The Unexpected, Part 2
The first blog I wrote for this trip was on Wednesday morning in the AirHotel about a half mile from Domodedovo Airport . We left America on Sunday and we still had not reached our final destination of Vladikavkaz. As I mentioned in the first blog, the ticketing agent for Lufthansa promised us the team would have seats on our flight from Moscow to Vladikavkaz the next day since our original flight was cancelled. This was far from the truth and when we arrived in Moscow, S7 Airlines told us Lufthansa had not rebooked our tickets. I was in the airport for 8 hours fighting with both airlines trying to figure out how our team was going to get to Vladikavkaz. S7 eventually ticketed 4 passengers for Wednesday and then USA Wrestling purchased new tickets for the remaining five. So when I was sitting on my bed writing my first blog I was confident that our team was going to get settled in to Vladikavkaz and resume training for the World University Games.
Nico Megaludis was assigned a seat on a flight that left in the morning. Seeing as it is his first trip overseas, Cody Sanderson and myself helped him get to the airport and checked in. The two of us then went back to the hotel and relaxed for a couple of hours before gathering up the team and heading to the airport. We arrived almost three hours before the flight was supposed to take off. I figured this was going to give us enough time in case we ran into some trouble along the way. We went to the S7 check-in counter and when it was our turn we quickly learned that the five tickets USA Wrestling purchased the day before had not shown up in the airline’s computer system. Both days we had documents that showed we had reservations for the flight and then we were told that they were not valid. This made me extra mad since I was one of the three that received a ticket. I wanted one of the athletes to go so they could train. Myself going was a waste of a seat. No matter what I did or what I said, I could not get the airline to help us out. WIth about 30 minutes before the plane was scheduled to take off I had to let the situation go and meet David Taylor and James Green at the gate. When I left I was told by the airline that three of the remaining five would fly the next day, then the other two the day after that. The last two athletes would have missed the whole week of training. This trip was quickly becoming the “worst trip in the history of USA Wrestling.”
David Taylor, James Green and myself arrived late to Vladikavkaz with no delays. Once settled in, we went downstairs for dinner. After dinner, I made some phone calls, emails, and filled our team leader in on our mess of a trip. He was happy to see us and was shocked to hear how the trip was going. It wasn’t until around 11pm that we received word that all the remaining team members were going to get on the flight the next day. Unfortunately for Tyrell Fortune he did not get on the same flight as the other four. USA Wrestling had to buy him another plane ticket on UTAir which departed out of another airport. Cody Sanderson emailed me and asked how to get him to the other airport. We both agreed that sending him in a taxi was the best option. I informed Cody of the terrible Moscow traffic and advised that he should leave the hotel at 7am for a 12pm flight. Moscow traffic is known to be some of the worst in the world. What should only take an hour could actually take up to three! While Tyrell Fortune, Cody Sanderson, Tyler Graff, Micah Burak and Ed Ruth were flying to Vladikavkaz; David Taylor, Nico Megaludis, and James Green were practicing for the first time in many days. I was excited to go to practice and see many of my old training partners and coaches. The guys were just excited to finally be able to train again. They lined up partners with no problem and worked their way into practice. They eventually did two matches. Nico’s second partner was Besik Kudukhov. Besik was one of my good friends when I lived here and is also a four time world champion. The reason we decided to train in Vladikavkaz was to make the most out of one trip to Russia. This is an all-star team of athletes and if they would have flown all this way to only compete in the tournament, they would have missed out on a great opportunity to train with some of the best wrestlers in the world. Watching Nico wrestle against Besik took away some of the frustrations of having very difficult travels.
When practice ended the four of us were anxious to see whether or not the other guys would show up. To our surprise they all arrived safely and on time, only three days late. Everyone was exhausted, but were happy to be in our final destination together. The four athletes who just arrived went to the gym for an evening practice. I thought I was going to have to spar with Tyrell Fortune, but for the first time on this trip I lucked out when a Russian Cadet heavyweight was there to take the beating for me. Tyrell is a very big and athletic heavyweight and I am too old. After practice ended, to celebrate everyone being together, and Tyrell’s birthday, we went to a team dinner at Makharbek Khardartsev’s restaurant. Khardartsev was a 2x Olympic champion, 5x world champion, Olympic silver medalist, 2x world silver medalist, and a world bronze medalist. He is arguably one of the best wrestlers in the history of the world, but was only the third best wrestler on a Soviet team that included Sergei Beloglazov and Arsen Fadzaev. The dinner was great and the team was able to relax and finally get to soak up the experience. We left the restaurant full and happy a little after 10pm. The language barrier made the dinner a little longer than it should have been, but we used the extra time to get to know one another.
This brings us to Friday, July 5th. The team had its first practice together and we are getting excited for the competition to start. We will have a few more days of training here in Vladikavkaz and then we will head to Kazan for the World University Games. I am very confident in this team and believe we will have a great tournament. Win or lose, these guys are gaining some very valuable experience for their future wrestling careers.