off at 10 a.m. Saturday, taking on India before wrestling Japan on Saturday afternoon.