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|JUNIOR AND CADET WORLD BLOG: Pico's gold-medal performance highlight of final day of action|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
Sunday, August 25 - The final day. Just 30 minutes before the opening whistle of the second day of men’s freestyle at the Cadet Worlds, it’s hard not to reflect on this 15-day, two nation journey through Bulgaria and Serbia. The idea was to work both the Junior and Cadet Worlds, back-to-back, and assist the FILA team while also covering the U.S. athletes completely. With the IOC vote concerning the Olympic status just a few weeks away, we were hoping to keep a spotlight on the youth of wrestling, those hopefuls who we are all trying so hard to Save Olympic Wrestling for.
I have to admit that this has been a very physically taxing adventure. Over the last 13 days, I have covered 12 days of wrestling action, six at the Juniors in Sofia and six at the Cadets in Zrenjanin. There was a day in between which was used for travel between the two cities. This is more grueling than working a Senior Worlds and requires more endurance than covering our huge Junior and Cadet Nationals in Fargo. The only thing I could compare this to is an Olympic Games, which is a longer assignment of almost a month, but has fewer days of competition. Although this has been two weeks of effort, it seems like it has been a month since I have been in the USA.
The last full day in Serbia was memorable, because we got to hear the U.S. national anthem again with the crowning of a new World champion. Everybody was looking forward to seeing California phenom Aaron Pico in action at the Cadet Worlds and he did not disappoint. All of the hard work and effort that he has put into his wrestling paid off with a gold medal at 63 kg tonight.
Pico is an offensive machine, capable of doing some great chain wrestling, going from one position to the next in a flowing style. In most of his matches, the opponents could not stay with him. In a few of the others, his ability to score was just a bit better than his opponents. As a fan, I like watching Pico because he is always attacking, always scoring. But his biggest victory today may have been a credit to his defense.
In the second round, he faced a rugged Azerbaijan opponent, who took a 1-0 lead over Pico at half. In the second half, he hit a low single during a scramble and secured a two-point takedown. The Azerbaijan athlete came hard at Pico late in the match, but was unable to score. It is rare to see an Aaron Pico match end 2-1, but in this case, it may have been the key win to his title.
All of his matches were not easy. In the semifinals, he fell behind 0-4 to an Indian opponent, then poured it on in the second period with four takedowns for an 8-4 win. Also in the finals, he was able to score on his Japanese opponent, but he was also giving up some points. Pico won 8-6 because he could score on his feet just a little more often.
Congratulations to our newest World Champion. Aaron Pico has an amazingly bright future. This is the kind of kid who we are working so hard to save his chance to pursue an Olympic dream.
Bo Nickal was also talented today, falling just short of a medal with a fifth-place at 76 kg. I like the way Bo wrestles, coming at you with confidence and skill. I am sure that when he gets some more international experiences like this that he will be capable of even better efforts in the future.
Pick a highlight of this two week excursion? It is hard to do. But it probably has to be that gold medal match at 96 kg in freestyle at the Junior Worlds, when Kyle Snyder got tossed to his back, fought off, and then took it to his opponent to win the gold medal. True champions overcome challenges, and Snyder didn’t get rattled when he almost got pinned. That was some amazing composure for a kid who was only 17 years old, facing men as old as 20.
My morning flight out of Belgrade is at 6:50 a.m. and I don’t get home to Colorado Springs until night. The flight back never seems as long as the flight over because it is always nice to go home.
Saturday, August 24 - It was a tough day for the USA in men’s freestyle today at the Cadet World Championships. All of our guys dropped matches and only two were pulled back into repechage. Both of those guys lost their repechage bouts. For day one of freestyle, there were no Americans going for a medal.
We saw some strong wrestling by the Americans. Spencer Lee won two times at 50 kg with dominance, and smashed an Iranian with a great leg attack in round two. Sean Fausz also won a pair of matches at 58 kg, both technical falls, and had a chance to display some strong skills. Jon Jay Chavez opened with a big win at 69 kg, a first period technical fall.
One of the things that did in the Americans today was giving up three-point throws. Always a part of wrestling, the takedown to exposure is a great way to get a jump on your opponents in freestyle. But now, with the seven-point technical fall, as well as the technical fall for getting a pair of three-point throws, this ability suddenly takes on even more importance.
In freestyle, there are lots of ways to get three points from leg attacks, like finishing a double leg to immediate exposure, or taking a single leg and dumping the man with exposure. Then there are moves like the fireman’s carry, the headlock and the hip toss which can bring a three-point call from the officials.
However, during the matches today, I saw a number of three-pointers from some odd positions, some which could have been considered from a more defensive situation. In some of these throws, it looked a little more like judo than wrestling. There is no doubt that the athletes from some of these nations are practicing their three-pointers, understanding how important they have become with the new rules.
In my interview with Assistant National Coach Bill Zadick after the morning session, he talked a little bit about how some of our guys would either hold a position a bit too long, or hesitate when they were in a position to finish an attack. It was in those positions where some of the three-point moves that hurt the American cause were launched.
Winning in freestyle no longer means just having a good takedown attack, good defense on the feet, and par terre skill from the top and bottom. Takedowns remain important, especially with two-point takedowns that are awarded for the shots from the feet. However, the ability to get takedowns to exposure, or throws to exposure, is becoming more valuable than ever.
I didn’t just see this in the matches featuring the Americans. There were three-pointers flying all over the place. I remember one match where the Azerbaijan wrestler at 58 kg, a European champion, was just seconds away from a victory over a Turk in the semifinals, when the Turkish athlete tossed him for three with maybe two seconds on the clock. This throw not only cost the Azerbaijani a shot at gold, it also knocked Sean Fausz of the USA out of the repechage.
The nuances of the new rules of wrestling will sort themselves out in the next few months, especially at the Senior Worlds in Budapest in September. There are people who will argue that the increase in the importance of three point throws is making wrestling more exciting. I will hold my judgment on that until I see some more matches, especially at the Senior level. But you would have to be asleep to have missed all the threes being called today in the arena here in Zrenjanin.
They moved up the schedule for freestyle today, with a 10 a.m. start instead of a 2 p.m.start. This will also be the case tomorrow. Those back home watching the webcast, or following the USA Wrestling Twitter, should adjust their schedules. Today, the medal matches were held at 4:00 p.m., even though the printed schedule said it would be at 4:30 p.m. They have changed the time of the medal matches a few times already this week, so be prepared…
The USA has some hammers wrestling on Sunday, guys who lit up the arenas in the USA during the season like Aaron Pico, Bo Nickal and Lance Benick. Coach Zadick likes their chances tomorrow. It would be a blessing to close out this 15-day, two nation tour of age-group championships by hearing the U.S. national anthem again. It was great when Kyle Snyder won us a gold medal at the Juniors last week. Now, we could use another World champion from the USA (or how about a few?) to finish off the Cadet Worlds.
