USA vs. Russia in Big Apple

NEW YORK -- The road to the London Olympics for USA Wrestling runs through Times Square.

With the top-ranked Russians in the way.

Seven U.S. wrestlers, including four who already have qualified for this summer's games, will take on Russians on Thursday night in the second "Grapple in the Apple." Three Americans will have a wrestle-off for the final spot on the team that will compete in London.

"This is an opportunity for us to be in the forefront, and you can't find a better place than the crossroads of the world, Times Square," U.S. coach Zeke Jones said Wednesday. "It's critical that we seize our moment."

To do so, the Americans will bring world champion Jordan Burroughs, world bronze medalist Tervel Dlagnev, Sam Hazewinkel and Jared Frayer. All of them are on the Olympics team.

Seeking the last berth on the U.S. team, at 60 kilograms, are Reece Humphrey, Coleman Scott and Shawn Bunch. Humphrey takes on Scott, with the winner advancing to wrestle Bunch in a best-of-three series.

A women's exhibition match will feature Helen Maroulis, fifth at the 2011 worlds, against Ashley Hudson.

Last year's event was popular enough for USA Wrestling, Asics and Beat the Streets Wrestling to team up again. Organizers recalled how last year tourists were craning their necks from the upper level of double-decker tour buses to get a look at the wrestling.

"Right now, we are not focused on the Olympics," said Jones, who won silver at the 1992 Olympics. "We're focused on beating Russia in Times Square. This is the only time our wrestlers will wrestle on American soil."

Super heavyweight Dlagnev, who wrestles Eduard Bazrov at 120 kilograms, has one word to describe appearing on Broadway: "Cool."

"I have a passion for the sport, and any kind of exposure is great," Dlagnev said. "It's cool as an athlete to be a part of this ride. A lot of our teams didn't get this chance before."

The journey to London will include a side trip to Belarus for the U.S. team. All the wrestlers will march in the opening ceremony and then have three days to enjoy the Olympics before heading to Minsk for an intense final training camp. Wrestling is one of the last sports to get going at the games, waiting until the final weekend.

Jones likes the idea of further team bonding in Minsk, where the Americans will train with teams from Belarus and India. He likes the isolation it will present for his wrestlers.

But isolation is the last thing they want while in New York.

"This will be our 15 minutes of fame," Jones said. "And when we win gold medals, that will bring tons of exposure."