Freestyle wrestling is a style of amateur wrestling that is practiced throughout the world. Along with Greco-Roman, it is one of the two styles of wrestling contested in the Olympic games. It is, along with track and field, one of the oldest sports in history. American high school and college wrestling is conducted under different rules and termed collegiate wrestling.
Freestyle wrestling, like its American counterpart, collegiate (also known as scholastic or folkstyle) wrestling, has its greatest origins in catch-as-catch-can wrestling and the prime victory condition in both styles involves the wrestler winning by pinning his opponent on the mat. Freestyle and collegiate wrestling, unlike Greco-Roman, also both allow the use of the wrestler's or his opponent's legs in offense and defense.
According to the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), freestyle wrestling is one of the four main forms of amateur competitive wrestling that are practiced internationally today. The other three forms of wrestling are Greco-Roman, grappling (also called submission wrestling), and sambo.
Freestyle wrestling, according to FILA, is said to have originated in Great Britain and the United States by the name of "catch-as-catch-can" wrestling. "Catch-as-catch-can" wrestling had a particular following in Great Britain and the variant developed in Lancashire had a particular effect on freestyle wrestling. "Catch-as-catch-can" wrestling gained great popularity in fairs and festivals during the 19th century. In catch-as-catch-can wrestling, both contestants started out standing and then a wrestler sought to hold his opponent's shoulder to the ground (known as a fall). If no fall was scored, both wrestlers continued grappling on the ground, and almost all holds and techniques were allowable. A Scottish variant of Lancashire wrestling also became popular, that began with both wrestlers standing chest to chest, grasping each other with locked arms around the body, and if no fall was made, with a match continuing on the ground. Also, there was the Irish collar-and-elbow style, where wrestlers started out on their feet with both wrestlers grasping each other by the collar with one hand and by the elbow with the other. If neither wrestler then achieved a fall, the contestants would continue both standing and on the ground until a fall was made. Irish immigrants later brought this style of wrestling to the United States, where it soon became widespread, especially because of the success of the wrestling champion of the Army of the Potomac, George William Flagg from Vermont. Catch-as-catch can was the style performed by at least a half dozen U.S. presidents, including George Washington, Zachary Taylor, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Because of the widespread interest in and esteem of professional Greco-Roman wrestling and its popularity in many international meets in nineteenth century Europe, freestyle wrestling (and wrestling as an amateur sport in general) had a tough time gaining ground on the continent. The 1896 Olympic Games had only one wrestling bout, a heavyweight Greco-Roman match. Freestyle wrestling first emerged as an Olympic sport in the Saint Louis Olympics of 1904. All 40 wrestlers who participated in the 1904 Olympics were American. The 1904 Olympics sanctioned the rules commonly used for catch-as-catch can, but imposed some restrictions on dangerous holds. Wrestling by seven weight classes: 47.6 kg (104.9 lb), 52.2 kg (115.1 lb), 56.7 kg (125.0 lb), 61.2 kg (134.9 lb), 65.3 kg (143.9 lb), 71.7 kg (156.7 lb), and greater than was an important innovation in the Summer Olympics.
Since 1921, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles (FILA), which has its headquarters near Lausanne, Switzerland, has set the "Rules of the Game", with regulations for scoring and procedures that govern tournaments such as the World Games and the competition at the Summer Olympics. These were later adopted by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) for its freestyle matches. Freestyle wrestling gained great popularity in the United States after the Civil War. By the 1880s, tournaments drew hundreds of wrestlers. The rise of cities, increased industrialization, and the closing of the frontier provided the affable environment for amateur wrestling, along with boxing, to increase in esteem and popularity. Amateur wrestling teams soon emerged, such as the wrestling team of the New York Athletic Club, which had its first tournament in 1878. Professional wrestling also developed (which was not like today's "sports-entertainment" seen today), and by the 1870s, professional championship matches offered allowances of up to $1,000.
Nineteenth century wrestling matches were particularly long, and especially Greco-Roman bouts (where holds below the waist and the use of the legs are not allowed) could last as many as eight to nine hours, and even then, it was only decided by a draw. In the 20th century, time limits were set for matches. For more than forty years into the twentieth century, freestyle and its American counterpart, collegiate wrestling, did not have a scoring system that decided matches in the absence of a fall. The introduction of a point system by Oklahoma State University wrestling coach Art Griffith that gained acceptance in 1941 influenced the international styles as well. By the 1960s international wrestling matches in Greco-Roman and freestyle were scored by a panel of three judges in secret, who made the final decision by raising colored paddles at the match's end. Dr. Albert de Ferrari from San Francisco who became vice president of FILA, lobbied for a visible scoring system and a rule for "controlled fall", which would recognize a fall only when the offensive wrestler had done something to cause it. These were soon adopted internationally in Greco-Roman and freestyle. By 1996, before a major overhaul of FILA rules, an international freestyle match consisted of two three-minute periods, with a one minute rest between periods. Today, wrestlers from Russia and Japan have had the strongest showings. Alexander Medved of Russia won 10 world championships and three Olympic gold medals, in the period of 1964-1972. Many collegiate wrestlers have moved on to freestyle competition, particularly internationally with great success.
