For the Americans, Thor Masters 2023 did not produce a medalist. There was one near-miss at a medal opportunity, which was Sammy Jones (63 kg, Sunkist/CTT who went 2-2 in the tournament). Jones’ second victory came against ’17 European Championships bronze Ivan Lizatovic (CRO, who earned silver on Saturday), an impressive 8-1 decision that, at the time, had put the two-time US World rep close to a podium appearance.
The Nordic system’s pooled format is popular for its promise of multiple matches, but it can also cause confusion for those uninitiated. Such is why some might have wondered how it is plausible for Jones to have downed Lizatovic, who was a finalist, yet not appear in a medal match.
Jones had lost to William Reenberg (DEN) in Round 1; he then defeated Jozsef Andrasi (HUN) in Round 2 before trouncing Lizatovic. Meanwhile, Lizatovic in Round 2 bested Schmid and, after losing to Jones, got past Reenberg.
Jones was also the only American to win more than one match. ’22 U20 World Team member Robert Perez III (67 kg, Sunkist), Lenny Merkin (67 kg, NYAC), and ’21 Senior World Teamer Jesse Porter (77 kg, NYAC) were the only other US athletes to gain victories over foreign opponents. Max Black (60 kg, NYAC/NTS) and Logan Savvy (NYAC) both had “cancel out” wins (Savvy had defeated Mitch Brown of Air Force, and in the next round Black decisioned Savvy).
Merkin, unsurprisingly perhaps, gave the US delegation their most exciting performance. In the opening round, Merkin was handling Rasmus Uriksen (DEN), that is until late in the second period when Uriksen inched ahead 10-9. Only a few ticks on the clock remained, but there was no panic. Merkin stayed poised and purposeful in his pursuit of Uriksen, got to the body, finished going forward, and recorded a pin. The points alone would have provided the Brooklyn native with the W, but the fall was nice, too. It was also important in a general sense. Winning matches from behind, especially in the second period, is something with which the Americans have often struggled. Merkin’s style always keeps him in the argument due to his preference for throws and multi-point scores.
For Perez, his 1-2 ledger needs to be put in context. After going over a very tough adversary in Tim Bergfalk (SWE), it was a showdown with up-in-weight ’22 World Champion Sebastian Nad (SRB) — who scored all six of his points against Perez in the first period (passivity, five for a reverse bomb). Undaunted, Perez came out for the second period as if bitten by a fly, got his own passivity chance, and proceeded to crank Nad’s neck with a front headlock to pick up two. He would eventually drop a 6-3 decision that still managed to prove beneficial. It did not become easier in Round 3 as he squared off against ’17 World runner-up Mateusz Bernatek (POL). Again, a “closer than it looked” 4-0 loss. Perez has been in just a few Senior international tournaments thus far and has already faced several of Europe’s best; and though he has yet to defeat one of these older, highly-established competitors, he has not once appeared overwhelmed. If anything, Perez mixing it up overseas brings upon the thought that it’s an environment in which he truly belongs.
Porter stared down an improved previous opponent in Paulus Galkinas (LTU). They had initially met at Thor Masters ’18 with Porter running Galkinas over via VSU. This past weekend, Galkinas hung in there with a little more rigidity (which is saying something for Lithuanian athletes). Porter was behind 1-0 in the second but a passivity point, flurry, and bodylock takedown helped him overcome the deficit. A tough defeat to Patryk Bednarz (of whom Poland currently thinks quite highly) followed, and his performance was capped with a raucous 8-7 decision loss to Aleksa Ilic (SRB), a match that demonstrated grit from Porter along with the frustration of watching one slip away. The former Northern Michigan University athlete and three-time U23 World Team member had not competed since November, when he placed second to Britton Holmes (Army/WCAP) at the Bill Farrell Memorial.
Just before he took off for Denmark, Christian DuLaney (97 kg, Minnesota Storm) discussed a variety of topics pertaining to his collegiate career, transition to full-time Greco-Roman, and what he was hoping to glean from the Thor Masters experience as a whole. That piece will be made available this coming weekend.
Coming right up and concluding on April 8 is the next US National Team camp, which was stuffed into this space on the schedule as a sort of kick-off to the spring season. The US Open and Pan-Am Championships are the first two events on the docket, with one holding potential implications with regard to the other (as well as the World Team Trials and Final X). Insights and various notes will be gathered as they materialize.
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