Two days ago, Tervel Dlagnev didn’t think he’d be wrestling at the U.S. Olympic Trials or perhaps ever again.
“I was about to quit,” Dlagnev said on NBCSN, adding later, “I had a really, really weird, scary pain go down my back and into my legs. I don’t want to go through that again. At that point, I wasn’t even thinking about performance. I was thinking about my future and playing with my boys.”
Dlagnev saw a chiropractor and persevered to join two fellow 2012 U.S. Olympians in becoming the first three members of the 2016 U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Iowa City on Saturday night.
All three wrestlers to clinch Rio berths — Dlagnev, Elena Pirozhkova and Ben Provisor — did so in sweeps of best-of-three finals at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
Dlagnev, bad back and all, bounced Zach Rey in the freestyle 125kg finals, repeating the result of the 2014 and 2015 World Championships Team Trials finals.
Dlagnev lost a bronze-medal match in London and in Rio will try to become the first U.S. super heavyweight to earn an Olympic medal since 1996.
Pirozhkova, who ousted Erin Clodgo in the women’s 63kg finals, goes back to the Games after losing her only match at London 2012. She earned World Championships gold in 2012, silver in 2010 and 2014 and bronze in 2013.
“Last time around, I was just so happy to make an Olympic team,” the Russian-born Pirozhkova said, adding, “Opening Ceremonies, you see the flame being lit, that kind of stuff really takes your breath away. For me, it took away from my wrestling. So now I’ve been through that. I want another chance to win a gold medal.”
Provisor dumped Jake Clark in the Greco-Roman 85kg finals, after not making any of the three World Championships teams since he went 1-1 at London 2012.
Since the last Olympics, Provisor said he had back surgery, a pinched nerve, removed a bone spur, a sports hernia surgery, a grade-three hamstring tear and a torn forearm tendon that required surgery.
“It’s been a long road,” said Provisor, whose wife, Leigh Jaynes-Provisor, earned a World bronze medalist last year.
Jaynes-Provisor had to compete one weight class higher than expected on Saturday because she didn’t make weight and lost her first match.
In other classes not yet qualified for Rio on Saturday night:
- Frank Molinaro beat Bellator MMA signee Aaron Pico, 19, in men’s freestyle 65kg.
- London Olympian Kelsey Campbell swept Alli Ragan in women’s 58kg.
- Tamyra Mensah swept Brittany Roberts in women’s 69kg.
- Jesse Thielke swept 2008 Uzbekistan Olympian Ildar Hafizov in Greco-Roman 59kg.
- RaVaughn Perkins, who served a doping ban and didn’t wrestle in 2015, beat Pat Smith in Greco-Roman 66kg.
- Joe Rau beat Caylor Williams in Greco-Roman 98kg.
Those winners can qualify for the Olympics at international tournaments later this spring.
The U.S. Olympic Wrestling Trials conclude Sunday with preliminary matches beginning at 10 a.m. ET and finals at 7 p.m. ET, both on NBC Sports Live Extra.
Both reigning U.S. Olympic champions — Jordan Burroughs and Jake Varner — and all four reigning U.S. World champions — Adeline Gray, Helen Maroulis, Kyle Snyder and Burroughs — wrestle Sunday.