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Beach World Series Blog: Rusty reflects on a magical 2023 season

by Rusty Davidson

The U.S. beach wrestling squad after the 2023 Beach World Series came to a close in Turkey.
Photo by: Mitchell Cook
The U.S. beach wrestling squad after the 2023 Beach World Series came to a close in Turkey.

Monday, 16 October – OK, on the plane as promised.  I knew it was brewing.  But after a few hours letting it, all settle, I think I’ve identified a few key take-aways.


For more than a few years, I’ve been preaching that Beach Wrestling is on the horizon.  For the last few I’ve been sincerely convinced it has arrived.  Half full… half empty.


Recent IOC inklings make it clear that Beach Wrestling has a sliver of hope for appearing in LA28.  We all know it’s not likely.  Those powerful thinkers deem is prudent to sell their souls for Flag Football.  OK.  Lick our wounds, act like wrestlers and set our sights on Brisbane ’32.


If we are what we claim, wrestlers are about honor, not trophies or dollars.  In that realm we are all, indeed wealthy.


I feel absolutely blessed to be around to watch the Eliana Bommarito’s, the Kennedie Snow’s, the Ty Loethen’s celebrate.  But let’s never forget those that blazed the trail.  The Shauna Kemp’s, the Jeff Funicello’s, the Ike Okoli’s, the Michael Peters’, the Amit Elor’s, the Timmy Box’s… just to name a few.


Those legends and their peers cleared a path for our 2023 legends and theirs.  They magnetized leaders that believed in their dreams and were willing to fan the flames.  Gary Abbott believed from the beginning… and acted like it.  Ed Duncan saw potential and was willing to take risk in forming the Beach Wrestling Tour of America.


Tod Blank and Jay Watkins committed their being native Californians to producing talented, well-versed referees, willing to add another discipline to their toolbox.


This is me saying Thanks!  Thanks for seeing the vision.  Thanks for reaching deep to give of yourselves.  Thanks for taking up the cause and making me feel like I’m not so crazy after all.


Obviously, that applies to our athlete pioneers too.  I mentioned a few, but there have been a Bunch that saw Beach Wrestling as a vehicle to make their own careers deeper and wider.  They also took the initiative to invite other like-minded Lovers of Life.


Watching Ty and Eliana achieve different outcomes following the same path was powerful for me.  In May, Eliana saw the potential of what “The Beach” could add to her career.  Ty took a big chance competing in Constanta ’22.  Both followed one of wrestling’s major tenants: “If you just keep showing up, this are likely to get better”. 


Bommarito has made it clear… She is a Champion’s Champion!  Wrestling lovers from around the planet love her.  What shows, though, and what matters, is that she loves being loved and loves ‘em back.  Pure Class!


Tyler loves to be loved, as well.  This man has spent the last year forming lifelong friendships around the globe.  He studies hard, sponges up the finest technique, gets better every bout… and keeps showing up.  Watching a hundred of his close friends celebrate his World Bronze Medal, while Ty himself was in disbelief… Well, whatever was in the breeze, that moment, really affected my eyes.  What else could account for the tears?


USA Wrestling’s National and International Beach Wrestling season, 2023, has made it clear that our discipline is legit.  I will not use the term “New” to describe Beach Wrestling.  Alexander the Great wrestled in the sand.


I believe in my heart that more and more athletes, parents, coaches, leaders will become fully immersed in what Beach Wrestling adds to our larger objectives.  Personally, I’m excited to see how our 2024 season sprinkle some spice on the main dish of the Olympic Year.  Get on board!


Ciao,

Rusty

Eliana Bommarito (USA) with gold medal from Beach World Series Constanta.
Photo by: Reed Krishan, United World Wrestling
Eliana Bommarito (USA) with gold medal from Beach World Series Constanta.

Sunday, 15 October – United World Wrestling crowned eight new World champions tonight at the Beach World Series Final in Sarigerme, Turkey.  America’s Eliana Bommarito was one of them!


Bommarito fought off a very strategic challenge from Ukraine’s Liudmyla Pavlovets, in the final match, to win her second consecutive Beach World Series gold medal.  She won the tournament in Constanta, Romania just five weeks ago.


