2018 AOTY Coon Relives Magical Run in Budapest & The Struggles It Took To Get There

Adam Coon -- Photo: Jim Thrall/MatFocus

On Saturday, 2018 World silver medalist Adam Coon (130 kg, Cliff Keen WC) was announced by the Five Point Move voting committee as its selection for Athlete of the Year. Along with Coon, the other candidates for AOTY were 2018 Junior World silver — and fan vote winner — Andrew Berreyesa (82 kg, NYAC/FLWC), 2018 World Team member Dalton Roberts (60 kg, NYAC/OTS), Ben Provisor (87 kg, NYAC/NLWC), and 2018 U23 World Team member Randon Miranda (60 kg, NYAC/OTS).

As outlined previously, the selection process involves a list of candidates determined by 5PM Staff after the last competition that includes US athletes has been contested. The five athletes who receive the most fan votes are then considered by the voting committee.

Coon, who even now is still thought of as a dual-style wrestler, engineered one of the most memorable runs at a World-level tournament in recent years. While he may be a star in the United States thanks in large part to his scholastic exploits, he entered the 2018 World Championships in Budapest as an unknown Greco commodity. He also endured a trying summer of training leading up that he concedes below represented “rock bottom”.

But instead of coiling in doubt and discomfort, Coon refocused and recharged in time to stir the Greco community into a frenzy. After scoring his first fall of the Worlds over Poland’s Rafal Krajewski, the Michigan native strung together three more. In doing so, he not only advanced to the World final, but also guaranteed America its first Senior World medal in three years.

Following the official announcement that Coon had been named AOTY, he opened up about his performance in Budapest and how he views the silver medal that changed the complexion of his career.

2018 5PM Athlete of the Year — Adam Coon

5PM: Did you look at ahead when the draws came out for the Worlds, peek at potential opponents and say, I might have this guy, I could have that guy? Is that something you do?

Adam Coon: When the draws came out the day before, I kind of looked ahead a little bit just to see how the bracket was laid out. But on the day of, I am only focused on one guy at a time. The day before, it’s nice to look at the bracket and see how everything is laid out. I am also a fan of wrestling at the same time, so it was nice to actually see everything. You recognize some of the names and say, Oh, those two would be a good match-up, these guys would be a good match-up. That way when you’re done, you can go and take a look at those match-ups at a later time.

So I do look ahead a little bit, but I want to make sure I am actually focused on wrestling the day of or the morning of. I only want to think about my match.

5PM: Did you realize who Lingzhe Meng was at all prior to facing him?

Coon: I did not. His was not one of the names I recognized. I figured out more about who he was after the fact, but at the time I did not know who he was, no.

5PM: To me, that’s where this all started taking on legs. The decisive nature in which the bout ended I thought suggested momentum. Did you feel that way?

Coon: Oh, for sure. After getting the first fall against Poland and then the second one against China (Meng), I had a ton of energy, and then I saw I had (Eduard) Popp next. I got excited. I could kind of read his body language. You’re always told as a wrestler to read the opponent’s body language, and I could tell he was tired. I could tell he was beat up, I could tell he was getting fatigued, so I went into that match with a lot of energy.

We all get pushed to the back room (at the World Championships), so you can see when people are coming in after they get off the mat. You know who is fresh and who is exhausted. And I could just see by his body language that he was wearing down, for sure.

5PM: That was the match. If you know Greco, you at least know who Popp is. He’s experienced, durable. 

Coon. Oh yeah.

5PM: I felt that he was going to be a challenging opponent for you, I thought he was going to give you a tough time. But given how you won the first two bouts, it also seemed very doable. That being said, I don’t think anyone who knows the sport really expects you to wrap your arms around him and truck him to the mat the way you did, either. What were your emotions after this bout?

Coon: I was just trying to keep a very level head. I was trying not to get over-the-top excited, but I was having fun. That’s why I love this sport, you know? I was going out there having fun. I was pushing the pace, I was wrestling my style, I was dominating, I was getting falls — I was just having a blast. It was just fun being out there, and that is what I was thriving on, Just go out there and have fun. I’ve had some experience at the World level but I’m by no means a favorite, so I might as well go out there and have fun. If the wins come, it makes it even more fun, and if I lose, I wasn’t supposed to win the whole thing, anyway.

