The acquisition of experience can happen slowly at a measured pace or arrive in a flurry when you least expect it. Either way, time is the constant denominator and for three of the United States’ hardest-hitting Greco Roman prospects, that time is now.
2016 Junior World Team member Randon Miranda (55 kg), Jordan Auen (60 kg), and Michael Donato (74 kg) are among the sizable group of Northern Michigan-Olympic Training Site athletes who will be flying over to Austria early next month for the 2017 Austrian Open. The event, held in Götzis on March 4th, offers a steady diet of challenging competitive opportunities. Each year, dozens of the world’s top Juniors enter the tournament, as it provides somewhat of an early litmus test to compare against for when the action heats up even more later in the summer. For the wrestlers from overseas, it is a bit more casual. They’ll have other meets featuring foreign opponents. The Americans aren’t as fortunate. Trips across the pond are few and far between. Making the most out of it is a priority, especially since the next event on the US calendar is the Junior World Team Trials, which doesn’t take place until late-April.
Miranda might not yet be considered an elder statesmen but compared to Northern freshmen like Auen and Donato, the 20-year old is a savvy vet. He knows what international competition means to his development and is eager to get more of it. Last year’s Austrian Open was Miranda’s first and he is interested in showing what a difference the flip of a calendar makes. “This time, I am more focused on winning it,” says Miranda. “I feel I can hang with the Georgian at 50 or 55 kilos and honestly, I’m ready to win it. That’s the main goal.”
Auen burst onto the scene three months ago at the Klippan Cup in Sweden. The fresh-faced Californian methodically navigated the field at 59 kilograms to come away with gold at his first international Greco-Roman tournament. With that behind him and a couple of Senior matches under his belt, Auen is itching to keep adding onto his resume. “I’m looking forward to coming back with some more hardware,” Auen says. “We’ve been doing some really good training, Andy (Bisek) has picked up the pace and my condition is better than ever right now. I know (Taylor) LaMont is going to be there so I want to wrestle him and get to know who I’m going to have to go through the make the Junior World Team.”
One of the x-factors making the trip is Donato. Despite only picking up the sport of wrestling a few years ago, he is making strides due to his willingness to learn and an insatiable desire for hard contact. When a team of US Juniors and Cadets dueled Sweden’s Team Skåne Brottning, Donato stood out as one of only three Americans to snag a win. He did so by literally chasing opponent Liam Kristensson across the mat en-route to a 7-2 victory. It’s that kind of intensity Donato likes using to his advantage.
“Growing up, my dad was a boxer so I was always a hand-to-hand combat type of guy,” Donato admits. “Greco, unlike freestyle, where people like to stay away, is up close and personal. Greco feels like a fight to me. You’re always head-to-head and you’ve got to be tough in Greco. I really like that. It’s a man’s sport and you get to impose your will on some people and it’s a good feeling to eight-point somebody to show all of the hard work is paying off.”
The benefit of foreign training
The Austrian Open might be the highlighted competition of the tour, but what takes place after is just as important. Immediately following the tournament, US Greco-Roman wrestlers will also be participating in a week-long international training camp. This is a usual occurrence; most trips overseas offer the chance for Americans to train with athletes from other nations either leading up to or right after an event. There is often a lot of growth which springs up from these training camps. US wrestlers use the co-opted workouts to pick up new techniques and adjustments they can apply to their arsenals. Even Auen, who is new to the international scene, has a good idea of how he wants to take advantage of the situation. “There is a lot I want to get out of that,” agrees the 19-year old. “I want to wrestle as many foreigners as I can and get something out of each one of them and then come back and practice it in the room.”
He is certainly not alone. Like Auen, Donato got his first taste of international training and competition over in Sweden and came away impressed with how open his Swedish training partners were. “It was really different because I feel like if I had gone to a different wrestling program in America they wouldn’t have been so nurturing and sheltering to us,” he says. “Even though I didn’t speak their language, they helped me in every way possible.”
That help is more than welcomed. If there is one area of international training known for providing the most benefit, it is the “feel” wrestlers from other countries bring. US combatants are known for preferring an attack method heavy on strength and aggression, whereas foreign Greco athletes tend to rely more on positioning and balance. Seasoned pros are used to the change in dynamics but for the newer guys, the difference is something to not only be noticed, but cherished. “I really like the feeling wrestling foreigners,” notes Donato. “It gives me a totally different view than wrestling Americans because it’s a completely different style. It’s less strength but more flow. I feel like it helps develop me as a better wrestler.”
What it all comes down to for the Northern crew and everyone else making the trek to the Austrian Open is reinforcement. There are matches to be wrestled and lessons to be learned. It is all going to happen very quickly. There are just a little over two weeks until the tournament, a little over four weeks until they return home, and then next thing you know, April will be here. The spring air will start introducing itself while the Junior World Team Trials loom large in the background. The way Donato looks at it, wrestlers like him need trips like this to further their progress. “These are essential. This is a definite thing to go to. You can’t just go from Vegas to the Trials. Even though you might only have four matches overseas, those four matches might do a lot in improving me.”
As for Miranda, Austria gives him the ability to realize first-hand just how far he has come and also, how far he might go. Following a flurry of activity last spring which saw Miranda not only nail down his World Team spot but also win the Junior Greco Roman World Duals in his home state of California, he went 1-1 at the World Championships. Since then, he has been competing up in weight as a Senior in effort to realize his potential. That’s why when you talk to him, it is no surprise that his confidence can’t help but brim to the surface.
“It’s my last Junior year and I want to make the most out of it before I’m a Senior and continue the journey. I’m excited. I’m ready to go to Austria, the World Team Trials and then hopefully, back to the Worlds.”