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USOEC reaches the next level after banner season in Greco-Roman wrestling



MARQUETTE, Mich. - From its humble beginning in 1999 with no National team members, the wrestling program at the United States Olympic Education Center earned 15 spots in the top eight and put one young man on the Senior World Team in 2006.

Coach Steve Fraser has often called the USOEC, located at Northern Michigan University in Marquette, Mich., his secret weapon. Well, the secret is out. This past year, the USOEC has had its greatest success.

Under the coaching of Ivan Ivanov and Jim Gruenwald, the USOEC produced four international medals from Harry Lester (Bronze Medal Senior World Championships), Spencer Mango (University World Champion and FILA Junior Bronze Medalist), and Chas Betts (University World Silver Medalist).

The athletes and coaches know that they were once considered just a developmental program; however, with the recent success that label no longer applies. As a developemental program, the USOEC has sent several athletes to the OTC in Colorado Springs and will continue to do so. But with the USOEC's first Senior World Medal, Coaches Ivanov and Gruenwald have set a new standard of performance and excellence expected from the athletes.

Chas Betts expressed his appreciation and what his medal did for him.

"Winning the medal was a good experience and confidence booster," Betts said. "It showed me I really can hang with guys in the World and not just the U.S."

There is no looking back at the USOEC, and there is no resting on past success. When asked what he likes specifically about training at the USOEC, Betts commented that "training at the USOEC helps us to peak for tournaments." Lester followed this comment by stating that, "compared to all other training environments this is the most intense and beneficial. Guys on all levels are pushing toward the same goals, which makes for a great training environment."

Observing the wrestling room at NMU demonstrates that you are only as good as your performance today. Whether a senior in the program scores on a freshman, or vice versa, the excitement is the same. There is no favoritism in the room. On the surface, the loyalty looks superficial with cheering going to the last score. Despite the influx of new prospects each year, the loyalty runs deeper. As one observes closely, they will see the more experienced wrestlers in the program helping the new young men with encouragement and technique.

After surprising the U.S. wrestling world with a great U.S. Nationals performance and then the subsequent disappointment at the World Team Trials, Mango came back to win the University World Championships.

Mango points to the USOEC as a "great practice room with a great combination of coaching in Ivanov and Gruenwald." Harry Lester has no doubts as to what has made his career soar in the past few years, mentioning that "Coach Gruenwald has brought me to the level I want to be and train at. He is rubbing off on me. I can feel his intensity and drive from when he wrestled, and it has helped to push my style more towards his intensity along with what I already do. With Coach Ivanov, he takes what I already do with my style and helps me to improve it. It is what he does with all the wrestles here."

As great as the past year has been, Ivanov and Gruenwald look to the future of the program and pushing the guys to follow an oft-repeated phrase in the room, "Get better or quit, those are your only options."

They care for each of the athletes and that care transfers to making each wrestler better or by showing them that they need to move to other areas of life.

The program will always be developemental for it looks for the best and brightest of this nation's young Greco wrestlers in hopes of turning them into World and Olympic Champions.

Coach Ivanov said he "is always looking for new young tigers" who are qualified, and if they do meet the criteria (top 8 performance at Junior Nationals in Fargo) that they should contact him at iivanov@nmu.edu for a chance to train at the USOEC.

The "developemental" now only scratches the surface of the potential and expectations of the USOEC. The secret is out with the success of 2006. The USOEC has been vaulted into one of the premier Greco-Roman training centers in the nation.
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