Sweden is known for churning out tough Greco competitors. Through the years, the Scandinavian country has seen many of its wrestlers climb to the highest levels of the sport. From Kurt Pettersen and Edvin Vesterby decades ago to the more recent achievements of Mikael Ljungberg and Jimmy Lidberg, this is one country that’s no stranger to the podium. Throughout the modern era, Sweden has put out no less than 28 Olympic medalists, including 15 golds. That’s an astounding number, and one that makes it on par with some of the most formidable nations in the world. So as you might be able to tell, Greco is just something the Swedes know how to do.
Jim Pettersson is hoping to add to his country’s legacy. The 2014 World bronze medalist at 80 kg is an especially interesting competitor to watch. Pettersson employs a mix of vicious opportunism and poise that isn’t witnessed all that often at the middle weights. When he’s not looking to battle for inside control, Pettersson is busy being up in his opponents’ faces waiting to pounce on the first mistake he sees. And like many of the great Swedish Greco wrestlers before him, Jim Pettersson is recognized as an extraordinarily hard worker, someone who is willing to give his last ounce of energy to make sure he’s stepping on the mat as prepared as possible.
Being that we are on the cusp of the 2016 Rio Olympic games and wrestlers from all over who haven’t qualified their weights yet are in a hurry to do so, we wanted to check in on Jim Pettersson to see how he’s doing. Pettersson is attempting to make the Swedish team at 75 kg (being that 80 is a non-Olympic weight). That means his immediate future is likely a busy one, but if he’s ticking right there is no doubt Pettersson represents a huge threat to anyone standing in his way.
5PM Interview with Jim Pettersson (SWE)
5PM: You’re a World bronze medalist in a non-Olympic weight (80 kg), so that’s an interesting story. You have to move weight classes, which is kind of a big deal…
Jim Pettersson: If 80 kilos was in the Olympics it would be perfect for me. In 2014, my normal weight was 88 kilos, but at the European Championships I wrestled at 85 kilos. Then at the World Championships I wrestled 80 because my coach said to me, “You want to try 80?” Because I was always too light at 85 kilos, so I felt, okay, I’ll try it one time. And that went good. So after the World Championships, I felt like, “what should I do?” Should I go up or should I go down? And the easiest I thought for me was going down. But it’s been difficult because I’ve been on a diet now for maybe three or four months and now my normal weight is 80 kilos and I’m stable at that weight.
5PM: Oh really? So you’re walking around at 80 now?
JP: Yeah, my normal weight is 80 kilos now. When I started in November my normal weight was 87. I wanted to do a diet, take five to seven kilos and go down, and then I wanted the last five kilos to go down maybe three weeks before, so that’s my plan. Because when my normal weight was 87, I felt okay, my body must adjust to the tempo and everything. So that’s why I did my weight loss in two different ways.
5PM: I guess it appears for a guy in the middle weights you must have a pretty good metabolism.
JP: Yeah, it’s very good (laughs).
5PM: Usually you don’t hear that, usually two days out before weigh-ins you hear how athletes have to suck four or five kilos out.
JP: The problem for me this time was I had twelve kilos to go down from the beginning, so I must do it differently than I used to do. Because normally when I was wrestling 80 kilos I’d have to lose six or seven kilos in two weeks, and that was no problem. Now it’s too much to lose for two weeks so I thought I must do it like this instead. So yeah, it’s difficult.
5PM: How do you feel right now practicing weighing around 80 kilos?
JP: Yeah, now it’s no problem. In the beginning, it was very tough because you have to adjust your body. I can’t eat too much as I normally do. Now it’s no problem because this is me, this is (what weighing) 80 kilos is and it’s normal for me. But the hard work I have already done because the first three months were very tough, now it’s better. Now I’m only a 75 kilo guy. But the first three months? I like chocolate and you can’t eat chocolate every day, that’s the problem (laughs). I have a good nutritionist though who helps me with the food, he gives me a schedule, and we discussed how we should do this. He’s been very helpful to me.
5PM: That’s a very nice advantage.