Points accumulated from her two championship efforts, along with placement points she earned in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last May, catapulted Bommarito to the overall crown.  She also won the U20 World Championship in Constanta.  At 19, Elliana still enjoys U20 eligibility through 2024.


American Ty Loethen was surprised (but shouldn’t have been) to earn World Championship bronze at 80 kg.  Ty’s consistent high-level performance at four of the five total 2023 World Series events cinched his third place point total. 


Tomorrow (Monday) I leave the hotel at 1:00am.  That’s three hours from now.  So, I’m excusing myself.  Richard and Savannah have already given full detail of Sunday’s American outcomes.


As always, I’ll have some insight to sprinkle on those results.  For now, I’m gonna’ follow my own “Rule Number 1:  Pack Before You Party.  I’ll write Monday’s end-piece on the plane.


Thanx, Eliana!  I got to hear my National Anthem tonight.


Ciao,

Rusty

American Wayne Lamont warms up with multiple time World Champion Mamuka Kordzaia of Georgia at the Beach World Series Final.
Photo by: Rusty Davidson
American Wayne Lamont warms up with multiple time World Champion Mamuka Kordzaia of Georgia at the Beach World Series Final.

Saturday, 14 October – This Finale is what one would expect.  The heavy hitters turned out with purpose. Many of the timid stayed home.


The “Four Horsemen” from Georgia are here to defend their male dominance over the last several years.  Of course, Turkey, with home-sand advantage, has a lot of firepower, on both the men’s and women’s sides.  So do Ukraine and Romania, who both stand out on the women’s side.


The big treat is the return of the Iranian men’s team!  Iran has been absent since 2019 but return with a roster laced with well-known talent and some fresh new faces.


I know Richard and Savannah have already shared detail results.  I’ll just say it was an enlightening day for our five American men.  We went 0 and 9.  Did I mention that the suds are all here?


Justin Benjamin wrestled well in this crazy “Knockout” round.  He hit, what might have been, the winning point against the Iranian, just milliseconds after time expired.  Video review showed that the call was good.


We have presented an alternative bracketing plan, hoping the Beach Committee will adopt it at their Monday meeting.  This “Knockout concept… having an athlete travel halfway around the planet to be one-and-done… must be replaced if Beach Wrestling is to continue its growth!


Our women went 60 – 40, with three wins and two losses.  Bommarito is in great position to win it outright.  With the blind draw system in place, Isabeau and Eliana met in the first round.  Having beaten and pretty good Greek, Beu will have to beat the Ukrainian, tomorrow morning, to get into the semis.


Separation by nationality is the Beach Committee’s next target, after we do away with the “Knockout.  Beau and Bommarito deserve separation, as do the two Greeks.  There are only two Argentines in the whole event.  Jennisis has both in her 50kg pool.


There are 63 athletes entered in this event.  The good part of that is that it shows what’s up for grabs.  The bad part is that low population really accents the flaws in this current “Don’t Care” bracketing paradigm.


I’m gonna’ call it here.  Our access to Wi-Fi is ‘Occasional, at best.  I’m in right now, so here goes.


Ciao,

Rusty

Jennisis Martinez trains with coach and team leader Tim Box on Sarigerme Beach
Photo by: Rusty Davidson
Jennisis Martinez trains with coach and team leader Tim Box on Sarigerme Beach.

Friday, 13 October –  We finally got everyone in.  Beau and Jenn navigated transfer back to the airport and found the UWW shuttle to our hotel.  Gabe and Wayne were both delayed but have arrived.  With everyone on the own dime and their own time, this is always like herding cats!


Of course, Gabe’s luggage is still in London, and, of course, his competition uniforms are in it.  At this point, we arranged to borrow some extra shorts from Azerbaijan’s famous Oyan Nazariani.


Oyan qualifies as one of the best humans ever born.  Having contributed greatly, over the last decade, to Beach Wrestling’s positive image, Oyan will announce his retirement Saturday.  I know it’ll bring me to tears.  I’m sure, though, this giant’s (meant both literally and figuratively) will add to his legacy through coaching.


