Spencer Lee wins at Olympic Trials, now one step away from Paris


Iowa wrestling legend Spencer Lee looked every bit the wrestler he once was, winning the 57-kilogram class at the U.S. Olympic Trials on Saturday. To qualify for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, he must now finish third or better during the World Olympic Games qualifying competition from May 9 to 12 in Istanbul, Turkey.

His knee injuries from his time as a Hawkeye seemed to be firmly in the rearview mirror as he rolled to victories with ease over Nico Megaludis in an 8-0 decision (former NCAA champion at Penn State) and Zane Richards (No. 1 seed, two-time NCAA All-American in Illinois) to reach the best-of-three finals.

In the finals he played former Iowa Hawkeye All-American Thomas Gilman. In the first match, with the score tied at one entering the second period, Lee nailed a two-point takedown and a two-point gut wrench to take a 5–1 lead. Gilman appeared to have a four-point-foot-to-back takedown, but it was ruled a two-point takedown. Gilman’s challenge was unsuccessful, earning Lee an extra point for a 6–3 victory.

In the second match, Lee and Gilman were tied late in the second. However, with less than 30 seconds left, Lee got a takedown and muscled his way to a pin to secure his spot for Team USA if he finishes third in the World Olympics qualifying match in May.

Should Lee qualify for the weight in Istanbul, he will be the first Olympian to wrestle Iowa since Gilman, who won a bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. But he will have to compete against the best the world has to offer in the Olympic qualifying competition in about a month’s time.

Regardless of what comes next, Lee looked to be the healthy Hawkeye we haven’t seen in a while since knee injuries hampered him in his final season at Iowa. In his match against Richards he had a total of thirteen points, nine of which came in the first period, showing the offensive pace he is capable of. Finishing with a pin over Gilman was just the icing on the cake of a stellar performance from the wrestling phenom, who is now just one step away from competing in Paris in August.

How Iowan did at the US Olympic Trials

On the men’s freestyle side, both Alex Marinelli and Tony Cassioppi fell short in their bid for an Olympic bid. Marinelli won his first match against Tyler Berger, a former three-time All-American at Nebraska, in a 4-0 decision. He then lost to Jason Nolf, a former national champion at Penn State, who went on to defeat American wrestling legend Jordan Burroughs in the finals of the challenge tournament.

Cassioppi, wrestling at 200 pounds, lost his first match to Oklahoma State’s Christian Carrol.

For the women from Iowa it was a tough tournament for the tough players. Kylie Welker, who was seen as the team’s best chance at an Olympian, fell in the challenge semifinals to North Central’s Yelena Makoyed in a 6-4 decision. Makoyed’s feet-to-back four-point win in the first period was the difference. Makoyed was soundly defeated by Welker in the NCWWC finals, but she got her revenge at the Trials.

Ultimately, Welker finished fourth by going 3-1 in State College, beating teammate Marlynne Deede (who did not place) in the first round and defeating Skylar Grote and Dymond Guilford in the consolations. She was followed by Felicity Taylor at 110 lbs., who took third place in a solid performance, losing her first match but picking up three wins over Hawkeye teammate Brianna Gonzalez, No. 1 Vayle Baker and Alisha Hawk. Reese Larramendy also placed fourth at 68 kg, but no other Hawkeye placed in the Olympic Trials.

Rose Cassioppi, sister of Tony Cassioppi, was initially placed with Welker and Deede for the 76 kilogram class, but did not participate in the Olympic Trials.

Brandon Marshall of the Big Game Wrestling Club in North Liberty placed fourth with 97 kilograms in Greco-Roman.

Eli McKown covers high school sports and wrestling for the Des Moines Register. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @EMcKown23.