Friday, August 23 - A wonderful day today, not too hot, really very pleasant. As I was walking to the arena to go post the videos, I realized that I lacked an important skill, the art of European café sitting. You notice this every time you go to Europe, and most recently for me in Bulgaria and Serbia, that relaxing in a café is a big part of life here.
First off, in the summer, everybody is outside at all times. It seems the only time people go inside is to sleep and to get out of the rain. During the day, people sit under the umbrella sipping either coffee or tea. In the evening, they are sipping a beer, wine or soda. Food is optional, but not necessary. For too many Europeans, it also means having a smoke. People are always strolling from place to place, some great people-watching opportunities. It is a very social occasion, as most people are with others, chatting and, in some cases, watching soccer on television. There are others who are by themselves, enjoying the solitude. Here in Zrenjanin, there is an outdoor mall which is the center of life in this town. And it is very active, all day long and late into the evening.
I am not good at doing café. I just don’t have the patience to sit there, relax, sip and talk. To do that takes time, and there is always another task ahead, a story to finish, a video to post, a blog to pull together. Last night, I did take a little time for some pizza and conversation with our FILA press team here. I couldn’t stay the entire time, because there were a few things to post. But it was fun, and I will try to grab some more time when possible to practice the art of European café sitting before I head back to the States.
I promised to mention our FILA press people in today’s blog. The team is led by Bob Condron, the king of the business. During his three decades at the USOC, he was a mentor and friend for me, and we did six Olympic Games together. When Bob retired from the USOC and did not work the London Games, I thought I’d had my last chance to work with him. However, when he agreed to take the FILA public relations gig during the Olympic crisis, I got the pleasure of working with him one more time. He is the funniest man alive, and his memos are legendary. He has truly made an impact on wrestling, in just a short time.
Tim Foley is another American over here, the man with the most interesting passport around. During the Olympic crisis, working for FILA and CPOW, Tim has travelled the world to cover wrestling and help promote the universal nature of our sport. He is a skilled photographer, and is good at finding cool feature angles. Tim has some great stories, like his trip to Chad for the African Championships this year. Our other team member is Sonja Nikcevic, a Serbian who lived almost a decade in Chicago during her childhood. Her English is awesome, and she speaks a variety of languages. She works for a sports newspaper in Serbia, is completing grad school in journalism, and has a passion for her work. Her communication skills have been vital to our successes here.
Bob was talking about how the Americans have really made a difference for FILA during this crisis. In our area of public relations and communications, he is dead-on accurate. To the four of us in Serbia, add in Bill May, a Minnesotan who lived in Japan and now the Czech Republic and has jumped in for FILA. There’s the talented USA Wrestling Communications staff with Iowan Craig Sesker and Oklahoman Richard Immel doing a ton for the effort. Our interns have been a huge help, Bryan Baumgartner from Pennsylvania and Meagan Templeton-Lynch of Colorado. AWN’s Jason Bryant has been part of the FILA stringer staff and started a new international wrestling website. Add in our PR firms Ketchum and KOM, as well as FILA’s strategy firm Teneo, all from the States, and the CPOW public relations chair, Roger Frizzell of Oklahoma, and you can see how much the USA has done in this area. If the vote goes well on September 8, all of these people should take pride in helping get this job done.
So, back to the competition. Day two of the women’s event, and it started better for the USA than the first day, but perhaps did not finish better. A number of girls won matches, but when it got into the crunch-time rounds, only one survived the morning session. Regina Doi won three straight matches to earn a spot in the finals. Perhaps her biggest win came in the first round, when she beat the European Cadet champ from Russia by finishing a few shots for takedowns. She was the first American Cadet to reach the finals so far this year. The other four girls were eliminated with losses, with none of them getting a chance at the repechage rounds.
As you may know, Regina is the twin sister of Marina, who won the bronze yesterday. Both have been on the last three U.S. Cadet World Teams, but only Marina has won a medal before. This time, both Doi twins got a medal on the same year. Regina was beaten in the finals by a tough girl from Kazakhstan who blocked her shots. When asked about winning a medal the same year as her sister, Regina was excited about that. But she did mention that she competes with her sister about everything, and this time she won because she got the better medal. Something I guess only identical twins might understand.
For some reason, we finished about an hour earlier at the venue with all the work for FILA, so the crew went looking for a restaurant. Sonja said the restaurant which was only a few steps away from the arena was supposedly good. That is where we went. Sonja’s boyfriend came to town today, so she only stayed long enough to help us order dinner, then she left. And she missed one heck of a meal. We had a big appetizer, then ordered a tray of mixed meats that Bob, Tim and I could share. The meal was huge, and it was also unbelievably tasty. The dishes looked so good that we took pictures of it with our I-phones. And it tasted even better. We ate until we couldn’t eat any more, and listened to a band playing Serbian music, in which some of the locals were doing what seemed to be some fun local dances. It was a good time, and we vowed we would try to get there one more time before the event was finished.
Tomorrow is men’s freestyle. Team USA has done a good job, but we still seek our first gold medal at the Cadet level this year. Here’s hoping the men freestylers can get us one, or even more.
Thursday, August 22- A rainy day in Zrenjanin, and the start of the women’s freestyle competition. I woke up a bit ill, and grabbed an extra hour or two of sleep, hoping it would help a bit. That is the luxury of having a 2 p.m. start time. I can’t say the sleep made much of a difference, but I was able to get up and get going as necessary.
Because of the rain, I decided to grab a cab rather than hoof it through town to get to the arena. Tim Foley used a cab yesterday and said it cost like two bucks, so it seemed like the right option in the rain. I decided to come an hour earlier than yesterday, hoping to get in and try to catch up on the videos from the tournament. The place was empty and the internet was flying. Because I was an hour earlier than yesterday (almost three hours before the session starts), I had time to get all of the videos from yesterday and from the first day posted, about 18 of them. I am proud to report that our fans can go see the matches now.
I guess I have a new routine. I will skip trying to do video uploads at the hotel and in town anymore, come earlier each day, and get them up on the morning after. It only took three full days in town to find a solution.
Enough about the internet. Let’s talk some women’s wrestling. Today was an example of international wrestling at its best. There is nothing like a few bronze medals to help fix what began as a very tough day on the mats.
There is no beating around the bush. The USA came out and lost its first four matches. There were only five athletes competing today. Included in this was a loss by the returning World champion. Things were looking pretty bleak for old Team USA. Then the last woman standing, Cadence Lee, who was in her second Cadet Worlds, had a strong second period in her match and pinned her Hungarian opponent and the day changed for the U.S. team. It seemed to lift the spirits.
