IOWA CITY, Iowa — Thomas Gilman suffered the most difficult wrestling defeat of his life last March in an overtime loss in the NCAA semifinals.
Wrestlers commit their whole lives for that moment, and Gilman’s loss was tougher than most. He was unbeaten, ranked No. 1 and the clear favorite at 125 pounds. Gilman finished his Iowa career with a record of 107-12 and was a three-time All-American. But he never won the national title.
Losses like that send some wrestlers into a funk. Others turn it into motivation. Then there’s Gilman, who quickly moved past the defeat and three months later claimed a spot on the United States national team.
“I think I’m too damn busy to worry about what I did in March,” Gilman said. “I dealt with it in March, and it’s all that needs to be done. I don’t dwell on it now. There’s no point on dwelling on it. I’ve got a world championship to go take.”
Iowa assistant coach Terry Brands, who works with Gilman, has dealt with those challenges himself as a wrestler. Brands called Gilman “pretty dynamic” in his approach, and not just in wrestling.
“I think he has goals and aspirations that he wants to attain, and regardless of what happens prior to that or during those earlier goals, if he has a setback, it’s not going to derail him from what he’s going to accomplish for the rest of his life,” Brands said. “That’s not just in wrestling. That’s in all realms or facets of his life.”
Gilman stayed focused on wrestling after his NCAA loss and won a last-chance qualifier in May to earn a spot in the United States World Team Trials in June. There, Gilman powered through Darian Cruz, Tyler Graff, Nico Megaludis and Nathan Tomasello to reach the finals against former Iowa teammate Tony Ramos. Gilman beat Ramos twice to clinch the American title and a berth in the world championships.
Gilman departs for Germany on Saturday and competes in the worlds starting Aug. 25 in Paris.
Much of Gilman’s recent training has locked in on his weaknesses. He believed he was susceptible to early attacks on his arms near his elbows, and he was arm-thrown during the Grand Prix of Spain earlier this summer. Brands also has coached Gilman on the different styles in international wrestling.
“That European flavor or Asian or Eastern European flavor is a little bit different,” Brands said. “They hang out, hang out, hang out and explode into things. That’s probably where his biggest challenge is, not getting caught into tricks and things of that nature.”
The mental aspect also is important for Gilman. He’s an emotional wrestler who often tried to intimidate college opponents before matches. Now he’s working on avoiding becoming too hyped before he competes.
“I’m an emotional person. I’m anxious,” Gilman said. “Addressing those things is being honest with yourself. If you’re saying, ‘Oh, I’m not anxious,’ you might make yourself more anxious. You feel that anxiety and you’re like, ‘Oh, I shouldn’t feel that.’ It’s natural. Nerves are natural. If they weren’t there you’d feel like something’s wrong.”
Before what he called “the biggest thing in my career so far,” Gilman said he’s confident in how he’ll compete.
“My conditioning, strength, and wrestling is the best it’s been in my entire life,” Gilman said.