JP: Because wrestlers, we normally do say five to six kilos the last four days. That’s normal for a wrestler. But if you have too much, like 10 or 15 kilos, you can’t do it like that because you don’t have any power when you’re wrestling. And that’s a big problem because I need my power, I’m a very physical. My conditioning is my strong weapon and I need that, so that’s why I can’t drop so many kilos too fast. But it’s a different tempo when you’re wrestling 75 kilos. If you wrestle 80 or 85… I’m fast at this weight but at 75, they’re like me. That’s normal for me because I’m a 75 kilo guy in an 85 kilo body.
5PM: Well you definitely have good size for 75.
JP: Yeah, I know. I think 75 is good, but international, for the Olympics if I want to take a medal, it’s good for me but it’s also a very tough weight class.
5PM: Speaking of which, what’s going on as far as qualifying the weight for Rio?
JP: Right now we’re in training camp in Stockholm and we stay here for another week and go home on Thursday. We have twelve days of training camp and then the first qualification is in Serbia on the 16th, and I’m doing that one first.
5PM: So are you setting up your training to peak for Serbia?
JP: Yes, I must be in peak condition for the qualification. This is the peak training now. We train two times tomorrow (Monday), rest on Tuesday, do one session on Wednesday and then go home on Thursday. It’s not so much training now, it’s only small things and we’re trying to find a good feeling for the qualification now.
5PM: Do you feel a kind of pressure going into the qualifier in Serbia?
Jim Pettersson: Yeah, I feel it’s a lot of pressure because you always want to qualify for the Olympics. And I think this is my last year as a wrestler, so I think it is very important. It’s not my whole life if I don’t qualify, but I really do want to qualify because I’ve never wrestled in the Olympics before and I really want to do it. I don’t know if it’s a big pressure if I do the qualification or not, we’ll see. I can only do my best.
5PM: Hopefully you qualify in Serbia and this is all out of the way. But if you don’t, are you going to Mongolia or Turkey after (to qualify)?
Jim Pettersson: No, we have it like this because we’re two guys at 75 kilos, it’s me and Robert Rosengren. So I’m doing the first qualifier, and he’s doing the second in Mongolia…
5PM: Okay, you’re going to tag-team…
JP: Right, we’re going to tag-team and see who has the best results to decide who goes to Turkey. The Mongolian qualification is only five days from Serbia so it’s too tough to go to both tournaments.
5PM: Of course, because then you’d have no time to rest or get your weight back down.
JP: And if you want to travel to Mongolia from Sweden…oh f****…”
5PM: Oh, yeah, I can’t even imagine…
JP: Yeah, I think it’s a seven hour difference also, so if I wrestle on Saturday in Serbia I have to go directly from there to Mongolia and wrestle five days later. So that’s not optional for me.
5PM: No, that sounds like it really sucks.
JP: It really sucks. But we have two good guys, me and Robert, so we’ll see who does what qualifier.
5PM: There’s a big movement with the Swedish Greco wrestlers and the whole “Sparta to Rio” movement you are a part of. Plus, people here in the states tend to look at Scandinavian wrestlers as hard asses…
JP: Like vikings.
5PM: Exactly. You’ve trained here in the US on occasion so I guess I’m wondering, back home, is there anything you guys do in terms of training that is unusual compared to how it is here?
JP: Not training wise, I think. But us in Sparta to Rio, we’re ten guys who are always training together everyday. In Sweden, wrestling is not that big. If you look at the states, there are centers like in Colorado Springs. In Sweden we don’t have those kinds of centers, we only have clubs. So we’re only a small club, Sparta to Rio, these guys, we always train eight times a week together. That’s our strength. We have a schedule that we follow every week and we train like this. That’s our secret. We take all the good wrestlers in our region in South Sweden and we put them all together in one club and we train with the best all the time. So that’s our secret, we only train with the best and everyone has one goal: an Olympic or World championship. That’s why I think we’re so strong in Sweden. Because I think when we started this project in 2013 we were only one guy in the Worlds from Sparta. In 2014, we were five guys in Uzbekistan, from the same club.
I think it’s a very good atmosphere – we go to all of the big tournaments together, participate in the same training together and go strong together. I think that’s the best recipe for success.
5PM: Like iron sharpens iron.
Jim Pettersson: Right I think so, because you always think wrestling is “oh, you do it for yourself”, but you always have to have your teammates. If you have a good group you’ll always succeed. If everybody is training for the same goal, then you take home more medals. I think that is the secret.