When you lose four of your five wrestlers, you need a little help, and we got a little help today. Cadence ended up losing her next match and did not earn a spot in the repechage. However, two U.S. women did get a second life, returning champion Marina Doi of California at 38 kg and Teshya Alo of Hawaii at 56 kg. The people who beat them reached the finals, and they were given a second chance. And both of these tough and talented athletes took advantage of the opportunity. Doi didn’t have a repechage match, advancing to the medal rounds. Alo won her repechage match, and suddenly the USA had two women going for bronze medals.
How about that Marina Doi? She drew a tough European champion from Russia in her bronze bout, a girl who was way taller than her with a strong skill set. When push came to shove, it was the American who found a way to get the key takedowns, and Doi won her bronze match. In three years, Marina Doi has won three Cadet medals, one of each flavor. She will forever have a gold, silver and bronze from the Cadet Worlds in her trophy case.
Then Teshya Alo came up for her chance at a medal. Her earlier loss was to a past Cadet World champion and silver medalist from Russia. Standing in her way for bronze was the reigning European champion, a powerful athlete from Norway. Teshya scored a key takedown with just seconds left in the first period to take a lead at the break. But with it all on the line, she had her best stuff, getting a takedown then turning her opponent for a pin late in the match.
Two chances, and the USA got two medals. Not bad for a day which by all accounts started miserably for the American women.
Then the best part of my day happened, as I was leaving the arena with the others from our FILA press team, Bob, Tim and Sonja. One of the people working the tournament, a young man named Marko, asked Sonja (our Serbian – American press staffer) who Gary was. Marko, who was with the organizing committee, had apparently been reading this blog, and noted my problems with the internet. Marko, with very good English, explained to me that in Serbia, the download speeds on the internet are strong, but there is a problem across the nation on upload speeds. However, Marko said he might be able to help me tomorrow with a password that could help me with my internet uploads. Besides his wonderful spirit of cooperation, it struck me that there was a guy working the event who actually went to TheMat.com to read this blog. Sometimes, you wonder if anybody reads it.
Thanks Marko! You reminded me that we really do live in a small and wonderful world, and that helping other people is the best way that we can make our world a better place.
Wednesday, August 21 - Overall, it was a good day for the USA in Greco-Roman, which was able to finish up the tournament with a pair of medalists and a positive feeling about the team effort this week.
But let’s start at the beginning. After fighting the alarm clock, I got breakfast and then started my quest to find better internet in Zrenjanin. My first stop was outside the hallway on the floor in our hotel. They had placed a wireless modem on the wall near the elevator, so I camped out underneath it and started a test video. It was a match from yesterday won by Norstrem over Greece, and it said it would take 60 minutes to load. That was the best load time I had seen yet in this city, so I let the video go up while I worked on the USA Wrestling Weekly television script for this week. Once that was done, I went out into the street to see if I could do even better.
My first stop was at a café down an alley, and the owner spoke English. He said they had good internet, and I checked it on my computer and it said excellent. I ordered a tea, and tried to load another match. This time, it wanted 350 minutes to upload just one. The owner said he wanted to practice his English, that he loved Americans and that he had a U.S. flag in his house. He had never been to America, but Liverpool, England. He started talking 70’s music with me, about buying Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run and the Eagles Hotel California records, and started quoting the songs. When I asked him if there was anywhere in town that had good internet, he said it was bad everywhere.
The next place was also down an alley, and sold pizza and café food. They claimed their internet was good, and the reading on my computer was again excellent. The video still have over 100 minutes to run, so I once again drank down my tea, did a little other work, and got out of there. I gave up and figured that internet was just not something that worked well in Zrenjanin.
It was time to go to the arena, and I packed up my stuff and got there about two hours early. And Hark! Not only could I get on the internet, but the upload time for videos was very quick. I put all of the videos from yesterday into the uploader, and hoped they would all go. Well, after people started showing up, it slowed down and actually stopped working for awhile. I got three more videos up, and then called it a day.
We got lucky that the day was cooler, so the arena was not quite as hot early in the day. The big news today for the Americans were the performances of Jon Jay Chavez and Cade Olivas. I was speaking to Coach Rob Hermann earlier in the day, who was talking about how U.S. wrestlers at this age are at a disadvantage because they compete mostly folkstyle, while the other kids are trained in Greco-Roman. He said it was like going to a gun fight with a knife. However, there is something to be said for the American fighting spirit, and both Chavez and Olivas were great examples that we can succeed in Greco at this age when our athletes are motivated and prepared.
Olivas is the smallest kid on the team, but according to Coach Hermann, has an amazingly big heart. He lost his first match to a tough competitor from Kyrgzstan then got a second chance when that kid made the finals. Olivas got behind in both of his matches, but battled back and won them at the end. In the bronze match against Kazakhstan, Olivas scored the winning pushout with just one second left in the match. The kid has a great motor, and hates to lose. Coach Joe Russell said he has that special something that the great wrestlers possess.
Chavez brings a more experienced and polished set of skills with him. He moved from California to Idaho, and began training with the great coaches at the Suples club, Ivan Ivanov in Greco-Roman and Ivan Delchev in freestyle, both Bulgarian stars before they came to the USA to coach. Chavez is one of those guys who go for the big throws, and in most cases, he gets them. When he doesn’t get the throw, he has no problem going back out there and trying it again. He must have gotten a three pointer in every one of his matches, except for his loss to the Turkish wrestler. In the finals, when he was trailing, he was willing to go for it, and it paid off with victory. Coach Russell loves this kid for being fearless, and trusting his ability enough to let it fly. The result was a World medal.
Team USA finished in a tie for 13th because of the good day today. With two medals and a competitive spirit, this team showed that in spite of our disadvantage of having folkstyle as the American style, we can still do very well in Greco-Roman at the Cadet level.
P.S. The internet is working in my room for the first time, so I can put up this story at my desk rather than in the lobby or sitting out in the hall. Hope this is a pattern rather than a one-time deal…
Tuesday, August 20 - The first day of Cadet Greco-Roman, and it seems it has been a long one. The reason for that is when things don’t go well during events, everything is a bit more tiring. It is 10:52 p.m. in Zrenjanin, I am sitting in the lobby and I am about to throw in the towel for the day.
As I mentioned, the tournament does not start each day until 2 p.m. That leaves a wide open morning for whatever people want to do. In my case, that was to try to catch up on some “non-event” work back at the office. When we planned this trip, the time of year is usually good for travel for event coverage. All of the stuff going on with the Keep Olympic Wrestling effort and the upcoming World Championships adds additional things to the plate.
Before I knew it, we were approaching noon, and I called Bob Condron to see what was up with the FILA press operations at the event. He was already over at the arena, and said there really was no setup for media. They had a press workroom, and seats in the crowd, but no press tribune with tables and electricity. I walked over to the arena (the hotel is a 10 minute pleasant walk away from the arena), and by the time I got there, Bob found a row at the absolute top of the arena in the VIP section which had electricity and tables. We claimed it for media and set up our computers before somebody else claimed it.