Related to our travel problems, one hope, as Beach Wrestling continues to gain traction and legitimacy, is that our National Teams program can explain to USAW’s travel consultants what our self-funded athletes are up against.  With the proper information, athlete / coach / referee profiles, we can help travel professionals help us. 


This effort will also depend on our Beach Wrestling infrastructure evolving.  We must continue to refine our systems of qualifying / selection / athlete identification to offer those professionals and National Teams of our who, where and when.


One of the reasons the Beach Wrestling community seems a little scattered is the varying perceptions of United World Wrestling’s standard of a “Mandatory Three Night Stay” at the designated host hotel.  That price is usually steep… often up to $200 per night… but the explanation is poor.


Truthfully, when all things are considered, the cost is quite fair.   What UWW fails to inform is that the mandatory three nights includes what most of us would call an entry fee.  Championship host federations are saddled with a long list of fundamental expenses.


Our Turkish hosts are out of pocket for dozens of cars / vans / busses to move arriving participants from airport to hotels.  That’s a forty-minute drive, one way, and they meet several flights over six days.  The host hotels have negotiated contracts to both house and feed all delegations, leaders, volunteers.  We’ve got another forty-minute drive to the competition venue which, by the way, is gorgeous.


Hosts bear some of the expense for IT services, big screens, temporary spectator seating, and venue preparation.  Altogether, it’s easy to appreciate the expenses involved.  So, when you add it all up:  hotel, meals, transportation, plus an entry fee that defrays part of that expense, $180 a day is not gouging participants. 


Nations who fund their beach athletes tend to take that budget item in stride.  When they learn that our Americans are self-funded, they appreciate why we get a little sensitive about total trip cost.


Through it all, our American Eight are here!  We’re on weight, had a great training session workout at the venue, feisty, and ready to rock.  We’ll weigh in at 8:00am Saturday (local time) and shake hands at 11:30.


Bonus Question:  Can you translate the term PARASKEVIDEKATRIAPHOBIA?


Ciao,

Rusty


Jennisis Martinez and Wayne Lamont
Jennisis Martinez and Wayne Lamont will represent the U.S. in the Beach World Series Finale.

Thursday, 12 October – Our American delegation is trickling in.  As I finished my hotel check in and was walking through the pool area towards my room, I heard the, “Hey Rusty!”  It was Ty Loethen, sitting with teammates Justin Benjamin and Mith Cook,


The three had just finished lunch.  I deposited luggage in my room and joined them to finish their left-over fries.  The three had just completed a light workout, after a morning adventure.  There’s a ton of history in the Dalyan area and they had seen a chunk of it. 


I know that Jennisis and Isabeau are in Dalyan.  They spent last night (Wednesday) and tonight at another hotel.  The mandatory UWW accommodation fee is steep and required for three nights, each competition.  It’s common for athletes to obey the minimum requirement yet spend extra nights elsewhere.  Remember, American Beach athletes are all self-funded.


Coach Tim Box and Referee Jay Watkins arrived this evening and Eliana Bommarito is due in late tonight.  We expect Wayne Lamont and Gabe Rangell in tomorrow (Friday).


I mentioned that mixture of self-funding and adventure seeking.  This is one of my favorite aspects of the Beach Wrestling mentality.  By and large, these young superstars are unjaded.  They’ve all had their share of wrestling success and the spotlight, yet they remain humble, down-to-earth young humans.  That’s something to celebrate in today’s fractious world!


Justin is a recent graduate of Northwestern and has started his own financial advisory firm.  Justin left the States at the beginning of September for the World Series event in Romania.  He hasn’t been home yet!  Connecting with a classmate of Greek origin, Justin has spent the last four weeks on the Island of Crete. 


There, he’s been able to train with various members of the Greek national team, while working with his adopted family to pay his due.  All this makes me say, “Wow”.  For wrestling to provide and encourage chances like Justin’s… for our young professionals to kick-start lives and careers with international engagement… that’s one of the perks our sport should always treasure. 


Ty will leave Turkey Monday and spend a week training in Belgium with a Beach Wrestling colleague.  They will both compete in a “Catch Wrestling” championship the following weekend, in England.  Here’s another example of a young American enriching his life via competitive zeal and a spirit of adventure.