5PM: The US is a very big country where Greco participation is not as high as it is for the other styles, mainly because of folkstyle.
Jim Pettersson: That’s very big in the states.
5PM: Yeah, and it seems like that is a main reason why we’re always playing “catch-up”, because here, some of our best wrestlers aren’t picking up Greco until after college. I bet you started young, right?
JP: I started Greco when I was seven years old.
5PM: See? Wow, because you have people in other countries who have been wrestling this style since they were young, and in the US, most of our best guys don’t begin taking Greco seriously until after college.
JP: I remember this, because I spoke a little bit with Jordan Holm in January when we were in training camp together in Germany. He also said this with folkstyle, that the normal American wrestler doesn’t start Greco until they are 22, like you said. If you want to be the best in the world or take a medal in something, I think you have to wrestle Greco Roman a little bit more than four years or five years, I think so (laughs).
That’s the problem, because otherwise you can’t compete with the other countries like Turkey or Iran or somewhere like that. I think in Sweden we have a good culture with wrestling because we don’t have a lot of money when we’re wrestling and don’t have a lot of the same options as other countries. We only get maybe two thousand people who have licenses for wrestling and we always take medals every year. So we do something right, but I don’t know what we’re doing right. But in Sweden we have a good group. Everybody is good together, we fight, we have good coaches, we have good opportunities when we are in training camp. But yeah, I don’t know what the solution is.
5PM: Did you enjoy the rule change a few years back to two periods of cumulative scoring?
JP: It’s much better.
5PM: How about the rule set going back further when it was one minute, then 30 second par terre?
JP: No, I think they changed the rules too often. The way it is now, the rules are very good. But with two minutes, it’s not enough time. And before you had the one minute standing and the 30 second par terre, it’s too small. I think the good points are coming in matches when the wrestlers are tired, because then you can make mistakes. If you’re a wrestler you must have good condition and good strength. And now when it’s two periods with three minutes I think always the better wrestler wins. But when it was three periods, not always the better wrestler won.
5PM: Would you ever be in favor of it going back to one five minute period, like bang, get to work?
Jim Petterson: When I started wrestling it was like that. I also liked it, too. When it was five minutes and at the end it was 0-0, you got sudden death. I think it was good, also. Because then you always get the best wrestler. Because at the end of five minutes, I take three, you take two, and I win. Or if it was 0-0 or 2-2, then it was sudden death. I liked it. Then the referee could not do too much. But today, they can always do this and that. When it was sudden death it was a little bit better, I miss it. It’s cool. It’s always cool. You look at football or hockey, the next goal wins or the next point wins. It’s normal, I think. But we’ll see what happens. Maybe they’ll change it again after the Olympics. You never know.
5PM: Okay, just a couple more. This is more human interest, but what are some of the things you do for fun when you’re not training for competition?
Jim Pettersson: When I’m not training? Okay, my fun is I have two children…
5PM: Oh, you have two children?
JP: Yeah, one is ten and one is eight. I became a father very young, I was 22 years old when I had my first kid. So all my spare time is with my girlfriend and my two sons. So that’s my hobby.
5PM: Are they wrestlers, too?
JP: No, they say they don’t like wrestling, they play football (laughs).
5PM: Well that’s where the money is.
JP: Yeah I said so too to them. I said, “You give me a summer house in Spain and you start playing football.” (Laughs) So it’s better for me.
5PM: This question is from me I guess, because maybe I’m making a generalization of all the people in Sweden, but do you listen to First Aid Kit?
JP: First Aid Kit? What is that?
5PM: Oh my gosh, it’s a band, it’s two sisters who play acoustic folk music, it’s amazing. You got to listen to this stuff. They’re from Sweden. I figured everybody there liked them.
Jim Petterson: I gotta ask my roommate if he knows.
5PM: Jeeze, I figured for Swedish people it was like Guns & Roses or something.
Jim Pettersson: Wait a second, I’m gonna ask. (Talks to his roommate in Swedish mentioning the band).
Nope, he doesn’t know it either.
5PM: Seriously? Whatever, man.
JP: (Laughs) Okay, we must listen to it.
5PM: Anyone in particular you want to give a shout out to?
JP: There’s so many people who have helped me along the way, if I were to list them all it would be too many names. All my coaches and sponsors, make sure you say that.