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USA Wrestling National Coach Kevin Jackson driven to lead U.S. team back to top of medal stand in freestyle wrestling

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Bill Zadick is not the kind of guy who will turn a cartwheel or execute a flip after a big win.

The normally low-key Zadick hadn't planned much of a celebration after completing his remarkable journey that culminated with him winning a gold medal at the World Championships on Sept. 28 in Guangzhou, China.

Zadick lightly bounced up and down on his feet near the center of the mat just moments after pulling out a gritty 1-2, 3-0, 1-0 win over Georgia's Otari Tushishvili in the World title bout at 66 kg/145.5 pounds

But after glancing over into his corner, Zadick quickly whirled to his left and sprinted straight toward an animated USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson before jumping into his arms on the elevated platform.

Zadick can't say enough about the influence of the energetic, driven, 41-year-old Jackson, who played a major role in helping resurrect the career of the former Iowa Hawkeye wrestler the past two years.

Just over two years after finishing seventh at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, Zadick was standing on the top step of the championship podium at the World Championships and listening to the Star Spangled Banner with a gold medal draped around his neck.

"We really feed off Kevin's positive energy and he's sincere when he says he believes we can win gold medals," Zadick said. "He wants seven gold medals for the U.S. and he wants us to be the dominant country in the World. He has a real charisma about him and it's contagious. He gets excited and gets you excited. You feel like he's right there in the trenches with him. You know he wants you to win as bad as he does, and that gives you even more motivation to win for him."

Under Jackson's guidance and leadership, the American squad finished third in the team race at the 2006 World Championships. The U.S. actually held the team lead and was in position to win the championship before failing to win medals at 96 kg/211.5 pounds and 120 kg/264.5 pounds on the final day of the competition.

A member of the 1993 and 1995 American teams that won the title at the World Championships, Jackson is determined to elevate the U.S. freestyle program back to that level.

Jackson silenced many of the cynics who were predicting a rough year for the U.S. freestyle team at this year's World Championships. With only one returning medal winner from the 2005 U.S. World Team and three newcomers on the squad, some of the doom and gloom naysayers wondered if the American team would even win a medal this year.

The U.S. returned home with four medals in freestyle. In addition to Bill Zadick, his younger brother Mike Zadick captured a silver medal at 60 kg/132 pounds while Sammie Henson won a bronze medal at 55 kg/121 pounds and Donny Pritzlaff also earned a bronze at 74 kg/163 pounds. The U.S. placed seventh in the team race at the 2005 World meet.

"We're excited for the guys who medaled and excited to be back on the medal stand as a team, but also realize we lost an opportunity to be World Champions as a team," Jackson said. "I was a little disappointed with the last two weights and I thought we had a chance to finish it off. We're by no means satisfied with third place. Our guys trained hard and competed hard. The areas of concentration we focused on really paid dividends for us. We're getting better and moving in the right direction. We want to continue on that path."

One of the best international wrestlers in American history, Jackson won a gold medal at 180.5 pounds in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. He also won World Championship gold medals in 1991 and 1995. He is one of only five Americans to claim three career World-level titles.

Jackson was named Freestyle Resident Coach for USA Wrestling in 1998 and two years later coached Brandon Slay to a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Less than a year later, Jackson was named National Freestyle Coach for USA Wrestling.

He led the American team to a second-place finish at the 2003 World Championships with Cael Sanderson and Kerry McCoy winning silver medals. In 2004, Jackson was in the corner when Sanderson won an Olympic gold medal in Athens, Greece.

One of Jackson's most noteworthy moves as a coach was convincing Zadick to move to Colorado Springs and become a resident-athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center two years ago.

Zadick had placed seventh at the 2001 World Championships, but had been unable to recapture that level over the next three years. Shortly after he struggled to a seventh-place finish at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials, Zadick talked with Jackson about relocating to the Rocky Mountain region. Zadick had been training in Iowa City, where he was a 1996 NCAA champion for the Iowa Hawkeyes.

"I obviously had trained out in Colorado and I knew the freestyle environment out there would be great for me on an every day basis," Zadick said. "I had talked to Kevin about coming out here and I felt real comfortable with him. Kevin's a very real, very approachable guy. He's not one of those guys who has a huge ego.

"He's the ultimate competitor. He commands instant respect as a World and Olympic champion. He's very intense and has a strong desire to win. He's a student of the sport who is constantly learning and watching the sport. He wants to do everything humanly possible in his power to help us win."

Zadick's improvement in 2006 was noticeable. And impressive. He finished second to Chris Bono at the U.S. Nationals in April, but came back strong a month and a half later when he won the U.S. World Team Trials.

Zadick said he was impressed with the game plan Jackson developed for the U.S. team to follow during its training camps in Colorado Springs and Fargo, N.D., prior to the World Championships. One of those areas helped Zadick score the winning move in the World Championship match. Zadick won the coin flip and won the leg clinch in the finals.

"Kevin had us prepared to win World titles," Zadick said. "He identified areas we needed to work on and focus on. He then expanded to each individual and what each guy needed specifically. Those areas - lead management, staying in good, solid position, counter offense and keeping guys off your legs - helped us win World titles and medals."