My first rule is not to complain too much, especially when overseas, but these kind of trips remind you what a good work setup is. The issues today were the internet and the weather. One might be easy to understand, the other just makes the work conditions close to unbearable.
As you may know, we film all of the U.S. matches at these events and put them up on YouTube. If you were following the Junior Worlds in Bulgaria last week, you could watch every match shortly after it happened. Here in Serbia, you won’t be able to see any of today’s matches. I shot them all, have them crunched and ready for posting, but the internet connection would not allow them to go up. Every time I started to put one up, it said it would take five hours for a single posting, and then would time out. The reason we can get a lot of videos up each day at most events is that we post them as the tournament goes. That was not possible this time. In fact, I couldn’t get up one. We used wireless in the arena, and it just kept stopping. I must have had to sign back on forty times, just to keep up with our twitter posts. But it was not only the wireless that was not working. The guys running the brackets for FILA said their hardwire internet kept going out for them.
It has been in the 90s the last few days here, but on our press row it was perhaps 110 degrees or higher . Science tells us that hot air rises, and this was a non-air conditioned arena. The heat makes it uncomfortable to work, and makes you very tired. The weird part is that the “media work room” on the ground floor was cold, but was not a place where you can work. The only event I remember being this hot working was the 1993 World Championships in Toronto, Canada, in a hockey arena with no air conditioning during a record heat wave. We have five more days here, so the wish is for some cooler weather.
In regards to the wrestling, the U.S. Greco-Roman kids fought real hard today. Three guys won their first matches, Kyle Norstrem, Roy Nash and Taylor Lamont. After dropping bouts, the only one who earned a repechage match was Lamont, who had his opponent from Romania pinned but it was not called and he lost by a point. The Greco skill set of U.S. wrestlers is a bit behind some of the better nations, but these kids are in great shape, have strong competitive instincts and believe in themselves. I would not be surprised if we saw some Americans get a chance at some medals tomorrow.
My backup plan was to try to upload the videos from the hotel tonight. I parked in the lobby and tried to post the first U.S. match victory on YouTube. It said it would take 389 minutes to post. Guess they are not going to happen tonight. My next plan is to walk around town tomorrow and see if I can find a café with a powerful internet connection. That may be where I end up working in the next few days. I will report on my progress tomorrow.
By the way, I really like the spirit of Zrenjanin. People are out on the streets socializing at all hours, and it is a very comfortable place to spend time. And we had a chance to see most of the town at the arena tonight, because two Serbians made the medal rounds. They filled most of the stands in support of their countrymen, including an incredible number of young people. When I see how wrestling is part of the culture in places like Serbia, it makes me even more determined to make sure that wrestling remains an Olympic sport. The IOC needs sports like ours, which is part of life and culture in so many places on earth.
Monday, August 19 - Today was the “off day” between the Junior and Cadet Worlds, when it was time to travel from Sofia, Bulgaria to Zrenjanin, Serbia. The two nations are next to each other, with the cities about a six hour drive apart, but we flew from Sofia to Belgrade, then had the local organizers drive us up to the small city of Zrenjanin.
Last night, my friend from Bulgaria, George Kalchev, who runs the George Camps and tours in Bulgaria and has been active in wrestling for many years, gave me a nice treat. He gave me a personal tour of the old part of Sofia, pointing out where the presidential palace was, the parliament and all the major landmarks. We got out of the car, and George took a picture of me in front of the cathedral, which was an amazing building all lit up at night. We visited for a time with his family, including his wife and two kids, at a café in downtown. It was a nice way to unwind after we finished off the Junior Worlds.
This morning, I got up, got packed, and got a shuttle to the airport with Sean Bormet and Thomas Gilman. Bormet was not actually flying home. He was meeting a friend from Bulgaria, who picked him up there and brought him to a small town in Bulgaria for a few days. Gilman was heading back to Iowa City, and was on my flight to Vienna. Also on the flight was Bill Zadick, who will be coaching the Cadet freestylers and will be doing both events. In addition, Bob Condron from FILA was on the same itinerary as me, also working both events.
Our connection in Vienna, Austria was a nice airport. It had great work stations where you could plug in and use the free wi-fi. There were also these big couches where people could lie down and take a nap right at the gate. I wish American airports would have those things. It was a short flight from Austria to Serbia.
We were met at the airport, where we also caught up with Tim Foley, who was arriving back from the United States. Also joining us was a young Serbian journalis named Sonja, who Bob had hired to help with the media efforts at the Cadet Worlds. Her English skills were outstanding, and being able to speak Serbian will be a great help to us. We got nine people and all of the luggage into a small van, and drove for more than an hour through the countryside. We passed a bunch of corn fields and sunflower fields, and passed over a few rivers, where many locals were fishing.
The first stop was at the arena, where we were supposed to pick up our credentials. That process took a long time, and had a few glitches, but we got it done. We ran into FILA president Nenad Lalovic at the arena, and he was very friendly and welcoming. He will be here for a day or two, but is scheduled to go to New York for a big sports activity at the United Nations later this week.
Then we went to the hotel, where Bill and I had to go through a long negotiation process to get our room key. Because of the delays, I was not able to go to the weigh-in. I did have a planning meeting at an outdoor café with Bob Condron, Tim Foley and Sonja about our game plan for coverage at the Cadet Worlds.
Dinner is hosted at the arena each night, so Bill and I walked over to the arena, along with Bo Nickal’s parents, who are very nice people. The small town has this great public area, with stores and restaurants and other shopping areas, packed with local people all the time. The Nickals pointed out a few places they had visited. They pointed out the way to the arena for us. We found this to be a very pleasant and relaxed place, a very nice place to visit.
When we got to the arena, the U.S. coaches and team leaders had already left. Bill and I and Craig Lamont had to negotiate our way into dinner, because we had not yet gotten our meal tickets from Team Leader Greg Chappel. When we finally got in there, the line was huge and they ran out of some of the food. We ate mostly desserts and some fruit and headed back to the hotel.
I was able to catch up with the Greco coaches, who had taken pictures of the draw on their cell phones, but wanted me to check the pairings for them. We were able to establish all five pairings, although FILA has not yet posted them online. I interviewed Coach Rob Hermann about the first set of kids wrestling, posted the pairing article, and am finishing up this blog. The internet in our room does not work well, so like in Sofia, I am in the hotel lobby doing my work since the internet is stronger down here. I am seeing many of the Americans coming and going, including the women’s team athletes and coaches and a number of parents of our kids.
They have a different schedule here than at the Juniors. The sessions will begin at 2 p.m., rather than early each day. It will allow me to do some other USA Wrestling work in the mornings, then focus on the Cadet event in the afternoon and evening. It was a busy day, but we are back in the saddle again, with a full day of wrestling ahead of us tomorrow.
