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Wrestling: Shungnak’s Spencer Woods clears Team USA’s path to the Paris Olympics by earning a quota spot in his weight class

by | Mar 7, 2024 | Cover Story, Wrestling

Shungnak wrestler Spencer Woods. Photo by Richard Immel/USA Wrestling

Shungnak wrestler Spencer Woods didn’t earn a trip to the Summer Olympics with his two Greco-Roman victories last week in Acapulco, Mexico.

But he made sure the United States gets to compete in the 87-kg weight class in Paris. And next month at the U.S. Olympic Trials, he’ll fight to be that representative.

Woods, a 25-year-old member of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program, secured an Olympic berth in his weight class for Team USA by going 2-0 at the Pan Am Olympic Games Qualifier. He was one of three Americans whose performances earned Olympic quotas for Team USA.

On Wednesday, he was named USA Wrestling’s Athlete of the Week.

“Feelin like Muhammad Ali in his prime,” Woods posted on social media after his success. “Thank you everyone who has supported me in this journey. … Jobs not done.”

Woods took care of business in Mexico by pinning his first-round opponent and then upsetting the bracket’s top wrestler, 2020 Olympian Danial Gregorich Hecavarria of Cuba.

Woods came from behind to beat Gregorich, a three-time Pan Am Games champion. He trailed 3-0 early but tallied two exposure points to make it 3-2 at the break.

Woods tied the match in the second period when Gregorich was called for passivity and took a 5-3 lead on a lift that resulted in a defensive leg foul by Gregorich. The Cubans challenged the call but lost the review, which resulted in an extra point for Woods.

According to fivepointmove.com, the victory by Woods “provided Team USA with their most electrifying victory of the year thus far.”

Woods, a three-time national champion and two-time World Championship team member, is vying for his first trip to the Summer Olympics. Only one American will compete in Paris at 87 kg, and for Woods to gain that spot he’ll have to win the weight class at the April 19-20 U.S. Olympic Trials at Penn State.

He moved up a weight class this season in order to make a run at the Olympics. He competed at 82 kg at the World Championships last year but there are fewer weight classes at the Olympics, necessitating his jump to 87 kg.

A graduate of Kotzebue High School, Woods was part of an American team that went into the Pan Am qualifying tournament with hopes of earning quotas in all six Olympic weight classes.

Efforts fell short in the first three weight classes — 60, 67 and 77 kg — but Woods turned things around for the Americans by claiming a quota with his win over Gregorich.

That triggered a three-match victory streak for Team USA, which went on to secure quotas at 97 and 130 kg with victories from Alan Vera and Cohlton Schultz, respectively.

Team USA gets one more chance to earn quotas in the lower weight classes at the May 9-12 World Qualifier Tournament in Turkey.

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