On Sunday, a group of United States Greco-Roman athletes along with National Team head coach Matt Lindland traveled to Zagreb, Croatia to begin the first leg of their winter European tour. Unfortunately for the Americans, the delegation was sliced in half approximately 48 hours prior to departure, officially, though the tide was turning in that direction well before the decision became final.
Due to recent geopolitical tension stemming from Russia’s purported intent to invade Ukraine, the Army’s World Class Athletes Program did not receive approval for travel, citing an “elevated security threat level”. Word had begun circulating under a week ago that the wrestlers from WCAP might no longer be able to make the trip. It did not take long for a definitive answer in that regard.
All of the WCAP representatives who were on the roster are considered top competitors and included high-powered names such as two-time World Team member Max Nowry (55 kg), ’20 Olympians Ildar Hafizov (60 kg) and Alex Sancho (67 kg), two-time World Teamer Dalton Roberts (60 kg), and recent National Team member Lucas Sheridan (97 kg). Perhaps the biggest letdown for fans was that the Grand Prix Zagreb Open (scheduled for this coming weekend) would have brought forth the season debut of four-time World Team member/’12 Olympian Ellis Coleman, who had planned on exiting active competition following the Olympic Trials before instead choosing to continue his remarkable career.
With the Army athletes being removed, the US contingent has been trimmed from 17 to nine.
Two Americans did not board flights from the US on Sunday but are expected to enter the Zagreb GP: ’21 World Team member Alan Vera (87 kg, NYAC) and ’21 World bronze G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist). Vera has been in Ukraine since the fall and will meet Team USA on-site in Croatia; Hancock’s flight overseas will take off in the coming days.
But it’s not all bad news.
#1 — The one and only RaVaughn Perkins (77 kg, NYAC) is back and said to be in fine condition heading into his first trek to Croatia since ’19. Perkins, 29, last saw action at the Olympic Trials where he finished third for yet another National Team appearance.
#2 — He is still age-group eligible, but most observers are interested in watching what Robert Perez III (67 kg, Sunkist) might do against foreign Seniors. Perez is an Olympic Training Center resident athlete, and has been for over two years. He was also a Cadet World Teamer in ’18, a Fargo standout, and qualified for the ’21 Senior Trials but could not enter after breaking his hand.
#3 — Two overseas newbies, two extremely capable athletes: Zagreb will be the first foreign tournament for both Burke Paddock (77 kg, NYAC) and Tanner Farmer (130 kg, NYAC/IRTC). Paddock — who will be featured in a Q&A here prior to Saturday — brings a grinding approach to the game but is also an eager scorer. How his style meshes internationally is worth watching. The same goes for Farmer, though in a different manner. Still only 18 months into full-time Greco, the big man has made a big impression thanks in part to his athleticism and uncompromising “push”. Those attributes could go a long way when opposed by station-to-station foreign heavies who wait for passives.
#4 — No Army athletes, no Army coaches to help shepherd the American wrestlers during training camp in Porec after Zagreb wraps. Coming in to save the day will be Illinois Regional Training Center head coach Bryan Medlin, who is on target to arrive in CRO the first week of February.
#5 — As of press time, the Nikola Petrov event in Bulgaria is still on, which keeps alive the hopes of US athletes receiving two competitive opportunities to complement their training — and training, remember, is the primary objective of this winter tour.
More on Zagreb will be released later in the week.
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