Spencer Lee after winning the 57 kg semifinals and qualifying for the Paris Olympics.
Kadir Caliskan, United World Wrestling

Spencer Lee after winning the 57 kg semifinals and qualifying for the Paris Olympics.


Lee earns bid to Paris Olympics, Retherford to enter wrestle-backs at World Olympic Games Qualifier

by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling

Watch: World Olympic Games Qualifier Interviews

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Exactly 21 days after winning the Olympic Trials, Spencer Lee is officially a member of the 2024 U.S. Olympic Team that will compete this August, in Paris, France.

The 25-year-old wrestling out of Hawkeye Wrestling Club in Iowa City, Iowa, was all business on Saturday at the 2024 World Olympic Games Qualifier. Lee pitched a near-perfect game comprised of four dynamic wins on the top side of the 57 kg men’s freestyle bracket to become a finalist and earn one of the three remaining Olympic quotas in his weight class.

Three of Lee’s four contested matches ended by technical fall. The official finish times of these three bouts? 22, 53 and 35 seconds. This includes a 10-0 thrashing of Kazakhstan’s Rakhat Kalzhan, a two-time Asian Championships medalist, in the Olympic qualification bout held in front of a raucous crowd at Istanbul’s Başakşehir Gençlik ve Spor Tesisleri.

Pegged as the first Olympic qualification match of the evening session, Lee wasted no time in getting the crowd fired up. He connected on an outside fireman’s carry, dumping Kalzhan to his side, all the while locking up a lethal trapped-arm gut wrench. Four turns later and the rest, as they say, is history. Lee is on to Paris.

Wrestling through the opposite side of the 57 kg bracket was past U17 and U23 World champion and Aman Aman of India. Due to the unique format of this Olympic qualifying event, there will be no gold medal matches wrestled. Fans will have to wait until Paris for a potential Lee-Aman matchup.

In hindsight, Lee’s only legitimate test of the day came in his round-of-16 scrap with No. 1 seed Wanhao Zou of China. Lee held off a late-match flurry to defeat Zou, 10-9. Zou was a U23 World bronze medalist in 2018 and has finished in the top ten at the last two Senior World Championships.

Also on Lee’s hit list for the day were Ben Tarik of Morocco, who lasted 23 seconds, and 2020 European champion Vladimir Egorov of Macedonia, who made it the longest of the tech fall trio at 53 seconds.

The inevitability of this Olympic-sized moment has been lingering for Lee since his high school days. Lee won age-group World gold medals for the U.S. in three-straight years (2014-16), once at the U17 level and twice in the U20 division. He took seven years away from the international circuit to focus on his collegiate career with Iowa, where he was a three-time NCAA champion and two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner.

Lee topped the 57 kg bracket at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials held in State College, Pa., with a championship series sweep of 2020 Olympic bronze medalist and past World champion Thomas Gilman.

Since returning to the Senior-level international circuit last November, Lee has posted an 18-0 record with 12 bonus-point wins. He has collected gold medals at the Bill Farrell Memorial International, U.S. Senior Nationals, Pan American Championships and U.S. Olympic Team Trials, in addition to his remarkable run in Istanbul. The only wrestlers able to keep Lee to a decision during this stretch have been Zou, Gilman, 2023 U.S. World Team member Zane Richards and 2016 NCAA champion Nico Megaludis.  

Zain Retherford, the other half of Team USA’s men’s freestyle duo, didn’t fare quite as well as Lee. That said, he does have hope to return from a tough loss to clinch an Olympic quota on Sunday.

Retherford finished with a 2-1 record on the championship side of the 65 kg bracket. He looked dominant in his two opening matches, starting with a punishing second period fall over Stefan Coman of Romania, followed by a decisive, 11-0, technical fall against Ibrahim Guzan of Yemen.

Tokyo Olympian and 2021 World bronze medalist Tulga Tumur Ochir of Mongolia got the better of Retherford in the round-of-16. Retherford held the lead on criteria late in the match, but Tumur Ochir unleashed a four-point takedown with 30 seconds remaining to steal the win, 7-2.

Tumur Ochir passed his quarterfinal and semifinal tests to earn one of the Olympic quotas at 65 kg, giving Retherford new life in the repechage. The American will have to win four matches tomorrow to finish in third place and book his trip to Paris.

Up first for Retherford is 2021 U20 World bronze medalist Alibeg Alibegov of Bahrain. The next two repechage opponents are solidified— Abdulmazhid Kudiev of Tajikistan and Sujeet Sujeet of India. If Retherford can take out all three, he will face the winner of the repechage from the other side of the bracket in a winner-take-all Olympic qualifying match.

The men’s freestyle repechage will begin at 3 p.m. local time on Sunday followed by the bronze medal matches at 4:45 p.m., and the true-bronze Olympic qualifying bouts at 6 p.m. Istanbul, Turkey, is located seven hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time.

The World Olympic Games Qualifier is available to watch live on Flowrestling.com. Brackets and real-time results will be available on UWW Arena.

For more information about the World Olympic Games Qualifier please visit the official event website at uww.org. USA Wrestling will provide complete coverage of the event on TheMat.com and its social media platforms. Join the conversation using #WrestleIstanbul.

2024 World Olympic Games Qualifier | May 9-12, Istanbul, Turkey

Men’s Freestyle Semifinal/Olympic Qualification Results

57 kg

Spencer Lee (United States) tech. fall Rakhat Kalzhan (Kazakhstan), 10-0

Aman Aman (India) tech. fall Chongsong Han (North Korea), 12-2

65 kg

Islam Dudaev (Albania) tech. fall Erik Arushanian (Ukraine), 12-2

Tulga Tumur Ochir (Mongolia) dec. Sujeet Sujeet (India), 6-1

74 kg

Viktor Rassadin (Tajikistan) dec. Chermen Valiev (Albania), 3-2

Taimuraz Salkazanov (Slovakia) dec. Soner Demirtas (Turkey), 4-2

86 kg

Dauren Kurugliev (Greece) dec. Vasyl Mykhailov (Ukraine), 3-0

Magomed Ramazanov (Bulgaria) dec. Vladimeri Gamkrelidze (Georgia), 5-3

97 kg

Erik Thiele (Germany) dec. Radu Lefter (Moldova), 3-0

Zbigniew Baranowski (Poland) dec. Awusayiman Habila (China), 2-2

125 kg

Aiaal Lazarev (Kyrgyzstan) tech. fall Daniel Ligeti (Hungary), 12-2

Zhiwei Deng (China) dec. Jose Diaz Robertti (Venezuela), 4-0

U.S. Men’s Freestyle Results

57 kg – Spencer Lee (Iowa City, Iowa/Hawkeye WC/Titan Mercury WC), Finalist / Qualified

WIN Ben Tarik (Morocco), tech. fall, 10-0

WIN Wanhao Zou (China), 10-9

WIN Vladimir Egorov (Macedonia), tech. fall, 12-2

WIN Rakhat Kalzhan (Kazakhstan), tech. fall, 10-0

65 kg – Zain Retherford (State College, Pa./Nittany Lion WC/Titan Mercury WC), Repechage

WIN Stefan Coman (Romania), fall, 4:38

WIN Ibrahim Guzan (Yemen), tech. fall, 11-0

LOSS Tulga Tumur Ochir (Mongolia), 7-2

VS Alibeg Alibegov (Bahrain)