When asked in Pittsburgh after wrapping up his collegiate career with his third NCAA title, how quickly he’d start transitioning from folk to freestyle wrestling and preparing to make the 2020 Olympic team, Penn State’s Bo Nickal was quick to respond.
“Well, tonight’s Saturday,” he said. “So I’ll probably take Sunday off and get back on it Monday.”
While he fell short of making the World Team this summer, Nickal’s continued hard work and dedication paid off Wednesday when he got his hand raised in Budapest as the 92 kilogram U23 World Champion.
With the win, Nickal became only the second U23 gold medalist in any style in U.S. history, according to USA Wrestling.
Nickal plowed his way through a loaded field, earning a 12-2 technical superiority win over last year’s U23 bronze medalist Hossein Shahbazigazvar, of Iran, a fall in 1:23 of Japan’s Takumi Tanizaki, and an ankle-pick-loaded 9-2 demolition of reigning U23 World Champ Shamil Zubairov, of Azerbaijan, to set up his gold medal match against Russia’s Batyrbek Tcakulov.
The reigning Hodge Trophy winner continued his dominance in the final, picking Tcakulov apart for the 12-2 technical superiority win.
His dominant performance drew praise from across social media, including from training partner and former World Champ David Taylor. TrackWrestling’s Kyle Klingman even compared his performance to that of his coach, Olympic gold medalist Cael Sanderson, with his use of ankle picks and low singles.
Sanderson, head coach of the Nittany Lions, along with assistant coach Casey Cunningham, were both in Budapest for the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club, along with Penn State redshirt sophomore Brady Berge.
After losing 5-0 in the opening round at 74 kg, Berge was pulled back into the tournament, where he lost by injury default in the first repechage round. Penn State wrestling later released a statement saying that Berge was taken to the hospital, but has since been released.
The U.S. finished the freestyle tournament in 10th place with 57 points. Russia earned 145 points to win the team race.