Sunday, August 18 - At these events, life is about routines. I find a routine early in the week and try to follow it as possible. Today is the final day of competition at the Junior Worlds, and following the routine has helped me get this far and keep myself sane. A few of us have been warriors, going through the entire tournament with all three styles. Team Leader Jason Christiansen wins as the warrior king, having left Iowa on August 9 and still going strong on the 18th.
My morning routine includes breakfast, which has been the same every day. Scrambled eggs, potatoes, chicken sausages, a few slices of ham and cheese, two hot teas and two orange juices. I sit with the athletes and coaches who will compete that day and enjoy some small talk. We always catch the first bus from the hotel to the arena, which is scheduled to go at about 7:30 a.m. but is never consistent about when it leaves. The drive to the arena is the same each day. I even recognize the graffiti and the street signs by this time of the week.
Sitting in a dark arena, setting up my computer and video equipment, I notice three Iranian wrestlers alone on the center raised mats, doing a stretching warmup. The three athletes are doing exactly the same exercises at the same time. Some of these stretches are very different that what I have seen before, some interesting bends and twists. These guys are either following a stretching ritual which they have been taught in training, or they are playing follow the leader with their warmup. In any case, just like me, they also are following a routine, one they hope leads to success today.
One of the challenges of this job is equipment. No matter how skilled you are at your job, you are at the mercy of computers and cameras and internet and other technical things. Yesterday, when I was the most busy, my computer crashed with the blue screen of death about five times. I had to reboot and pray that it was still working. This morning as I plugged in, the computer went off on a “disc check,” shutting everything down and scanning all of the files. After about 10 minutes, it did an auto restart, and everything seems to be working again. Fingers crossed. I know I am hard on these machines with the multitasking going on, with about 10 screens up with different programs all going at once. I can’t imagine what I would do if this computer died on me today and I could not reach out to the world with the updates that everybody expects. Life does go on I am told.
I just got my start sheet for the day, circling the U.S. bouts on the charts. Tsirtsis is match 4 on Mat A. Gilman is match 7 on Mat B. Brooks is match 9 on Mat A. Marsden has a bye, and will be match 22 on Mat B. The video camera has been placed on the monopod, and the second video camera is out of the bag and ready. I have two pens out next to the notepad. Routine is now complete, and we now wait for the first whistle and watch for the first American athlete.
The morning session reminded me once again about the amazing highs and lows in wrestling, especially on the Olympic level. Yesterday was such a high. Seeing a 17-year-old from Maryland win a gold medal, and one of his teammates from Oklahoma State (and Wisconsin of course) take a silver was very exciting and inspiring. The USA was in second place after day one and in a strong position to bring home a trophy as a team.
Then comes today. Team USA starts on a tear, winning five in a row, mostly first-period tech falls. We suddenly lose a first match, I believe it was Marsden against a Russian heavyweight. Then it was like dominos, each of the other three U.S. guys dropping matches. The worst was at 55 kg when Thomas Gilman tied up the Bulgarian 4-4 with a takedown late in the match, only to see the refs change it from a two-point takedown to a one-point takedown. Gilman loses 4-3 and suddenly no more Americans can be champions.
But there is always repechage. The guys all lost to tough wrestlers from respected countries. Sure some of them were going to get pulled back in and take a run for a bronze. Right? Well, like slow torture, we watched all of our opponents get beaten, three of them in the semifinals. The Iranian who beat Tsirtsis gets caught and pinned. The Bulgarian who beat Gilman lost 9-8 to a Russian who had totally gassed and stalled out the last few seconds. The Belarussian who beat Brooks doesn’t have much against a Russian. The Russian who beat Marsden looks totally out of it and without energy in a semifinals loss to a Georgian. All four Americans were knocked out, without a chance to wrestle back.
The high from Saturday became the big low on Sunday. In just a few short minutes, Team USA suddenly can get no more medals, and the prospect of winning a team trophy goes way, way down. Coach Bill Zadick gives the post-event interview after the morning session, looking and sounding a little shellshocked, but doing his best to remain upbeat. He reminds us that we still have yesterday’s medals to celebrate. But when the second session starts, all of the American wrestlers are in street clothes in the stands, watching other athletes pursue their medal opportunities.
Over on the other side of the gym, an American from Allen, Texas is on a high. Ophir Bernstein, who is entering his junior year at Brown, is competing for Israel at 84 kg and has qualified for the gold medal match.
Jason Christiansen points him out for me during the first round, and I remember him very well. He was an NCAA qualifier and competed well at the EIWA Championships the last two years that I have covered it. Bernstein was born in Israel, came here as a young child and has dual citizenship. I filmed one of his matches so the college fans back home could check him out. Well, Bernstein wins that match, adds another win, and makes it to the semifinals, where he draws an Iranian. If you have been around wrestling long enough, you have seen Iran refuse to wrestle Israel for political reasons every time. (I wonder if they know they actually forfeited to a Texan this time?) Bernstein stands out on the mat by himself as the announcer keeps calling for Iran to show up on the mat. Everybody knows that they won’t show up. After awhile, the ref raises Bernstein’s arm, and the Texan from the Brown Bears is a Junior World finalist. Even his high of making the finals got wrecked by the politics of the situation.
I am catching up on work during the repechage and medal matches. I will shoot the finals so I can post them later on for fans who may want them. I’ll be able to finish my stories, send out my emails and get out of the gym at a reasonable hour tonight. But trust me, watching wrestling without seeing the USA on any singlets is a big downer. After one more night in Sofia, it is off to Serbia, and a chance for more ups and downs at the Cadet World Championships.
Saturday, August 17 - You can always tell when freestyle is in town. Because our U.S. team often includes some athletes from the major college programs, there are always a few college coaches in the mix when they compete. I was running around working the women’s event in the warmup area, when somebody grabs me. It was Terry Brands. Iowa has two kids on the freestyle team, Thomas Gilman and Sam Brooks (both who wrestle Sunday). Terry is here to help his athletes, and support the USA team. This morning, I saw Mike Grey of the Cornell staff on the arena floor. His younger brother Mark is wrestling today, and will start his college career with Cornell when he returns from here. Mark Grey was fifth at the Junior Worlds two years ago while still in high school, and followed his brother to compete for the Big Red. Of course, with Mike it is more than just as a college coach, but also as a family member. Their older brother John Grey, Jr. is here too, as I bumped into him on the elevator the other night. John is a coach with Blair, and is a top developmental coach working with Team New Jersey. The Greys are very supportive of Mark, who is a good kid and one heck-of-a freestyle wrestler.
The freestyle staff is led by Assistant National Freestyle Coach Bill Zadick, who is on the same European journey as I am. On Monday, Bill and I will head for Serbia for another week of action at the Cadet Worlds. I always enjoy doing these events will Bill around, who is one of the good people in our sport. Bill has one of the best freestyle coaches in the nation working with the team, Sean Bormet of the Cliff Keen WC (and on the staff at Michigan). Sean has done amazing things with age-group wrestlers, first with Overtime in Illinois, and now with the Senior freestylers training up in Ann Arbor. Our Junior freestyle team is in great hands this week.
