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Q & A with 2006 World Greco-Roman Champion Joe Warren



Q & A WITH 2006 WORLD CHAMPION JOE WARREN

Joe Warren sat down with USA Wrestling's Craig Sesker of TheMat.com on the morning after becoming just the fifth American to win a World Championship in Greco-Roman wrestling. Warren went 5-0 and beat a World gold, silver and bronze medalist on Monday, Sept. 25 en route to winning a World gold medal at 60 kg/132 pounds.

You've only had a few hours to think about this, but has it completely sunk in that you woke up this morning as a World Champion?

Obviously, I understand that I won and I know how big this is, but I'm not sure it has sunk in completely yet. It's been a dream of mine since I was in third grade. To be able to actually accomplish it is just a wonderful feeling for me. All the hard times and all the adversity I went through, to have it pay off for me here is just amazing.

You obviously went through an up-and-down year, and a period there where you had your U.S. Nationals title in Vegas taken away, how difficult was that and how did you come back from that?

I never thought I lost that title. It was a rough time and I dealt with that adversity and it was over and I moved on right after that happened. I kept training hard and I never lost my focus. I kept going and won the Trials, won the Pan Ams and then came and won the Worlds. That's behind me and it's over with. I made a mistake and I moved on and perservered. All I'm focused on right now is winning Worlds again next year and then a gold medal in the Olympics. That's the big goal, winning the Olympics. This is a steppingstone toward doing that.

What did you do last night after winning the gold medal?

After I got back to the hotel, me, Lindsey (Durlacher) and Harry (Lester) put all our awards out on the bed and stepped back and took a look at all of them. It's been a lot of hard work for us and we all knew we could win and we believed in ourselves. It's obviously easier to say it than do it. It was real exciting to see the reward for what we've done and how hard we've worked. I was really tired. I didn't stay up real late and just the hit the sack so I could wake up this morning so I could watch my teammates win some more medals today. I think I'm going to save the celebrating until I get back into the States.

Your wife, Christy, was here to share the moment with you. What was that like, having her here?

My wife is wonderful - she believes in me more than anybody does. She didn't have any doubts in her mind I could do it. She knows how badly I wanted this and how hard I worked for it. I think she feels a relief more than anything that I was able to win this. When I first saw her after winning, she gave me a hug and she was crying. She hugged me and told me I deserved it and that she loved me.

I know you were focused on your matches and what you were doing, but seeing Lindsey and Harry wrestle well and win bronze medals, how much of a boost did that give you?

It was exciting and inspiring, seeing what those guys were doing. They wrestled great. I train with Lindsey every single day and I'm constantly telling him how I'm the best wrestler in the World and no one can beat me. I try to push that into his mind. I think us battling day in and day out and wanting it so bad, finally getting our chance to get it and taking advantage of it is a really sweet feeling. For all of us to get medals is a great feeling for us and the great coaching staff we have.

Standing on top of the podium and listening to the National Anthem being played as the American flag was raised, what was that experience like?

Oh man, ever since I first watched the Olympics on TV when I was a little kid and watched the flag go up .you never know how that's going to feel. You think you do until you're there. It was incredible to experience that and know you're on top of the World. The American flag is waving above everyone and the National Anthem is playing and you're the best wrestler in the World. It's something I always believed I could do. Now that I'm actually to that goal, it's an amazing feeling.

Have you talked to anybody back home in Michigan yet?

I talked to my father. I talked to my coach from Michigan, Joe McFarland, and my coach from high school, Rick Smith. I guess all of Grand Rapids knows I won and everyone's extremely happy. This is just a relief - they all know how hard I've worked for this.

As just the fifth American to win a World title in Greco, how does it feel to be in such select and elite company?

It's great to know you're in the history books with some great wrestlers. I am completely honored to be in the group with guys like Rulon Gardner, Dremiel Byers and Dennis Hall. They are guys I really look up to and respect.

You were injured during a training camp last month in Romania and had your foot in a walking boot just a few weeks ago. How did you overcome that and get ready for this event?

