Last week, members of Austria’s National Team were in Fuerteventura, Spain where they participated in a joint training camp that also consisted of women’s freestyle competitors. Traditional practices were held but the experience was not limited to “wrestling”. In addition to on-the-mat workouts, the Austrian combatants took part in various recreational sport activities such as beach volleyball, ping-pong, and miniature golf.
The reason for the relaxed environment was largely to facilitate team bonding. Athletes still trained, but they were able to spend time together off the mat, as well; in between particulars within the assorted itinerary, coaches held discussions with staff and wrestlers pertaining to upcoming events and other training plans.
Tracz Back as National Coach for POL
Three-time Olympic/World medalist Jozef Tracz has returned as the head national coach for Poland, a move that went into effect late this past fall. Tracz originally led POL through much of the early to mid-2000’s but remained involved from the periphery following his exit. During his time as a competitor, Tracz was one of several top contenders in the crowded weight category of 74 kilograms, which back then included the likes of Filiberto Azcuy, Bakhtiar Baiseitov, and, of course, Mnazakan Iskandaryan.
Now that Tracz has resumed command of the Polish program, there are multiple items for him to address with regards to his team at-large as well as the impending European Championships — and, eventually, the first leg of Olympic qualification that will occur in conjunction with the ’23 Belgrade Worlds scheduled for September. Determining the respective statuses of ’20 Olympic bronze Tadeusz Michalik (97 kg) and two-time World bronze Gevorg Sahakyan (67 kg) is at the moment significant, as well. Journalist Jakub Kazula on behalf of the Polish Wrestling Federation conducted an excellent in-depth interview with Tracz last week covering these topics and more. Below are some of the highlights.
Kazula: It’s not the first time you have led the National Team. What has changed in wrestling or in your approach since then?
Jozef Tracz: Wrestling back then was a bit different. Now matches are more dynamic. There are also regulations that the competitor must stick to the center of the mat, because, for example, leaving the zone could mean losing a point. This is an example of how much it has changed. The fight is very stamina-oriented, and more, or even most, of the points are scored in par terre, so we put more emphasis on mat wrestling from the very beginning.
Kazula: I will ask directly about one category, because in the Olympic weight 77 kg we have recently had a void. Do you see the potential to send athletes in this weight class in the most important events so that it is not unfilled?
Tracz: That’s right, we’ve had a drought in this weight class for a long time. I have an eye on two wrestlers who – despite the fact that they have a lot of work ahead of them – already wrestle at a good level — Patryk Bednarz and Maksym Zakharchuk. They will both take part in these most important trainings with all our national leaders and also the most important international events.
Kazula: So what about Gevorg Sahakyan, because at the end of the season a question mark appeared next to him, and there is also the fact that there is no Olympic category for him. Because, it was difficult for him to lose weight for 67 kilograms, but 77 might be too heavy.
Tracz: For now, the situation is that Gevorg did not take part in either of our training camps. He said that he would think about his future, but I would say that it does not look good, because the absence at these training camps basically means that he will for certain miss the European Championships. What happens after that is still unknown.
Kazula: Of course, we also have our Olympic medalist, Tadeusz Michalik, who is coming off of a down year compared to 2021. You are now a coach, but also a former competitor with huge Olympic experience. What should be done to get Michalik out of this post-Olympic hole?
Jozef Tracz: Well, at the moment we are thinking along with the coaching staff how to lead Tadeusz to Olympic qualification. Unfortunately, Tadeusz has been plagued with injuries for some time, although here at the training camp he is able to execute the training plan by 80 percent. At the moment, the plan is that Tadeusz will probably sit out of the European Championships and then we will prepare him in one cycle for the very-important 2023 World Championships.
Going on throughout the week at the Barbarian Arena in Nykobing Falster is a full-force training camp featuring athletes from across Scandinavia. Wrestlers from host country Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland are in attendance, and the camp is described as “a warm-up for the upcoming Zagreb Open 2023”, which is set to take place (for Greco-Roman) February 1-3 in Zagreb, Croatia. Preliminary rosters for Denmark and Norway can be found here or here.
Sundsvall 2023 Retrospective
On Sunday, Aidan Squier (80 kg, Scorpions/HPGP) earned gold and Will Scherer (65 kg, MO/Combat WC) fought hard for silver at the 2023 Sundsvall Open. Meanwhile, Gunnar Hamre (67 kg, Combat WC) wound up in the bronze round, with his lone victory sandwiched between defeats to two highly-established competitors — and the Swedish tournament also represented Patrick Brackett‘s (72 kg, CO) first overseas competition.
The US does not have a prolonged history at Sundsvall. Combat WC coach Lucas Steldt first brought athletes to the event in ’20, which up until this past weekend was also the last time. That year, National Team member Payton Jacobson (77 kg, Sunkist/NTS) — then a 60-kg sprite — placed first along with ’22 World Teamer Benji Peak (72 kg, Sunkist/NTS). Jacobson was on a tear throughout the winter of ’20, as he had earned gold the week prior to Sundsvall at the Kolding Cup (DEN) before closing out the string with another gold from the Austrian Open.
However, Steldt and company (which is to say Bill Kahle from Ringer) do not shuttle athletes to Europe so that they can win medals. They do so in an effort to expose age-groupers with Senior aspirations to how the sport is treated elsewhere. How serious it is taken, how Greco-Roman is not just a wrestling style, but also a culture. Even in other nations, there is something different in the way Greco is approached by coaches and athletes. Because in most regions it is the most prominent and participated discipline, there is a heightened degree of care towards the manner in which foundational Greco-Roman skills are developed. Until the whole of the US program begins to commit to this understanding, they are going to find their own developmental challenges increasingly more daunting.
For the second time this season, a USA Senior competed overseas by his lonesome, with the first being Lenny Merkin (67 kg, NYAC/NJRTC) in November. Duncan Nelson (72 kg) threw his hat into the orange ring this past weekend at the Henri Delgane in Nice, France without any US support. Nelson — who began his full-time career at Williams Baptist — went 1-2 and finished 9th in what was a tough field. The event overall rendered quality, as ’20 Olympic Champion Luis Orta Sanchez (67 kg, CUB), ’20 Olympic/multi-time World champ Zhan Belenyuk (87 kg, UKR), and two-time World bronze Oscar Pino Hinds (130 kg, CUB) all prevailed in their respective weight categories.
Nelson has provided thoughts on his performance as well as what he hopes this European trip will mean for him going forward. You can look for that coming up very shortly this week.
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