Olympic Trials: Defense makes Metcalf a contender

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | APRIL 19, 2012 6:30 AM

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This was new to Brent Metcalf.

It was July 2010, and he had just faced a two-time World bronze medalist — Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan — twice in the span of a few days.

He had lost both matches.


Hasanov scored almost at will on Metcalf, beating him 6-0, 5-0 in the first match. Hasanov used a sharp pass-by to take Metcalf down and rolled him over twice in the first period of their second match. Metcalf faced a 7-0 deficit less than a minute into the period. He lost 7-1, 3-2.

Earlier that year, Metcalf had finished a college career in which he won two NCAA championships and finished 108-3 — the second-best winning percentage in Iowa history. He had wrestled for the Hawkeyes, who instill a philosophy in which all their wrestlers are constantly on the attack. It's almost impossible to spend time in the Iowa wrestling room without hearing about the importance of "getting to my offense."

But it isn't his offense that has propelled Metcalf up the international rankings. It isn't just his attacks which have made him a contender for his first Olympic team birth at the Olympic Trials this weekend in Iowa City.

Going on the defensive

USA Wrestling freestyle coach Zeke Jones saw the problem.

Metcalf had spent his college career racking up points, scoring takedowns on opponents seemingly whenever he pleased.

Just three months after the end of his college career, Metcalf had pulled off a run of upsets through the 2010 U.S. World Team trials to become the youngest member of the 2010 team. But Metcalf went to Moscow and was bounced from the World Championships in the first round.

Later that summer, he went to a tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan, and took third place — but was dismantled twice by Hasanov.

Jones knew Metcalf could score points. But he also knew the top international wrestlers — like Hasanov — could do the same. So he sat Metcalf down and showed him some statistics. The USA Wrestling team, Hasanov told Metcalf, is second in the world in scoring. But it's only 10th in defense.

"When we lose," Jones remembers saying, "it isn't for a lack of scoring."

So Metcalf set out to improve his defense. He worked on keeping his stance lower. He practiced using his arms to fight opponents off when they reached his legs. It was an adjustment that Jones said was "like going from college football to the NFL."

"I've never seen Brent Metcalf not be on the attack," Jones said. "Never in his life has he not been on the offense. But there are guys now who can do that to him."

'A monster improvement'

Metcalf faced Hasanov again last December.

The two met at an Olympic Test event in London. After allowing 11 and 10 total points in the previous two matches, Metcalf gave up just 1. Jones said Metcalf "took away every shot that guy [Hasanov] has" in a 3-0, 0-1, 4-0 decision.

"Defensively is where he's made a monster improvement," Jones said. "And he's fast-tracked it in the last year."

Metcalf said he had focused on shutting down Hasanov's offense in their rematch. He went on to take the gold medal in the event.

"The biggest thing I took away from London is that it's just another tournament," Metcalf said. "You expect bright lights and all that, and it was just another tournament. It was a good calming feeling."

He wrestled an exhibition in Carver-Hawkeye Arena against Canadian Olympian Haislan Garcia in January. Garcia had beaten Metcalf in the 2009 Pan-Am games. But Metcalf wrestled what Jones called a "smart" match. He didn't fire off constant attacks or dominate. He stayed patient, defended, and won.

The score was 1-0, 1-0.

'First legit shot'

Metcalf enters this weekend's trials as the No. 2 seed at 66 kilograms. He calls it his "first legit shot" to make the Olympic team. Metcalf did wrestle in the 2008 trials in Las Vegas and made it to the semifinals before losing to former Hawkeye Bill Zadick. But Metcalf said winning that tournament "never felt really like an option." Iowa assistant coach Terry Brands remembers it differently.

"It's interesting he said that," Brands said. "Because I was coaching Bill Zadick there, and [Metcalf] was probably the No. 1 guy I was concerned with. I had my radar on him. I'm looking back on it thinking maybe he left something out there."

If Metcalf apparently wasn't mentally ready to become an Olympian four years ago, he certainly is now.

Teyon Ware, who Metcalf had beaten in the first round of the 2010 World trials, has emerged as an adversary. Ware beat Metcalf at the 2011 World Trials and enters this weekend as the top seed.

But Metcalf has wrestled better than ever in the last year. He qualified the 66-kilogram weight class for the Americans when he placed second at Florida's Pan-Am Games last month. And now he intends to fill that spot himself.

"It would be one step toward fulfilling my dreams," Metcalf said. "And that's the gold medal."

Follow DI wrestling reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.

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