Rode over to the arena with Alex Dieringer in my row on the bus. I asked him a few questions about being at Oklahoma State, where he is already on his way to a strong college career. We talked a bit about his head coach John Smith, the greatest freestyle wrestler in USA history. I was impressed with Dieringer’s knowledge of wrestling history, especially about his coach. Young athletes who have a sense of the sport’s history have a big advantage over those just locked in the present. With the internet, and all of the video and wrestling information readily available to the world, it is much easier to know about wrestling’s history. The world’s oldest sport is always changing, but there are some amazing things that young athletes can learn by studying the stars of the past.
Tonight’s blog will focus on wrestling mostly. That is what you write about when your team does a great job. And let me tell you a fact. When the U.S. team performs well at a major event like the Junior World Championships, the communications staff has some very long nights. And you know, that is OK, because their success give you extra energy and motivation. You want to do a good job for the team.
By now, you probably heard that Kyle Snyder won a gold medal at the Junior Worlds in freestyle, that Alex Dieringer won a silver and that Mark Grey placed fifth. That was a tremendous day for the United States, which sits squarely in second place in the standings behind Russia after the first of the two days. This did not happen by accident. This talented team came in here very well prepared and wrestled very sharp. The morning session ended with the USA holding an 8-1 record. When the day was over, the team record was 11-4 against the best wrestlers in the world. Quite impressive.
So, it was a busy time for me today. Our Team Leader had some assignments with the last group of guys weighing in, so I had to do most of the video by myself today. And of course we had 15 matches. There was only one time which I was holding two video cameras at once. And during the medal ceremonies, I was shooting both the video camera and the still camera at the same time. Luckily I got good enough stuff to use for the website and for the TV show later this week (I hope).
I had to grab interviews with our athletes and coaches after their medal ceremonies, although the young women who were drug testing volunteers tried to tell our guys they had to immediately go to drug testing. I had to politely tell them that was not true, and they they could have time for an interview first. Alex Dieringer stayed a little longer so I could shoot Kyle Snyder’s award stand shots. Once I finished with Alex, I had to grab Kyle from his drug testing escort so I could get that interview on time. Then I had Bill Zadick and Mark Grey to interview. Of course when that is done, we have to write the story, crunch and post the videos, put up the pairings for tomorrow, send out emails to hometowns, send tweets and make Facebook postings, and of course write this blog. Somewhere in the middle of that we had to flag down a cab to go back to the hotel, which was an adventure in itself.
I am just finishing up, hours later, sitting on a couch in the corner of the second floor mezzanine of the hotel, and I am totally OK with that, even though I am bone tired. This is the job, and it is a whole lot more fun when our athletes are winning. And getting a chance to hear the U.S. national anthem (although they did not play it all the way through) is still one of the most thrilling moments for anybody who works in the Olympic movement. Great job U.S. freestylers today. We are proud of you. And hopes are high that there are a few more medals out there for us tomorrow.
Friday, August 16- There is a saying that “It’s Friday somewhere,” and as we boarded the bus from the hotel to the arena, we realized that it is Friday in Bulgaria. At one of these events, the days tend to mush together, and you have to check your cell phone or the newspaper to know what day it is. What I do know is that it is day two of women’s freestyle, and the mood of the U.S. team was upbeat at breakfast and on the way over to the venue. Coach Archie Randall may have said it correctly when he said that what he loves about wrestling is that every day is a new day and a fresh start. We know that four U.S. athletes will take to the mats in the morning, and that each of them has a chance to be a champion.
One of the things you notice at the Junior Worlds is how mature these athletes are. In many cases, they look way older than their 20 years old, not only physically but how they carry themselves. The skill level and intensity is way up there. Some of these athletes are already ready for the big show on the Senior level. It is not uncommon to see medalists here also win medals at the Senior Worlds during the same year. There are rare times when you see the Junior World champion also win the Senior Worlds a few months later, like in 2005 when Iran’s Greco star Hamid Soryan won them both back-to-back. I saw Turkish Greco wrestling legend Hamza Yerlikaya here at the arena supporting Turkey’s Junior team. Yerlikaya is a big deal back home, a member of Parliament. In 1992, he was a Cadet World champion and Junior World silver medalist. In 1993, at the age of 17, Yerlikaya won his first Senior World gold medal. It’s hard for Americans to understand that a kid that young could be the best in the world already.
Since we started with shout outs yesterday, it is time to recognize Bob Condron and his group helping FILA at this event. Prior to the Olympic crisis, FILA did little or nothing in terms of promotion, media relations and press operations. Bob is one of the great people in Olympic sport, a mentor of mine, a person with 30 years experience with the U.S. Olympic Committee, a true legend. He agreed to come out of retirement to help wrestling in its quest to retain Olympic status, and he has made an impact. He was able to convince new FILA President Lalovic to invest in basic communications efforts. He asked for some referrals and then reached out to get a number of wrestling journalists around the world to provide content and support. Also working at this event is longtime friend Bill May, a Japanese-American who moved from Minnesota to Japan to Europe, covering wrestling at the Olympic level. Also here is Tim Foley, another American who has jumped in to help FILA with its international coverage, with great photos and features on worldwide wrestling. Bob’s team is writing stories, taking photos, doing wrap-ups, typing agate and servicing the world with wrestling information. This is a first for FILA, something that is a must if we are to return to the Olympic program and grow as a sport. Once we are done with this event in Bulgaria, we pack up and do the same thing over in Serbia.
The final day of women’s freestyle started very well, with Team USA winning its first five matches with dominance. I started talking with Team Leader Jason Christianson, who helps me film matches during the sessions from press row, about some of the great runs of past U.S. teams. The best was the 2003 U.S. Women’s World Team, which went undefeated for the first two days of the World Championships in Madison Square Garden in New York. The streak ended day three, and the USA ultimately tied Japan for the team standings, and lost the champion trophy on the tie-breakers. Well, our Junior World run ended after five with a few losses, and then it really went one match at a time for the team. It is very important to get to a great start at this kind of event, but keeping that going is difficult, as every round gets more challenging with the competition getting more intense.
Jennifer Page was the star of the day, coming back from a semifinal loss to claim the bronze at 63 kg. Like many of the medalist here, she is already winning often on the Senior level, both domestically and internationally. One of the top wrestlers today for the team was Cody Pfau, who is just getting her feet wet on the world scene. Tall and fearless, Cody wrestles an aggressive style of wrestling, which led to a number of tech fall wins on her way to a strong fifth place. She ended up losing a few times, against what were more experienced athletes. She is just starting her career at Oklahoma City University when she returns, and we can expect great things from her in college and beyond.