Mitch has scheduled a twenty-hour layover in Istanbul, on his way back to wrapping up high school coaching pre-season.  After visiting key sights like the Hagia Sophia. Blue Mosque. Ancient Cistern, and Grand Bazaar, imagine the stories and inspiration he brings to American high school kids!


Coach Tim has things organized for a late morning workout tomorrow (Friday).  We’ll get our stragglers in and be ready for Saturday mornings first weigh in.


Ciao,

Rusty


Wednesday, 11 October – On the road again! Eva and I are just settling back into our American household after a summer in Slovenia. There, we enjoyed being able to drive to several key wrestling events, including two in the Beach World Series. 


For Turkey, I gotta’ fly.  The Juice, I’m sure, will be well worth the Squeeze!  This is the Finale of the 2023 World Series.  The previous four events included Buenos Aires, Singapore, St Laurent du Var (near Nice), and Constanta (Romania).


Personally, I’m thrilled that Sarigerme Beach, near Dalyan, is hosting the Finale.  Sarigerme previously hosted two championship events.  The region, on Turkey’s southwest coast, is spectacular this time of year.  The wrestling community is strong, with one of UWW’s Bureau members (Rodica Yaksi) living only a few kilometers away.


Our American contingent is a collection of studs.  We are led by recent World Series #4 Champion Eliana Bommarito.  Joining her are Beach Wrestling mainstays Isabeau Shalack, Mitch Cook, and Ty Loethen.  Rounding out the U.S. Eight are up-and-coming superstars Jennesis Martinez, Wayne Lamont, Justin Benjamin, and Gabe Rangel.


Palomar’s Timmy Box serves as our Team Leader / Head coach, while California’s Jay Watkins will referee his second consecutive World Series Finale.  North Carolina’s Ed Duncan, who leads Beach Wrestling’s Tour of America, represents the Americas on UWW’s Beach Wrestling Committee.


Unfortunately, I’m sure much of that Committee’s discussion, along with conversations among athletes, coaches, leaders, will center on LA28’s recent proposals for five demonstration sports in the XXXIVth Olympic Games.  Beach Wrestling was not among those proposed.


The proposed five include Baseball / Softball, Cricket, Lacrosse, Squash, and Flag Football.  Now, I can make a case for Baseball / Softball in a Games hosted in the western hemisphere.  Cricket has a pretty strong following in the old British Empire.  Squash enjoys a certain Native American background, while Squash is popular with the wealthy, globally.


But… Flag Football… are you Kidding me?  Is this the depth of thought our Olympic organizers are capable of?   Is this offering simply designed to boost the U.S. medal count?  Is this proposal catering to some planned influx of NFL dollars? 


Nobody on the planet plays American football!  OK… Canadians have their version and some of the JV fuel European professional leagues.


Wrestling, on the other hand, is practiced by every culture in existence.  Much of our sport is contested outdoors, and many folkstyles take place in the sand.


Olympic hosts are saddled with limits on housing athletes.  Yet these ugly Americans offer up four team sports with rosters full of substitutes.  What thought wen into this?


Adding Beach Wrestling brings a maximum of eight athletes per nation into the village.  Developing nations with limited budgets can develop and qualify an athlete or two.  The greater Los Angeles metro-plex can stage magnificent backdrops and pack temporary, eco-friendly venues.


Knowing what we’re up against, I still must urge wrestling leaders… UWW and all Federations to implore the IOC to veto this slate of proposed additions at their meeting next week.  Demand that LA28 act like an Olympic host and show some respect for our oldest Olympic centerpiece.


I’m sure the Beach Wrestling Committee will strengthen that plea during their Monday meeting.  I’m equally sure that reasonable Australian thinkers will be all over this, as they begin to plan Brisbane ’32.


I hope all of you will express your support for continued growth of Beach Wrestling, globally and here in the States.  In so doing, you voice wrestling’s commitment to equity, individual and national opportunity.


Thursday, I’ll turn my attention to the task at hand… the arrivals and preparation of the American Eight.  We will continue to make U.S. presence in the Beach World Series better than ever.


Ciao,

Rusty

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