It’s no secret what is in store for this latest Fort Greco with Army Coach Spenser Mango: the fact that two Army/World Class Athletes Program wrestlers qualified their Olympic weights for the US two weeks ago.
Coach Mango details the inspired efforts from Ildar Hafizov (60 kg) and Alex Sancho (67 kg), while also sharing some additional insights related to what transpired in Ottawa earlier this month. In addition, Mango opines regarding the recently announced postponement of the Tokyo Olympics and what that might mean for athletes going forward.
5PM: I know this was the same kind of pressure-cooker situation for all of the guys in Ottawa, but for Ildar this seemed a little different. He took qualifying very seriously from the time he won the Trials Challenge Tournament. Plus, he had a shot to qualify 59 kilos back in ’16 and that didn’t work out for him then. Ildar has always seemed to inject extra pressure in his mind competitively.
Coach Spenser Mango: Yep.
5PM: Well, what I’m wondering is if now that he has done this, qualified the weight, if that eliminated a giant boulder from his back finally. Does that make sense to you?
Mango: Yeah, it makes complete sense. He does put a lot of pressure on himself and that’s something we’ve been constantly working on with him. To just open up and get to his attacks, because he knows we’re going to support him no matter what, win, lose, or draw. And he has really been opening up at these competitions, going for his big normal throws that he works on in practice. I’ve just been preaching to him, If you do that same stuff in competition… He opened up quite a bit in the tournament and has made huge strides. He is definitely feeling a lot more confident. He got the weight qualified, and I’m really happy with the way he has been progressing.
Ildar wrestles best when he’s opening up. He does it all the time to me in practice. He launches me all over the room. I have just been preaching that to him, Do that same stuff in competition, don’t hold anything back, go out there and wrestle. Don’t be reserved. He was winning sometimes and going for throws against Mexico (Samuel Gurria Vigueras). He was opening up and that’s when he is at his best. He is not wrestling so timid and reserved. He is looking to score points any way that he can.
5PM: We don’t know when the Olympic Trials are going to happen. Does Ildar’s performance from Ottawa mean that whenever he goes out there again, he’ll be freed up a little more?
Mango: Oh, yeah. Definitely. You just wrestled one of the most important tournaments of the year, which was qualifying your country for the Olympics. Now you’re sitting out until the finals. You get to sit back and wait for whoever comes out of the Challenge Tournament and you just have to win two matches. Coming off of a huge high like that and having the confidence that at the last tournament you wrestled your butt off, you only two more matches to get out of the way and now you’re off to the Olympics. It’s huge.
5PM: Was this the biggest tournament of Ildar’s US career?
Mango: Hmmm. I think it was a big one for him. It’s hard for me to say because I don’t know where he ranks this one. He came away with a bronze medal at the CISM World Military Games. But yeah, this was absolutely huge. There are no Olympics if you don’t qualify the weight, so I’m sure it’s up there for him.
5PM: I don’t mean to discount anyone at 67 kilos at the Qualifier, but once I saw Sancho’s draw, it was like, Okay, he’s going to wreck everyone, anyway. Was that your feeling initially, as well?
Coach Spenser Mango: Yes, I thought he had a great opportunity to qualify the weight, especially with his draw. But either way, I thought he was going to be one of the best potential US guys to qualify, and all he had to do was perform. And Alex, he always goes out there to perform. He wrestles hard. He did his thing and made it to the finals. He lost to a guy he beat at the Pan-Am Championships (Julian Horta Acevedo, COL), but I’m not going to hold it against him. He got the job done and did what he was supposed to do. Now he gets to wait to see who comes out of the mini tournament.
5PM: Right, at the Pan-Am Championships for bronze he ran over Colombia. A week later, Acevedo picked up four points in the first minute of the match and that was kind of it. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I didn’t care about the finals of the qualifier at all. Is that a bad attitude?
Mango: You know, I’m not sure. I saw some conversation online about it before the finals. I don’t know, you go there to qualify your weight class for the United States at the Olympics. Once that’s done, it’s a relief. After that, it’s more like, I’m going out there for fun and to wrestle my match. Not so much for Greco, but a lot of the other styles didn’t wrestle their finals. A lot of times in the NFL, you see teams rest their starters towards the end of the season once the seeds are locked up. I wouldn’t call the finals a meaningless match. Like Ildar, he went out there and wanted to win, and unfortunately it didn’t go his way. Sancho, the same. But at the same time, they did their jobs. They qualified their weights and the finals was like a bonus.
5PM: When it comes to Sancho, the one thing I think everyone can now easily recognize, and that includes those who are not big Greco people, is that his lift is a legitimate par terre go-to. Not everyone in our country has one, he does, and when he gets his lift he dominates.
Mango: Yeah, he is definitely dangerous on top. That’s the thing, too, as soon as he gets you up there is no re-cinch or anything. He is ready to go. He keeps his body in a great position to throw at all times. As soon as he gets you off the mat, it’s usually bye-bye.
5PM: Did the week in-between tournaments really hit the mark as far as tapering goes?
Coach Spenser Mango: That week in-between was huge for him. He looked a little bit tired in the Championships. We stuck to the plan, like, Hey, we need to get our body-weight down, we need to stay hydrated.. And he came out at the Qualifier and definitely did his job. He looked great. He did what he was supposed to do, and did it in emphatic fashion.
5PM: Did you like Ottawa, your time there?
Mango: It seemed like a nice city. I guess I was expecting it to be bigger than what it was. But it was a good size. The people were super-friendly, just like all of the other Canadian cities that I’ve been to. They did a really good job with the tournament. There weren’t that many people who were there, but that was understandable with what was going on that week. The hotel was nice. It was pretty good. Can’t complain.
5PM: With all of the postponements, the Olympic Trials, the Last Chance Qualifier, all of that, have you ruminated about these things and discussed what options might be available to your athletes, after, hopefully, this country and the world gets through this health situation?
Coach Spenser Mango: We’ve had conversations about it. It’s just so hard to gauge right now because everything is so new. We’ve never had a situation like this before. I’m just trying to stay positive right now, and guys are trying to stay as prepared as they can right now given the circumstances. It’s kind of just taking it one day at a time and hoping for a positive outcome here. We’re looking forward to when things get up and running again, and when we start getting dates. Then we can start back-planning from when the Olympic Games are and the qualifiers, and all of that. It is something right now that is really out of our control. For me, I know it’s hard to put a lot of energy and effort into something that you don’t have any control over. I’m waiting like everyone else and hoping for the best.
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