Got a chance to visit with the men’s freestyle team, which will finish off the Junior Worlds for Team USA. There is some great talent on this team, a mix of strong college kids and off-the-chart high school wrestlers. I can’t wait to see how our first four guys do tomorrow.
Thursday, August 15 - I will start the day with a shout out to the officials on this tour, and all tours. Everybody often focuses on the athletes and coaches representing the nation, but sometimes don’t recognize the referees, who have an amazingly important role at all times. The guys on this trip, East Coasters Roy Scott, Ron Fazio and Michael Jordan are all good friends with my wife, who she befriended as a pairing official on the Eastern circuit. They have all become friends of mine, and are truly team players with our delegation. They will do whatever they can to help the U.S. coaches and athletes, including assisting with rules interpretations and key event information. This is day three of the competition, and already on a number of occasions, these guys have had my back on a few things. They are appreciated.
Like Team Leader Jason Christianson and me, the referees are here for the long haul, all three styles. Greco-Roman leaves today, and we had a chance to visit with Coach Rodney Smith before he began the long trek home. Last night, I ran into freestyle coaches Bill Zadick and Sean Bormet, and a few of the wrestlers, Jason Tsirtsis and Alex Dieringer, who arrived on Wednesday. It is part of the flow of these events, one style ends, and the next style moves right in. Today, we have the start of women’s freestyle.
When you get to these events, you spend a lot of time with the coaches. The women’s crew includes Assistant National Coach Erin Tomeo, and three other top women’s coaches, Olympian Marcie Van Dusen, King University coach Jason Moorman and Oklahoma City coach Archie Randall. All have been influential in developing top age-group athletes, the women who go on to make Senior National Teams. Not only are the Junior women athletes experienced, so are their coaches.
It was a day of high expectation for our women athletes. Three of the four athletes on the mat had past Junior World experience. Erin Golston was in her fourth Junior Worlds, Jenna Burkert in her third and Haley Augello in her second. When it was over, it was Golston who was the only one able to win a medal, taking a silver at 44 kg.
Erin Golston competed well all day, dominating her three opponents prior to the finals. The championship match started well for Erin against a tough Moldovan, Emilia Budeanu. Erin had a 7-2 lead at the break and looked confident. But her opponent did not give up, came on strong in the second and tied it up at 7-7. When it was crunch time, it was Budeanu who scored the final two takedowns, winning a 10-7 barnburner.
The match showed something unique about wrestling. Winning a silver medal is the toughest thing in the world for a wrestler. Most wrestlers look at it as losing the gold rather than winning a silver. A finals loss is very difficult to handle, especially for those who are highly competitive. If you are good enough to make the finals, then you are good enough to win it. All wrestlers know that.
Erin handled things very well after this defeat. She stood on the awards stand with pride, and even was able to muster up a smile during the presentation. When the ceremony was over, she did her duty and gave me the post-match interview, holding up well and keeping positive in spite of the disappointment. You could tell that she was hurting, but she also understood the importance of doing the interview as part of her responsibility as a National Team athlete.
I remember the Junior Worlds in 2011, when Erin won the first of her three Junior World medals, a bronze. Erin was very happy and upbeat after the medal rounds. Emotionally, it is much harder to be second than it is to be third. A bronze medalist goes out with a victory, and is able to salvage the day after a tough loss kept them out of the finals. A silver medalist gets that close to reaching the goal, only to have to hear somebody else’s national anthem. As a wrestler, I emphasize with all of the silver medalists I have to interview.
We are very proud of Erin for her silver medal. We know how badly she wanted that to be a gold. She should know that she competed very well, and represented herself, her family, her team and her nation with honor, skill and pride today.
I am hoping that tomorrow one of Erin’s teammates runs the table, and we get to hear the Star Spangled Banner and I can interview our first Junior World champion of 2013.
Wednesday, August 14 - Starting the morning with the long version of Don McLean’s American Pie playing in the arena as the teams slowly arrive. Day two, and it already feels like we have been here a week. Last night, after I went to shut it down for the day, the loudspeaker in the room started going off in a number of languages. When it came around to English, we all realized that they were asking us to evacuate the hotel. The U.S. team is on the 11th floor of this big hotel/casino, and it was almost midnight when this was going on.
All the U.S. athletes and coaches went out into the hallway to discuss if we really had to leave for this “fire drill.” All I could think of was those old 70’s movies like Towering Inferno, and I decided I’d go, even though most of the Americans weren’t going to do it. The Greco heavyweight Sam Stoll called the front desk and they told him it was not an emergency, so he stopped me as I was just getting started on the staircase. Over breakfast this morning, the U.S. guys were sharing their thoughts about it. Apparently Coach Rodney Smith was so out of it in his sleep that he thought the noise was just Cody Bickley’s cell phone.
Speaking of Rodney Smith, it’s fun to be on a tour with him again. He is one of those great American wrestling stories. A Div. III wrestler at Western New England College, he was an All-American but nobody had really ever heard of him. He went into the Army and became a high-level Greco wrestler. His 1992 year was one for the record books, as he was a surprise winner at the Olympic Trials, then went on to have an inspired performance at the Barcelona Games, coming back with a bronze medal against all odds. Rodney was not a one-hit wonder, as he also earned a spot on the 1996 Atlanta Olympic team as well. I have always liked him, as he is a very friendly person with an intense edge to him. He is also a quote machine. When I interviewed him after the first weigh-ins for the Junior Greco guys, the other coaches were in the room and listened to his unique way of saying things. Afterwards, they were all laughing at the way he phrased things. Check out his video interviews from this week and you will see what we are talking about.
The Greco team had a stronger morning session today. Sahid Kargbo started it off with a win at 66 kg, and the session ended up featuring five wins by Team USA. Heavyweight Sam Stoll advanced to the finals with a comeback win over Greece and a tech fall over Bulgaria. Tough Isaiah Varona also won two matches before falling in the quarterfinals to a talented Georgian. After two days of Greco, the big conversation on press row was about how many more points are being scored in the classic style. Mismatches often become quick tech falls. However, the bouts in which the wrestlers are evenly matched often have scores like 9-7. I don’t think I will ever miss typing a Greco result such as we had to the last eight years that went 1-0, 0-1, 1-0. The rules are forcing the wrestlers to take risks and execute techniques. This may be the lasting legacy of the Olympic crisis, if they don’t mess with the rules too much more.
The evening session did not go well. Two of the guys had a chance to get in the repechage. Kargbo got in when the Georgian he lost to won the semis, while Varona did not get in when the Georgian he lost to was beaten. Stoll was unable to get any offense in his semifinal match, and lost a 7-0 tech to an Azerbaijani. The next match up was Kargbo, who jumped to a 5-0 lead, but was thrown and pinned late in the first period by his Polish opponent. Stoll became the only hope for a Greco medal.
