I started wrestling when I was five years old. By the time I was eight I was wrestling year round and I loved doing it. This was the summer of 1988 and in the Olympics Kenny Monday and John Smith won gold medals in Korea. Meanwhile I was wrestling for the West End YMCA on the east side of Cleveland. At the time they had produced some of the great Cleveland area wrestlers, most notably the St. John brothers. During practice I was taught the basics and I learned how to back arch into a bridge, a skill that develops from holding your partners hand to eventually doing it alone with no hands. I wrestled in the big freestyle tournament that summer at the AAU Nationals, which I believe was held in Indianapolis. I cannot remember if I won the tournament, I think I might have, but what I do remember is loving how different freestyle seemed to be. The singlets were a little different, the rules were a little different and the technique to me was free. I have video of this tournament and I look like a young Randy Lewis with a straight up stance daring kids to shoot on me.
This past weekend there were three different folkstyle national tournaments taking place. Jake Herbert and I were at the Cliff Keen/USA Wrestling Folkstyle nationals in Cedar Falls, Iowa. It was a great tournament and we both loved interacting with the kids and their parents, it brings us back to when we were in their shoes. This tournament marks the end of one season and the beginning of another. Folkstyle training usually begins around October and the season starts in November. For most high schools the season ends in early March, shortly followed by the end of the NCAA season, and now April seems to be the end of the national Folkstyle season. At the end of this month on Friday April 19th and 20th the U.S. Open will take place in Las Vegas, Nevada.
While high school and collegiate wrestlers across the nation were at the early stages of their training in October, the US National team was already in full competition mode. Les Sigman placed 3rd at the FILA Golden Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan. Chase Pami, Max Askren, Keith Gavin, and Les Sigman all placed at the Dmitry Korkin tournament in Yakutsk, Russia. Jimmy Kennedy placed 3rd at the Ramzan Kadyrov Cup in Grozny, Russia. This is arguably one of the toughest tournaments during the freestyle season and is wrestled in the Russian wrestling hot bed.
As the NCAA and high school open tournaments start in November the freestylers are still going strong. Zach Sanders, Kevin LeValley, Nick Marable, Phil Keddy, Dave Zabriskie and Tervel Dlagnev all won the Hargobind International tournament in Burnaby Mountain, Canada. Jimmy Kennedy, Chase Pami, Austin Trotman, Wynn Michalak and Tervel Dlagnev all won the New York Athletic Club tournament in New York City. Then to end the calendar year Mark McKnight placed 3rd at the Henri Deglane Challenge in Nice, France.
December is a down time in freestyle wrestling, and for the wrestlers on the senior circuit the rest is much needed. On the high school level the Ironman and Beast of the East tournaments highlight the nations best competition. On the NCAA level the Cliff Keen Las Vegas Invitational, The Grapple in the Garden and The Midlands are the big events that most of the nation’s top teams compete in.
By January the high school season is in full swing and there are competitions all throughout the USA. Some of the best colleges wrestle at the Southern Scuffle and across the USA teams are getting ready to begin their conference dual meet season. At the same time on the freestyle circuit wrestlers from the USA travel the world seeking out the best competition.
This is why Brent Metcalf traveled 13 times zones from Iowa City to Krasnoyarsk, Russia to wrestle in the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix where he placed 2nd in this world renowned competition. The US had athletes wrestle in Canada, Russia, Colorado, Cuba, Bulgaria, Iran and Belarus between January and March. During this period we won 14 gold medals, 13 silver medals and 10 bronze medals.
Now that the folkstyle season is over I urge all you wrestling fans out there to support this great sport, the future relies on it. Coaches, parents, and athletes I cannot express enough how wrestling freestyle during the summer will help any wrestler become better at folkstyle, I saw it myself growing up and now I see it as a coach. The US national team has had a very successful year in which our team placed 3rd at the Olympics and the World Cup. You can also see the individual success we have had as a country from the results I listed above. In our nation there are some of the best wrestlers in the world, and on April 19th and 20th they will fight to become a national champion and put themselves one step closer to representing the USA at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary this September.
In closing I would like to congratulate all the folkstyle national champions and all-americans from this past weekend at all three of the tournaments. If you didn’t get the results you were looking for or if you won and still want to improve I suggest trying freestyle, the season is just now starting so its not too late. There are some big freestyle events coming up that every young wrestler should watch. The U.S. Open and the Beat the Streets dual meets featuring USA, Iran, and Russia in Grand Central Station and Los Angeles. These events will either be streamed online or shown on television. Information on how to watch the matches will be available soon on TheMat.com.
I would like to ask a favor from everyone reading this. Please go to the website keepwrestlingintheolympics.com and sign up to receive updates from the Committee for the Presevation of Olympic Wrestling as well as USA Wrestling. The highest achievement in the sport of wrestling is winning an Olympic gold medal, so join Vision 2020 as we fight for all the young wrestlers out there who want to one day represent the USA at the Olympic games.