Amateur wrestling in the United States is a neglected and misunderstood sport whose followers are probably outnumbered by cat-show enthusiasts. Yet, with 16 gold medals to be won, it ranks second only to track and field in nonteam event Olympic competition. To compound the confusion, amateur wrestling has as much in common with the professional game as fencing has with the staircase carvings of Errol Flynn and the palace guard. There is, besides, a fundamental difference between intercollegiate wrestling and the international variety.
In intercollegiate wrestling, points are given for time consumed in demonstrating control of the opponent. Under international rules, however, this is regarded as stalling, and points are given to the adversary. The fall is the entire object of the Olympic sport. The shoulders are considered inviolate and must not come in contact with the mat. In college wrestling contact must be for two seconds to score as a fall, but in international wrestling, no matter how instantaneous the touch the match is over.
The powers in freestyle, or catch-as-catch-can, wrestling are Turkey, Sweden and Russia. At the Istanbul World Cup matches this spring Turkey won six first places, Russia one and Japan one. The mighty Swedes were unable to compete and the U.S. didn't send an entry. Perhaps the outstanding wrestler of the tournament was Shozo Sasahara (see page 81), a Japanese featherweight, who must be the favorite in the 136½-pound class. The finest heavyweight in the world today is Hamit Kaplan, a 220-pound young Turk whose last name means tiger. Kaplan, despite his comparatively light body weight, has defeated the formidable 41-year-old Russian, Arsen Mekokishvilli, and the Swedish giant, Bertil Antonsson. Big Bill Kerslake, the American heavyweight, who at 290 pounds looks like an upright bear, is a serene, intelligent fellow and very active for his size. Best U.S. competitor is Middleweight Dan Hodge, one of the finest collegians of all time.
In Greco-Roman, which is identical to freestyle except that the legs may be used only for support, Russia is the strongest power. Sweden is rated second and Turkey third. In the cup matches Russia won six classes, the other pair going to Turkey. The U.S. is sending its first Greco-Roman team to the Olympics this year and Tommy Evans (above) who, of the present team complement, was the highest U.S. finisher at the 1952 Games, winning second place in the lightweight division, is the top U.S. hope in this Old World combat sport.