Olympic Freestyle Wrestling Rules Guide

The best of the best are coming to State College. Penn State is hosting the U.S. Olympic Trials from April 19 to 20 in the Bryce Jordan Center. Penn State wrestling alumni and current wrestlers alike are set to compete for the most coveted positions in the sport.

It’s important to know that folkstyle (collegiate) wrestling and Olympic freestyle wrestling have different sets of rules. Whether you’re watching the event live or online, it’s a good idea to be aware of the rules to ensure you understand what’s happening.

What To Know

Match Structure

Olympic wrestling matches have two periods of three minutes. There is a 30-second break in between the periods. Like folkstyle rules, all points earned in the two periods are cumulative, and the wrestler with the most points at the end of the match will be declared the winner — unless the match ends early by a pin, technical fall, disqualification, or injury.

If the two wrestlers finish the two periods and are tied in points, the winner will be declared by “criteria.” Criteria are determined using this order of priority:

  • 1. Highest value of holds: The wrestler who scored the most points on a single hold is declared the winner.
  • 2. Fewest number of cautions: If the two wrestlers have the same highest value holds, then the winner is declared based on the least amount of cautions.
  • 3. Last technical points scored: This is the final tiebreaker in freestyle. Whoever scores the last point in the match will be declared the winner if the two tiebreakers above are tied.


One point:

  • One point will be given to the wrestler whose opponent steps off the mat with one foot in a standing position without executing a hold.
  • A single-point penalty will be given to their opponent if the wrestler stops the bout by injury without bleeding or any visible injury.
  • If the initial decision is confirmed in a challenge, the wrestler who didn’t request the challenge will be given a point.
  • If a wrestler fails to score in a 30-second activity period and is designated as passive, their opponent will receive a point.
  • Reversal.
  • If a wrestler commits an illegal action or an act of brutality, their opponent will receive a point.
  • If a wrestler flees a hold and the mat, their opponent will receive a point (like stalling for collegiate).
  • If a wrestler commits an illegal hold during the execution of an engaged hold by their opponent, the attacking wrestler will get a point.
  • If the bottom wrestler refuses the correct “par terre” position after the first warning, the top wrestler will receive a point.
  • After a first warning, if a wrestler commits an offensive foul, their opponent will get a point.
  • If a wrestler succeeds in completing a hold even if his opponent is doing an irregular hold, they will receive a point.

Two points:

  • If a wrestler overcomes and takes control of his opponent by passing behind, the attacking wrestler gets two points.
  • If a wrestler completes a throw that puts his opponent into a prone position, lateral position, or position with three points of contact, the attacking wrestler receives two points. The defensive wrestler must lose control during the throw.
  • If a wrestler executes a hold that exposes his opponent’s back to the mat, the attacking wrestler will get two points.
  • If a wrestler rolls onto their shoulders, their opponent would receive two points.
  • If a wrestler blocks his opponent in the execution of a hold from the standing position in a position of danger, they would get two points.
  • If a wrestler flees the mat in a dangerous position, their opponent would get two points.
  • If a wrestler commits a foul in a dangerous position, their opponent would get two points.

Four points:

  • If a wrestler performs a hold in a standing position and brings their opponent into a dangerous position in a continuous manner, they would get four points.
  • If a wrestler executes a hold by raising their opponent from the ground and bringing them into a dangerous position over a short amplitude, the attacking wrestler will get four points.
  • If a wrestler executes a grand amplitude hold that does not place their opponent in an immediate danger position, the attacking wrestler will get four points.
  • Any throw where a wrestler is completely lifted off the ground and lands on two arms or on their chest, the attacking wrestler will get four points. The defensive wrestler must rotate in any direction over a short amplitude.

Five points:

  • Any grand amplitude throws from a standing position that puts a wrestler’s opponent in immediate danger position will result in five points for the attacking wrestler.
  • If a wrestler executes a hold in the “par terre” position and lifts their opponent completely off the ground in a high amplitude throw and puts the opponent in an immediate danger position, they will receive five points.

