Wrestling: Zillmer wins his match at World Cup
Hayden Zillmer wasn't expecting a match April 7.
When he got his chance, however, he took full advantage by defeating India's Deepak Punia 7-0 to help Team USA defeat India 10-0 in the first round of the 2018 Freestyle World Cup at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa.
It was Zillmer's only match of the tournament. Team USA went on to finish 4-0. In the finals, Team USA defeated Azerbaijan 6-5. It was the first title for the U.S. since 2003 and the 14th since the event began in 1973.
After its 10-0 win over India, the U.S. topped Japan 7-3 and Georgia 8-2 to advance to the final.
"I won my match 7-0 and right away at the beginning of the match, I got a takedown," Zillmer said. "Then I turned him right away so I went up 4-0 30 seconds in. Then I got a push out. So if you push a guy out of bounds you get a point. Then, in the second period, I got another takedown.
"It was a good experience, especially to get in the lineup. Normally, they never wrestle backups."
Zillmer was selected to the team as the No. 2 wrestler at 92 kilograms, or 202.5 pounds, so he wasn't expecting a match. He was J'Den Cox's backup.
"I'm on the national team at 97 kilograms and so 92 kilograms is a new weight class this year," Zillmer said. "The returning Olympic and World bronze medalist the past two years (Cox), he was at 86 kilograms and he is moving up to that weight class so they put him at the No. 1 spot and I was No. 2. They take the top two guys at each weight class, but that's a new weight class this year so they took a national team guy from 97 and they just asked me if I could make it."
Prior to the event, Zillmer participated in a 10-day training camp. The world's No. 19-ranked 97-kilogram wrestler will next compete in the U.S. Open April 25-27 in Las Vegas.
"That's a qualification for the world team trials," Zillmer said. "You have to finish in the top eight at the U.S. Open to qualify for the challenge tournament. That challenge tournament is in Rochester. Then you have to win that to wrestle in what they're calling the Final X. The Final X is in three different cities. Depending on the weight class the three spots are in Lincoln, Neb., State College, Pa., and the last one is in Bethlehem, Pa."
Zillmer is the No. 2-ranked USA wrestler at 98 kilograms in Greco-Roman and the No. 3 freestyler at 97 kilograms. He wrestled for the club team Minnesota Storm. The former North Dakota State University Bison and Crosby-Ironton Ranger still has his sights set on the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"It's realistic," Zillmer said of his dreams to wrestle at the Olympics. "It's there for sure. It's just all about wrestling that day.
"I would say I'm finally settling into a weight that I can develop at and grow at and I think that's kind of a big deal. Through college and everything, my body was still developing and still growing. I'm a late bloomer. I would say I made a lot of improvements since college, but a lot of it might be maturity, too. That and finally settling into a weight class and not worrying about that kind of stuff."
Prior to the World Cup, Zillmer won gold at the Gerro Pelado International meet in Havana, Cuba. At 97 kilograms, Zillmer jumped to an early 6-0 lead over fellow U.S. teammate Ty Walz in the finals for the gold.
Zillmer's accomplishments last season were extensive. According to his bio on the Team USA wrestling page, he finished third in the Lubomir Ivanovic Gedza Memorial International in Greco-Roman. He was third in the US World Team Trials in freestyle and was the Last Chance World Team Trials Qualifier champion in freestyle.
He finished second in the U.S. World Team Trials in Greco-Roman and was second at the Dave Schultz Memorial International and the Herman Kare Tournament in the same discipline. He also placed second in the U.S. Open in Greco-Roman.
"I guess my schedule, it's kind of mainly training right now," Zillmer said. "I've wrestled quite a few matches. It's kind of a once-a-month thing. Before Iowa, I wrestled in Cuba and I won the gold in Cuba at 97 kilograms. We've gotten a few matches in and stuff, but it's not like college."