About a month ago, we were training in Romania and we were at the bottom of a ski hill. One of our workouts was to run to the top of it. I'm a very competitive person and once we started running - it took us about an hour to get to the top - and everyone was racing. There were about 10 different countries training there and about 50 guys there and I beat everybody to the top of the mountain. As I was coming back down the hill, I pulled some ligaments in the bottom of my right foot. I wrestled for three days after that, actually against the Romanian I beat in the semis here, and then all of a sudden I couldn't even walk. I was on a cane and a crutch for the next week and missed the tournament in Romania. I came back home and I was in a boot cast for about a week. I fought through it and came back to practice about a week and a half before I came here. I was still ready for this tournament. The experience from last year really helped me. I lost to the Iranian in the quarters here last year and I beat him here in the second round this year. That loss was an eye-opener for me and I learned from it and looked at every aspect of my wrestling and tried to improve in each area. I learned that you can't make any mistakes in a tournament like this. I didn't make any mistakes this year and I wrestled a perfect tournament. That was our goal, to wrestle a perfect match every match and not make mistakes. That's what I did and that's why I won.

The U.S. won only one medal in Greco-Roman at the 2005 World Championships and some observers wondered if the American team would struggle again this year. Did that motivate or inspire you guys?

You know, there are thousands of critics out there who don't have any idea how hard we wrestle or know how hard the guys on this team work. Those critics aren't out there on the mat. People criticize our coaches too and they've done a great job. This is the toughest stage in the World and there are tons of great wrestlers here. It's not easy to win against anybody. You can be a World Champion and still lose in the first round. We showed everybody we're doing the right things out in Colorado.

What kind of message does a strong showing here send with the Olympics just two years away?

That we're serious about winning medals and serious about winning gold medals. Our guys believe now that they can do it. The confidence level is very high on our team. It doesn't matter if there's one second left or 10 minutes left, I'm going to wrestle like it's the last match I ever have. It takes a piece of my heart away when I lose and it really hurts a lot, and a lot of other guys on our team feel the same way. Our whole team has trained to win World titles.

You appeared to be talking to yourself before each one of your matches Monday. What were you saying?

I talk to myself before matches all the time to get myself ready. I tell myself I'm the best in the World and that nobody can beat me. I just keep saying it over and over and by the time I get on that mat I'm a little bit cocky and confident and I don't think the guy standing in front of me can beat me. It's a little mind trick I use to get ready. My wife says even when I'm watching tapes I will talk to myself about what I need to do. I think it helps me stay focused.

Take me through the last sequence in your finals match when you needed to score a takedown to win in the closing seconds against David Bedinadze of Georgia

I was just all over the guy the whole match and he was stalling non-stop and wouldn't open up and I lost all the flips. I tried to stay real calm and when an opportunity came to open up that I would take advantage of it. I needed to score and I looked over to (Coach) Shawn Sheldon and he said, "Relax, you have time, you have time." I knew time was running out and I had to do something. I tried whatever I could. I jumped over his back, caught his hip and took him down. I still didn't know at that point that I had won. Once I saw everyone going crazy in the corner I knew I had won. It's the best feeling in the World, the very best feeling. I was like, "Oh my God, I did it!" I was so close to not pulling it out. To win like that, in the final seconds, was so sweet! It is a hard feeling to even explain.

What are you going to do with your gold medal?

I'm not really sure yet. I also got a really cool World Championship belt and a really cool vase. I may frame the medal and the belt and put it up on the wall. I haven't really thought about it yet. I'm sure my wife will want to put it on display somewhere.

Was the flip you did on the mat just after the win spontaneous or planned?

Me and Stephen Abas, we sometimes do flips in the wrestling room. (Coach) Shon Lewis was screaming from the corner, "Do a flip" after I won - so I did a gainer. I was pretty excited. Like I said, it still hasn't sunk in completely yet that I'm a World Champion. But it feels really good to do something I've dreamed about.
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