I just went out there, wrestled my best, and had fun. The fact that I got those three falls in a row, yeah, I was very excited, I was very happy. But I also wasn’t done yet, so I had to make sure that I still had fun without getting over-the-top excited that I won three matches. I wanted to make sure I went out into the semifinals with that mindset, which was a little difficult because we had a long break after the quarters. That was the morning session, and then we came back two hours later. I went back to my room to make sure I had time to relax and get away from it all, and then bring back those emotions in time for my semifinal match later that night.

Legends of Gold 2019 Holland Tour

5PM: Did you bother yourself with research on Korea (Kim) during the time in-between?

Coon: No, I really didn’t. I looked him up, looked up his name, but in the moment I kind of figured that, So far, I’ve just gone through the tournament wrestling bodies, not wrestling names. So why would I want to do that starting now? I wanted to go out there and wrestle my match, and by then, the semifinals, who really cares about a scouting report at this time? I am just going to wrestle the body, not a name or a scouting report.

5PM: You mention the body. Kim is short and squat, you’re much longer than he is. He’s a little tank. He also seemed to come pretty close on a pair of arm throws early. I thought he was going to get a correct hold call on one of them. Were they as close as they looked?

Adam Coon: One of them. I don’t remember if it was the first or second one, but one of them was close, I’ll give you that, one was close. The other one I thought could have been my point. He threw and I stopped him, planted him, and then went behind. I thought I had that one but it was ruled a slip. I looked over in the corner and (Matt) Lindland was like, Hey, and ready to throw the block. I didn’t want it reviewed. It was just a waste of time because I was wrestling with a high tempo, and the last thing I wanted to do was give him a break.

5PM: Your over/under on him made it a position battle. The result from that, now I don’t know what you felt in there, is that he couldn’t stop it and you were starting to put him on his heels and walk him backwards with it. He knew he couldn’t go and survive for six minutes constantly being walked backwards, right?

Coon: Correct. That’s exactly what I felt. I was able to put pressure on him and keep him on his heels, rather than he on mine. It was nice to apply that pressure. Back in college, Coach (Sean) Bormet would tell me to “fry his circuit” because my pace was always strong and I would constantly attack a guy to get him to short circuit, where he would take a crappy shot and I would get an easy two-point takedown or something. This was just one of those things where I kept my pace high, kept getting after him, going after that bodylock and going after that position. Taking him on his heels and getting him to short circuit. He went for a move that wasn’t there and it was an easy step-over that put him right to his back.

5PM: His action from there was definitely more of a defense mechanism. He had to do something, because the match was going to be over, anyway. 

Coon: Yup, and that’s what I mean by short-circuiting, you get to a point where you say, I have to do something, and it’s usually a half-hearted attempt. And that’s exactly what this was, I have to do something, I’m getting destroyed here, and he gave one of those little throws he hoped would connect but it was easy for me to step off to the side and plant him on his back.

5PM: After you made this World Team, you said yourself in the beginning that you had to catch up on the learning curve. It was probably a lot of trial and error, a lot of trying to adjust position, etc. When did you struggle the most during the summer from a training standpoint?

Coon: Shoot, there was a point when I was out in Colorado Springs, right around when we talked. I was beat up. I had a lot of issues with my ribs and my back, as well as a couple of knee issues going on at the same time. Trying to hold position was just a really bad spot to be because it hurt. So, there were a lot of times when I would be sitting out of practice because I couldn’t do anything, and also, my mindset was I’m behind the curve as is, because I just came out of folkstyle season and I’m trying to figure out the whole Greco thing and I had been wrestling both styles. But since I’m sitting out of practice, I’m not even getting the experience. And even the times that I’m in (practice), the guys who I had beaten before to even make the Team are now kicking my butt in the practice room.