Jackson credits the addition of USA Wrestling Freestyle Resident Coach Terry Brands for providing the OTC wrestlers a boost. Brands worked closely with Zadick, whom he also coached at Iowa. Jackson and Brands both wrestled on the 1993 and 1995 U.S. teams that won World team titles. Brands was a World Champion both years while Jackson was fourth in 1993 and first in 1995.

"Terry and I work together really well and we have a great relationship," Jackson said. "I've been trying to get my hands on one of the Brands brothers for a while to be my resident coach and we're very fortunate to have Terry. He brings so much energy and intensity to the room. He's a great person to be around. He's a great coach, a great technician and a great tactician. His focus and passion for the sport is impressive. He sets very high standards and expects a lot out of the athletes. He's not asking his athletes to do any more than he did when he was an athlete."

Brands said he enjoys working with Jackson.

"Kevin has no ego," Brands said. "He's very personable and has a real good relationship with a lot of the athletes. He's a very good leader who surrounds himself with people he feels can get the job done. He delegates very well and lets people do their jobs. I think he trusts me and lets me run the resident program the way I want to run it."

Brands and Jackson share similar expectations for their wrestlers.

"Kevin had a very good plan for the athletes to follow in their training this year and I think he had a good plan last year when we finished seventh," Brands said. "We just had a different crew of guys that bought into what we were preaching this year. If you're an American and you make the World Team you should be gunning for a World Championship. That's the way he feels and our whole coaching staff feels. If our athletes don't get on board with that then they're lost."

Zadick said Jackson also has been instrumental in helping the American wrestlers adapt and adjust to the rules changes that FILA implemented last year.

"As the rules change and the sport evolves, guys like Kevin are doing the same things," Zadick said. "As soon as the clinch changed from the body lock to the leg clinch he was figuring out things to help us excel in that position. He has a real innovative mind and looks at things and analyzes them

"We worked very hard on the leg clinch and he continually told us it was a position we would definitely be in at some point at the World Championships. Kevin told us we needed to master that position offensively and defensively. We worked very hard on the leg clinch and it obviously helped me a ton."

Jackson said Zadick's run to the World title was a sign of adjustments the American freestyle wrestlers have made since FILA changed the rules.

"We've changed as a country and Bill has changed," Jackson said. "He got better at his leg-attack finishes. He can get in on the legs and score, and he definitely improved in that area. He improved in the clinch and it really paid off for him. We talked about how your match could come down to the clinch in the gold-medal finals, and it did and he got the job done. Bill was able to follow the tactical plan we had for him."

Jackson has adapted well to the changes. But that doesn't mean he likes the rules that are in place now.

"It's very challenging when they keep changing the rules," Jackson said. "It's challenging when we continually have to revise our technical and tactical plan because they keep changing the rules. They've taken away a lot of what the true sense of wrestling is - it's about the fight, it's about the conditioning and it's about the battle. A lot of that has been eliminated when you get a superior wrestler that only has to wrestle four minutes.

"We were fortunate at the World Championships to get a lot of wrestlers into the third period where we could capitalize with our endurance and our other skills. There are so many ways where the inferior wrestler can win now, with a pushout or by winning the coin flip for the leg clinch. There are a lot of tactics involved now and very little margin for error. We've adapted to the rules and we will adapt to whatever they want to put in front of us."

No matter what the rules are, Jackson's philosophy revolves around making sure his wrestlers are prepared for anything when they step on the mat against the best opponents in the World.

"American wrestlers have always been in great condition and wrestled with great heart," he said. "But we want to be the best technically and tactically, and that's what we're working toward. You really need to be skilled in a lot of different areas to win a World title. You can't win medals at that level if you're not."

Now less than two years out from the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China, Jackson said changes will be on the horizon in the upcoming season.

Mo Lawal, a 2005 U.S. World Team member who was upset by Andy Hrovat at the 2006 U.S. World Team Trials, is planning on bumping up one weight class from 84 kg/185 pounds to 96 kg/211.5 pounds. Lawal is a resident-athlete at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

"Mo made a personal decision to move up, based on health reasons more than anything," Jackson said. "We believed he was capable of being a World Champion at 84 kilos, but with him moving up to 96 kilos it makes us stronger at that weight and gives us more depth in the U.S."

Jackson said Stephen Abas, a Silver Medalist at the 2004 Olympics, also is planning to return to the mat at 55 kg/121 pounds after being sidelined by injuries.

"I'm excited about Stephen Abas coming back to train in Colorado Springs," Jackson said. "If he can get back to the form he was at in 2004 we have a legitimate contender for an Olympic gold medal. Sammie (Henson) is the man right now at that weight class and has made the last two World Teams and won a bronze medal this year. Sammie had a partial tear of his MCL going into the World Championships and didn't get off as many attacks as he normally takes. And we have (Junior World Silver Medalist) Henry Cejudo coming up through the ranks. Whoever makes the team at that weight, we expect them to dominate at the World level."

Jackson is focused on reaching the top level as a coach.

"I want to be the best - I'm driven to be the best in the World," Jackson said. "It's the same way as when I was an athlete. People want to put Russia on a pedestal and say they are the best team in the World, but we believed we were better than them when we were team champions in 1993 and 1995. I believe we are capable of beating the Russians right now and winning the team title.

"My goal since I've been in this position is to get a World Champion at each weight class in the same year. It's never been done, but I've never deviated from that. People say it's not realistic, but how can you accomplish great things if you don't believe in something like that? I believe in our guys and I believe they can win gold medals."
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