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Shungnak wrestler Spencer Woods drops 3-1 decision in third round of best-of-3 finals at Olympic Trials

by | Apr 20, 2024 | Cover Story, Wrestling

The U.S. Olympic Trials ended Saturday night in heartbreaking fashion for Greco Roman wrestler Spencer Woods of Shungnak.

The 25-year-old Alaskan dropped a grueling best-of-3 finals battle with Payton Jacobson of Wisconsin in the 87kg division, losing 3-1 in the third and final match of the day in State College, Penn.

Jacobson’s victory earned him the right to represent Team USA at this summer’s Paris Olympics. After the hard-fought match that was broadcasted live on Peacock, Woods congratulated his counterpart with a smile, causing Jacobson to put his arm around Woods in a sign of true respect.

The two brawny 191-pounders battled on the mat in three separate six-minute matches over a nine-hour stretch.

Unlike freestyle, there are no attacks below the waist in Greco Roman. Wrestlers must do their work in the upper body, so the action is slower and more methodical. They crashed into each other like offensive linemen in a football game as they shoved, bumped and grabbed each other while jostling for positioning and leverage.

Woods, of Kotzebue High fame, is a three-time national championship and two-time member of the U.S. team at Worlds who started his career in freestyle at the University of Maryland.

Shungnak wrestler Spencer Woods. Photo by Tony Rotundo

He later moved to Greco Roman and transferred to Northern Michigan University. Today, he is a member of Army’s World Class Athlete Program.

Woods moved up a weight class this season to make a run at the Olympics after competing last season at 82kg. International wrestling has 10 weight classes but only six are used at the Olympics and it varies every four years, so wrestlers in a non-Olympic weight class must decide to move up or move down.

In the opener of the Woods/Jacobson trilogy, Jacobson won 8-2 on Saturday morning to push Woods against the wall as he needed to win the afternoon match to keep his Olympic hopes alive.

In the second matchup of the day, Jacobson went ahead 1-0 after the official called Woods for being passive. His defense prevented him falling into a deeper hole as he fended off two arm throws.

In the second period, Woods seized control by scoring five straight points. He tied the match after Jacobson received a passivity call and then executed a beautiful reverse lift for a 5-1 lead.

Jacobson forced Woods out of the circle to earn a step-out point and pulled within 5-2, but that was as close as he got.

In the best-of-3 finale, Woods fell behind a point 90 seconds into the match and was rolled by Jacobson as his deficit grew to 3-0.

Fifty seconds into the second period Woods got on the scoreboard to give himself a chance down the stretch. The comeback, however, didn’t happen for the 2023 Pan Am Games champion.

Exhausted, Woods had his hands on his knees with his head down as he narrowly missed his Olympic berth. He finished in third place three years ago.

Woods is the first Alaska man to wrestle at back-to-back Olympic Trials since Anchorage’s Philip Johnston in 2004 and 2008.

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