Note: A wrestler can win by technical fall (just like in collegiate wrestling). However, the points required for a technical fall is a 10-point lead rather than the collegiate 15-point lead.

Folkstyle Comparatives

Takedown: One, three, or five points. One point is for a standard takedown. Three points are awarded if the opponent is taken directly to his back. Five points is if a grand amplitude throw is involved.

Escape: This is the same as collegiate rules. An escape is still a single point.

Reversal: Again, the same concept as collegiate rules. A reversal in freestyle wrestling is a single point.

Exposure: Think of back points in collegiate wrestling. This can be worth one or more points.

Passivity: Think of this as stalling. There can be an unlimited amount of passivity calls by the officials and each is worth a point. One difference between collegiate and freestyle is that wrestlers can choose to put their opponents in “per terre” position after each passive call. This is an incentive for wrestlers to keep the action going.

Penalties: Each penalty is worth up to two points for the opposing wrestler. Penalties include illegal hold without consequence (one point), illegal hold with consequence (two points plus caution), fleeing the mat (one or two points plus caution), and fleeing the hold (one point plus caution).

Quick Definitions

“Par Terre” Position: When the bottom wrestler lies down at the center of the mat on his stomach with his hands and feet outstretched while touching the mat.

Danger Position: This is where the points are scored after takedowns. Since takedowns are worth between two and five points, where you put your opponent during the takedown will award points based on exposure. For example, if wrestler A takes down wrestler B and immediately has wrestler B’s back past 90 degrees to the mat, more points would be allotted to wrestler A compared to if wrestler A took wrestler B down straight to his stomach.

Exposure: Think of near-fall criteria in collegiate wrestling. If a wrestler’s back goes beyond 90 degrees on the mat, exposure points will be awarded to the offensive wrestler.

Grand Amplitude: A throw in which a wrestler brings his opponent off of the mat and controls him so that his feet go directly above his head. This takedown is worth five points and is the highest amount of points that can be awarded for a single takedown.

Questions To Consider

What is passivity in wrestling?

Both wrestlers are required to give constant effort during the match. If there’s a point in which one of the wrestlers looks to be giving any less than total effort, that wrestler is considered “passive.” If a referee believes a wrestler is being passive, there is a verbal warning. On the second infraction, the passive wrestler is put on a 30-second shot clock. If the passive wrestler doesn’t score at the end of that 30 seconds, then their opponent will receive a point and a caution will be given to the passive wrestler. Think of this as freestyle wrestling’s “stalling” that you see in collegiate competition.

What are cautions? How many are allowed per match?

Cautions are like strikes in baseball. You get three strikes before you’re out. Cautions are given by fleeing the mat, fleeing a hold, refusing to start, or an illegal hold. Cautions may result in points given to the opponent with the number of points being decided on the severity of the penalty. As mentioned before, if a wrestler gets three cautions in a match, the wrestler will be disqualified and the opponent will be declared the winner.

Note: A caution can be challenged by request.

How do challenges work in freestyle wrestling?

As with collegiate rules, coaches are permitted to challenge decisions made by referees. A coach has to challenge within five seconds of the call in question. There is only one challenge permitted per wrestler per match. If the wrestler wins the challenge, the score or decision will be adjusted and that wrestler will retain his challenge for further use in the match. If the wrestler loses the challenge, they will lose their challenge and their opponent will receive a point.

Note: If the wrestler disagrees with their coach’s decision to challenge, the wrestler is permitted to cancel the request and the match will resume.

How To Watch

Tune in to the 2024 U.S. Olympic Trials on USA Network and Peacock April 19 to 20. If you’d prefer to watch in person, tickets for sessions one through four are still available on Ticketmaster.

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About the Author

Cooper Cazares

Cooper is a junior majoring in digital and print journalism from Virginia Beach, Va. He can be found with a long face on most Sunday afternoons for he is unfortunately a lifelong Washington Commanders fan. When he isn't watching sports, Cooper is usually tearing up at "Rudy" or taking a well-deserved nap. To reach him, follow him on Instagram (@cooper_cax) or Twitter (@CooperCazares). You can also email him at [email protected].

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