There were a lot of negative thoughts running through my head that went along with the beat-up body that was splitting practice time. There was a lot of that going on at the camps. I don’t know if it was that the body just wasn’t conditioned for the typical Greco training, or whatever it was, but I was in a rough spot. Especially because a little while later you fly over for the Germany trip and I go 0-1, and then I have a week-long training camp with a beat-up body and everything, so it wound up being a rough period that I had to find a way to fight out of.

5PM: When you say “negative thoughts”, did you have to contend with a lot of doubt as to your viability?

Coon: Yeah, definitely, there were thoughts in my mind asking, What did I get myself into? Thoughts of, I really shouldn’t be here right now, I’m just some guy who got lucky, that type of thing. Those were some of the thoughts going through my mind at that time. Thoughts wondering if I’m wasting my time trying to do this because I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle it. A lot of those thoughts were running through my head.

I had a lot of doubts if I was going to be able to keep from being embarrassed at this level. Because, the last thing I wanted to do was walk out in the middle of the mat and get destroyed by some guy who then gets destroyed in his next match. I don’t want to go out there and be embarrassed, those kinds of thoughts I was going through. Shoot, I’m going to go 0-1 and it’s going to be a tight fit, they’re just going to mop the mat with me and be done, I’m just a scrub. There was a lot of doubt that I would even be able to hang right now.

5PM: But here’s the thing with Germany, it seemed blatantly obvious that you were workshopping position. Was that indeed the case? You certainly weren’t standing there like you did at the Open. Mentally, do you allow yourself a little break at least during this period because you were essentially just testing something out?

Coon: After Germany, I was able to kind of collect my thoughts and understand that, Hey, this is where I’m at right now. This is what works, this is what doesn’t, we’ve hit rock bottom. I was trying to mimic a style that was not my style. In the training room, we did a lot of work on our techniques and figuring out our attacks. That was the whole point of those camps. I went over the plan and then I tossed it in Germany. I had to completely scrap it because that was not going to work.

The way I wrestled out in Germany was a completely different person than I was in Budapest because I had a completely different gameplan in mind. With that one, I was working a lot of position, working on a two-on-one and seeing if I can hit these bars. Yeah, no, that’s not going to work at all. Okay, no, let’s scrap that. Now let’s see go back to something I know. Let’s push the pace and start working on that stuff. Alright, let’s go back to a front bodylock and start working those again.

I was trying some different things to see if I could get a different attack plan and that just didn’t work. So I had to re-modify my original attack plan and kind of go from there.

5PM: That’s part of this. This whole thing wouldn’t have been what it became without these struggles. Is it safe to say that this summer spent training for the World Championships offered the most adversity you had ever encountered training for any wrestling competition throughout the last decade of your career?

Coon: Yeah. Yeah. I would say pretty darn close. Nothing comes to mind that was harder than this summer and the stuff I had to go through to get to where I was at. So I would say yeah, that was the most adversity I faced in all my summers of wrestling (laughs).

5PM: You guaranteed the United States Greco program its first medal since Andy Bisek three years ago and its first finalist since Dremiel Byers in 2009. The gravity of what you accomplished, it was a silver medal for you, but you delivered it to a program that absolutely needed it in the worst way. That’s not necessarily your responsibility, but it is kind of unique. It hasn’t happened enough recently. Does any of that sink in for you?

Adam Coon: Looking back on it, it was definitely nice to help out the program and all that stuff. But when I first got it and people were telling me about it, the first thoughts in my head were, Oh yeah? That’s cool, but I was just kind of going out there for a medal myself, but that other stuff is cool (laughs). It was a little more of I just wanted to win a medal and I didn’t care that much about the trickle-down effect. But now I’ve realized more and more how big that was for Greco to have. I’m definitely happy to have that, for sure. I mean, it’s a silver medal. But I am starting to understand why there was a lot of celebrating with me rather than just for me. There was a lot of joy around the whole Greco program. I am starting to understand that portion a little bit more about why it was so big for Greco.

Follow Adam Coon on Instagram to keep up with his career and competitive schedule. 


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