And just like we would have scripted it, Sam Stoll got behind early (he was behind in all his wins), locked up a bodylock on the Iranian, then threw and pinned him. Team USA was jubilant. The Greco team was able to celebrate a medal, and with the win jumped into a tie for ninth place. Everybody was able to take pictures and videos. The last interviews with an American athlete was joyous, as Sam explained that he didn’t know what to expect, but came here to do what he loves to do. Coach Rodney Smith was at his best, giving his unique twist to the closing interview.
Back in the lobby, trying to finish my work. The internet is very slow, and we probably won’t be able to get the videos up until morning. It’s a whole lot more fun doing late night work when there is a medal attached with it. I hope to have four more nights like this, but with some gold medals to make it even more fun.
Tuesday, August 13 - First day of a tournament is a chance to find out where everything is and how everything works. Set an early wakeup, 5:45 a.m., to get myself unpacked, dressed and ready to go. At 6:45, I was able to have breakfast with the U.S. Greco-Roman coaching staff, the medical staff and a few of the athletes. The coaches set a 7:15 am meeting time for the team, in order to catch the first bus over to the arena which left at 7:30 a.m. This may be a good routine to attempt to keep each of the six days.
It was probably a 20 minute drive from the hotel to the arena, through a busy part of town where people were already on the buses and trains that connect the citizens of Sofia to their world. Sofia reminds me of some of the other places in Eastern Europe I’ve been, like Budapest, Hungary and Bucharest, Romania. The Cyrillic letters on the buildings also bring back thoughts of Russia.
The arena is very large, and reminds me a little of the other facilities I have seen in Eastern Europe. Press row is right near the mats, which is great. That allows me to be able to shoot all three mats at once, without having to get up and move around. Being first on press row is important, so you can get the best location right off the bat. The electricity works, but the internet does not yet. (Need to figure out the password). It is dark and quiet just an hour before the first whistle, with classic U.S. rock being played. (Hotel California by the Eagles is the current choice). Some of the first journalists on site are the Iranian press, with a few guys I know from previous World events. They take their wrestling seriously in Iran.
A quick thought. People in the USA think they are the only ones who are connected with technology. Not true. Every coach, every athlete, every volunteer, many of the fans, all walk around with their fancy phones, I-pads and laptops, all seeking to be connected. The first thing everybody asks each other is “What is the password?” because the internet is password protected. Nobody seems to know the answer as the first matches are started.
Day one of Greco, and this group of four includes some experience and talent. Geordan Speiller was here last year and placed in the top 10. Hayden Tuma has been on Cadet World Teams and has travelled overseas a bunch. The coaches, including Mark Halvorson and Rodney Smith, are well aware that it is important to get a few early wins to get some momentum going.
Hayden Tuma was the one who got on a roll at 60 kg. Although he just turned 18 years old and is younger than many of his opponents, Tuma was aggressive, skilled and confident. In his quarterfinal match, he came from behind to tie the Armenian opponent and was ahead on criteria. Somehow, the Armenian jumped up on Tuma and forced a last second takedown to steal the match away. His chance for a medal went away in a close repechage loss to a Russian. In any case, Tuma proved that he is a serious Greco-Roman prospect, somebody with a huge upside.
Armenia had a good day today with two champions, with the other two golds going to Russia and to Iran. There is a lot of depth in Greco-Roman, and we should see more of that tomorrow.
The first day at the event is always a bit clunky, figuring out how things are going to be run. They changed the format this year, and I am not sure that I like it. They wrestle the morning session through the quarterfinals, then take a lunch break. The semifinals start off the second session, then the repechage. Then they are squeezing a weigh-in for the next day in the half-hour break before the finals. I think it would be better going through the semis in the morning session, like they usually do. I know they have to take everybody back on the bus for lunch at the hotel. Someday, I hope we figure out a schedule which is truly user-friendly, but I don’t think this one is it.
I had to hustle out after the last match, in hopes of getting a bus back to the hotel. I really don’t like to rush out like that. Tomorrow, I may experiment with getting a cab and see how that works out. Back at the hotel, posting stories from the lobby, and looking forward to another day of great wrestling tomorrow.
Monday, August 12 – Long travel day to Sofia, Bulgaria, after a very busy week which included the USA Wrestling Board of Directors meeting and State Leaders conference. Started the trip on Sunday morning from Colorado Springs. Still going on at 10:10 p.m. on Monday night in Sofia, fighting with the internet to try to finish off the day so I can get some rest. Day one of Greco starts at 9:00 a.m., which means a very early morning.
Went to the airport, and found out I would be travelling with much of the U.S. Women’s Junior Team. Most of us flew together to Chicago, then some went to Munich, Germany, while others went to Vienna, Austria. Sat next to Lorrie Ramos on the first flight and had a chance to get to know her a bit better. It was fun to have some company, especially with the long layover in Munich. We were able to get a little free internet in Munich, where I caught up on work. FILA was looking for a quote from one of our women athletes on the Junior team, so I got with Julia Salata to get it done. It was eight hours to Munich, a number of hours layover, then another two-plus hours flight to Sofia. Our last flight included some Canadian and Swedish wrestling people.
We were met at the airport by a Bulgarian from the local organizing committee. His yellow shirt had Save Olimpyc Wrestling on the back. Loved the message, as well as the mis-spelling. We took a bus to our hotel, the Sofia Princess Hotel, which is also a casino. When we unloaded, Team Leader Jason Christianson from Iowa met us, and made sure check-in went smoothly. After dropping my stuff in the room, I got some Bulgarian money from an ATM (the cash is called the LEV), and went to a grocery store a few blocks away with women coaches Marcie Van Dusen and Erin Tomeo, where I stocked up on bottled water.
As has been the case in some of these cities, the internet at the host hotel is not effective. We asked about it when we checked in, and the woman at the counter who spoke very good English admitted that it worked “not so good” when a lot of people were on it. It did not work in the room, so it looks like I will be doing a lot of time in the lobby. That has been the case at many of the hotels we have used in past international trips.
The FILA website did not have the draw, so I got it from Bob Condron, our friend who is handling media for FILA this year. He sent some photos of the draw from his I-phone to my email. I got with the U.S. Greco coaches to review the draw when they returned to the hotel, and shot an interview with Coach Rodney Smith on video. Grabbed a quick dinner with referee Ron Fazio and his wife in the big room where they feed the teams. Wrote the story, posted a video. I am now trying to finish this blog before my battery goes dead (or the internet cuts out on me). Just found a wall plug behind a plant here in the lobby, so I should be OK on juice. Who knows what the internet will do.
Usually, we try to get here a day before the first weigh-in, but because of the Board meeting, I had to arrive on weighin day. Had to go right to work, and we jump into day one on the mats in just a few hours. With the Olympic vote coming up in a few weeks, these age group World meets are the last chance for international wrestling to make an impression with events before our fate is determined. More to come.