Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco-Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland questions pertaining to recent events, training, and other topics surrounding the sport of Greco-Roman. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask going forward, let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we talk to US Greco head coach Matt Lindland following the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial International. Several storylines wrote themselves during that event, especially in the finals, where two of the country’s most prized prospects were pushed by their rivals. We also got to see the return of three talented stars, namely Jesse Thielke, RaVaughn Perkins, and Geordan Speiller. In addition, Coach Lindland talks about the training plan for the US athletes ahead of the trip to Europe next month as well as his thoughts on fostering peace through athletic competition.
5PM: Were you pleased overall with how the US athletes performed at the Schultz last week?
Coach Matt Lindland: Yeah, I was pleased with the way they competed more so than the result. I liked the way our guys went out there and put a lot of points on the board, they scored big points. We saw pins and tech falls throughout the tournament. It was all a culmination of what we talked a lot about during the two-week training camp, which was attacking, making offensive attempts, not waiting, not hesitating, and going out there to force your style and scoring big points.
I thought for the most part we saw really great matches. We saw some good comebacks, like (Geordan) Speiller’s match. (G’Angelo) Hancock had to come back in his final match, Kamal (Bey) had to, as well. It was a lot of heart, a lot of fight, which is what I’ve always felt American Greco-Roman wrestling has been about, the heart, the fight. The guys love to battle but at the end of the day, you only win matches when you score points, so you’ve got to do that, too.
5PM: Just to touch on a few individual performances, starting off, Jesse Thielke returned and had an up and down day coming back from his layoff.
ML: He had more of a down day than an up-and-down day, unfortunately for Jesse. I had a nice talk with him the next day and I’m certain he is at the wrong weight class but I’m not sure he realizes that yet. If he hasn’t figured it out by now, he will come to the realization that he needs to move up to 66 (kg) sooner or later. He is a very talented wrestler but cutting weight the way he does is just hurting his skills, his ability, and his performance. It’s hurting him physically and mentally, as well. It’s just not worth it and it doesn’t make this sport any fun. It is a very difficult sport. And when you add excessive weight loss onto it, it makes for a very miserable experience for athletes.
5PM: Two of the country’s better-known young athletes, Kamal Bey and G’Angelo Hancock, had close come-from-behind finals matches versus their current rivals, Jesse Porter and Hayden Zillmer, respectively, who are extremely tough and talented wrestlers, so it shouldn’t have been a total surprise. Did you like seeing Bey and Hancock get pushed the way they did?
ML: It is absolutely great to see them get pushed like that. I mean, it tells me that not only are we developing some really good athletes at the top, we’re developing some depth within our program. Hayden Zillmer is a very, very tough guy. He came on the scene at the Trials, he didn’t really know how to wrestle Greco but somehow, was able to win a lot of matches and make it onto our National Team. Now he is in a full-time Greco training environment and he is going to get better exponentially fast. From what I understood, he was a pretty good Greco wrestler in his youth and it must be where his love is, because he really puts his time in on the mats. He is a guy who stays after practice every camp, every session, so there is no question he is going to keep improving quickly.
Porter, we knew how good he was. He beat Kamal last year at the Junior World Team Trials in one of the three matches. He made some huge adjustments in his performance but I think more importantly, we saw Kamal win a close match. That doesn’t happen too often (laughs). Kamal doesn’t have close matches and if he does, he doesn’t like to have them, so he panics. Now he is more poised and composed as an athlete and is capable of winning those close matches. When you start getting to the level that he’s beginning to reach, it’s great to see guys like Jesse Porter getting closer and closer to Kamal. It’s going to push both of those athletes. But as his (Bey’s) career continues, he is going to have to win close matches and it’s nice he got to experience that already.
5PM: Following a pronounced layoff, Geordan Speiller came back and put on an impressive display, defeating two foreign opponents including 2016 Olympian (Mahmoud) Sebie in the finals.
Coach Matt Lindland: Yeah, first of all, I think it was super exciting just to see Geordan back on the mat. I know he had taken some time off due to personal issues and I am really happy to see him back because I know what a performer he is. To have him and Kamal at these World Team Trials, there is going to be fireworks. Both of these guys love to compete, they scrap, they both go for big, exciting moves. This could really elevate not just our team, but elevate the sport of Greco-Roman, to have exciting athletes like that on the big stage. My prediction is that one of those guys could be on our team this year. They are both very exciting, capable athletes.
Geordan wrestled a good tournament. I don’t even think he is near where he needs to be and he still had a good tournament. So he’ll continue to progress and he’s getting ready to head over to Cuba for the Granma Cup shortly.
5PM: With a little over a month in between competitions, from the Schultz to the trip overseas that a lot of guys are taking, how do wrestlers stay on target relative to their overall training plans for the World Team Trials in April?
ML: Well, I think that’s a bigger question, to tell you the truth. Right now we’re focused on the three weeks before we leave for Europe. We’re doing a lot of wrestling, but we’re doing our conditioning and getting our strength training in, as well. We’re on the mat four times a week right now, the weight room three times a week, as well as the conditioning. I think right now it’s about preparing these guys for what’s coming up as far as endurance. We want to have a lot of endurance right now. We want to continue to improve on our techniques. Once we get back from our European tours, yeah, we’re going to shorten things up and practices will get a little briefer but they’ll be more intense. We will try to hit a little mini-peak for the Trials and then taper them back down after the Pan Ams and then prepare them for the World Championships.
5PM: The US freestyle team was recently banned from going to the World Cup in Iran and then put back in. Without delving into politics too much, there is little doubt that sports can promote peace. Talk about your experience regarding camaraderie with athletes from other nations and how relationships in that realm blossom.
Coach Matt Lindland: Oh wow, I’ve made a lot of great friends from my international competitions not just through wrestling, but also through martial arts. Competing against guys usually builds the most camaraderie, for sure. I was on one of the first trips back to Iran since the 70’s when we put sanctions on them. In 1998, I went over to Iran and won the Takhti Cup. And I always find it interesting when I may run into people who recognize me from fighting because I did that on television and there are some people who recognize me from wrestling, but they are usually American. But whenever an Iranian recognizes me for wrestling, it is always, You were the Takhti champ! (Laughs) We don’t really put that much emphasis upon these different international events. We’re just looking to compete and prepare ourselves for big international events like the World Championships and the Olympic Games. But for the Iranians, to win that Takhti Cup is a huge honor and you still get recognized it twentysomething years later, you’re still being recognized for it.
So it’s incredible how big the sport of wrestling is in the rest of the world, especially in a country like Iran. I’m really excited that our freestyle team is looking like it’s going to go over there after the ban on certain nations coming to the United States. They thought they were going to Iran, then it got cancelled, now it’s back on. I think we still don’t know, the political climate is pretty tenuous, but it looks good and I’m optimistic our freestyle brothers are going to get to go over there to compete. They will have an incredible experience because there are no better fans in the world than the Iranian wrestling fans. But as far as sports, the Olympic Games were created to bring peace and goodwill among nations and it’s vital to have those kinds of relationships.