Currently, international men's freestyle 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 . Cadets (young men ages 16-17; or age 15 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from . Juniors (young men ages 18 to 20; or age 17 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in eight weight classes ranging from . Seniors (men ages 20 and up) wrestle in seven weight classes ranging from . For men, there is also a special category for some freestyle 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 Greco-Roman wrestling.
Women currently compete in freestyle wrestling in one of four age categories on an international level: schoolgirls, cadets, juniors, and seniors. Schoolgirls (young women ages 14-15; or age 13 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from . Cadets (young women ages 16-17; or age 15 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in 10 weight classes ranging from . Juniors (young women ages 18 to 20; or age 17 with a medical certificate and parental authorization) wrestle in eight weight classes ranging from . Seniors (women ages 20 and up) wrestle in seven weight classes ranging from . 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 for the men and more than for the women). Different nations may have different weight classes and different age categories for their levels of freestyle competition.
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 finalists 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.
In the finals, the two victors of the elimination round compete for first and second place.
In all rounds of the tournament, the wrestlers compete in matches paired off in the order of the numbers they drew after the weigh-in.
After the finals match, the awards ceremony will take place. The first place and second place wrestlers will receive a gold and silver medal, respectively. (At the FILA World Championships, the first place wrestler will receive the World Championship Belt.) The two repechage round winners will each be awarded third place with a bronze medal. The two wrestlers who lost in the finals for the third place are awarded fifth place. From seventh place down, the wrestlers are ranked according to the classification points earned for their victories or losses. If there is a tie among wrestlers for classification points, the ranking is determined in this order from the highest to the lowest:
Wrestlers who remained tied after that will be awarded placements "ex aequo." Wrestlers classified from the fifth to the 10th place will receive a special diploma. The wrestling tournaments in the Olympic Games and the Senior and Junior World Championships are designed to take place over three days on three mats.
For competition in the Olympic Games, the World Championships, and the Continental Championships, the mat is installed on a platform no greater than in height. If the mat lays on a podium and the protection margin (covering and free space around the mat) does not reach two meters (6 ft 6 in), the sides of the podium are covered with 45º (degree) inclined panels. In all cases, the color of the protection area is different from the color of the mat.
In Greco-Roman and freestyle, the format is now three two-minute periods. Before each match, each wrestler's name is called, and the wrestler takes his place at the corner of the mat assigned to his color. The referee then calls both of them to his side at the center of the mat, shakes hands with them, inspects their apparel, and checks for any perspiration, oily or greasy substances, and any other infractions. The two wrestlers then greet each other, shake hands, and the referee blows his whistle to start the period.
A wrestler wins the match when he has won two out of three periods. For example, if one competitor were to win the first period 1-0 and the second period 1-0, the match would be over. However, if the other competitor were to win the second period, then a third and deciding period would result. Only a fall, injury default, or disqualification terminates the match; all other modes of victory result only in period termination. One side effect of this format is that it is possible for the losing wrestler to outscore the winner. For example, periods may be scored 3-2, 0-4, 1-0, leading to a total score of 4-6 but a win for the wrestler scoring fewer points.
In freestyle, if the score is tied at 0-0 at the end of a two-minute period, the two contestants then wrestle in an overtime period known as The Clinch, that lasts for a maximum of 30 seconds. The referee determines by a coin toss which wrestler will have the advantage in the clinch position. The wrestler who lost the coin toss then places one leg in the middle of the central circle and the other leg outside of the central circle. The wrestler who won the coin toss then signals to the referee which leg he will place in the middle of the central circle. After doing so, the wrestler who won then wraps both of his arms around the leg of his opponent that is in the central circle and then places his head on the outside of his opponent's thigh. The loser of the coin toss then places both of his hands on his opponent's shoulders. When the referee verifies that the clinch position is correct, the two contestants then wrestle. The first wrestler to score a point wins the period. If after 30 seconds, the wrestler who had the advantage in the clinch fails to score a point, his opponent would then receive a point and be declared the winner of the period.
When the period (or match) has concluded, the referee stands at the center of the mat facing the officials' table. Both wrestlers then come, shake hands, and stand on either side of the referee to await the decision. The referee then proclaims the winner by raising the winning wrestler's hand in the air usually. Each wrestler then shakes hands with the referee and returns to shake hands with his opponent's coach.
Classification points are also awarded in an international wrestling tournament, which give most points to the winner and in some cases, one point to the loser depending on the outcome of the match and how the victory was attained. For example, a victory by fall would give the winner five classification points and the loser no points, while a match won by technical superiority with the loser scoring technical points would award three points to the winner and one point to loser.
The full determinations for scoring are found on pages 34 to 40 of the FILA International Wrestling Rules
A match can be won in the following ways:
Freestyle is the only style used for international competition in women's wrestling. The rules for women's freestyle wrestling, with some modifications, are largely the same as that for the men. The period lengths are the same, with a 30-second break between two periods. Women wear a special singlet, so that they will not simply have to wear a male's singlet with a T-shirt underneath. Some small United States college wrestling clubs have women wrestle freestyle against Canadian universities mostly because of the limited number of wrestling programs in the United States. Most of the U.S. athletic organizations such as the NCAA do not sponsor women's wrestling, while the Canadian Interuniversity Sport association does. (The National Collegiate Wrestling Association is sponsoring a women's division beginning with the 2007-2008 season, based largely on collegiate wrestling rules.) Women's wrestling made its Olympic debut at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.