The progression of an athlete is sometimes hard to notice until there is a step up in competition. Cleaner technique doesn’t tell the story, nor do slight changes in physical appearance. A lift that lands with just a little more impact is nice, and the same thing is true of an opportunistic bodylock entry. These examples are discernible in a vacuum. Anyone can draw conclusions in an isolated context. But unless the athlete demonstrates such attributes against higher-quality opposition, all you are left with is an appreciation for movement, or strength, or agility. And the problem with that is none of it actually matters.
Or certainly not as much as plain old desire.
And desire is not absent for Alston Nutter (67 kg, Sunkist/NTS, 5PM #5) as he readies himself for the 2021 U23 World Championships this week in Belgrade, Serbia (Nutter starts on Tuesday morning). If anything, the opposite is true. Nutter, 22, earned Junior World bronze in ’19 — and now that he knows what it feels like to stand on a podium, the thought of doing so again will not leave his thoughts. He is consumed by it. Can’t get the idea out of his head. It has only been approximately 26 months, but in his mind it has been nearly three years. Nutter uses the word “addicting” to describe the sensation of earning hardware. Judging by his passion for the cause and the insistent tone in his speech, that seems appropriate.
What has transpired following that August day in Estonia two-plus years ago is also worth examining. Nutter had planned on plowing ahead for the Olympic Year. The pandemic wound up becoming responsible for an unexpectedly-long hiatus. By the time Nutter walked into the Fort Worth Olympic Trials in April, it had been 19 months since his Junior bronze. He performed well, insofar that he managed to defeat fellow ’19 Junior medalist Peyton Omania (NYAC/CYC, 5PM #1) in the opening round, before ultimately falling to both Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) and Nolan Baker (NYAC, 5PM #8). But later that month, Nutter powered through to the US National final, his first big-time Senior domestic achievement.
The bottlecap arrived in May with U23 World Team selection. He had once again trucked to a best-of-three, but faced a stiff test in the form of Jaden Enriquez (Michigan WC). Nutter swept what was a more contentious series than most might have anticipated. Enriquez battled gamely, and both bouts delivered compelling action. Both matches also demonstrated Nutter’s persistence. The entire time, he had remained focused on two symbiotic objectives: Nutter wants, and wanted, another medal; in order to make that happen, he had to get past Enriquez.
For Nutter, the U23 Trials offered evidence for progress that is easy to ignore on its own standing — just not when perusing the whole picture. No longer a spritely Junior with star potential, Nutter has adjusted to the challenges brought forth by a wide variety of opponents while honing the most pressing components of his skill-set. He likes taking stock of the inventory. If something doesn’t work, or a tool requires sharpening, Nutter simply concentrates all of his efforts on improvement. He doesn’t make it a big deal. It’s not rocket science to him.
But it is the passionate charge towards another medal why he is able to ignore the noise. From an athletic standpoint, there is no close second to World milestones in Nutter’s eco-system. He is not conflicted about the source of his motivation. When he was younger, maybe it was a little different. He had always set his sights on similarly lofty aspirations. He was also just trying to gain a sense of what that demanded in totality. Now, he gets it. Nutter has witnessed what is revealed when pure devotion fuels the engine.
There is not a better marker for progress. No better example of desire.
Alston Nutter — 67 kg, Sunkist/NTS
5PM: The only reason why I am bringing up Benji (Peak) being injured is because this was going to be the first time you have both been on a World Team together.
Alston Nutter: Yeah.
5PM: How big of a blow was that, considering how close you two are?
AN: Honestly, screw the wrestling part of this whole thing. This is my best friend, so the wrestling part of it isn’t even important. To see someone not get a chance to fulfill a goal, a part of their dream? It sucks, man. Benji is obviously really hurt about it, but a lot of other people are, too. It sucks. It stings, to watch someone get something taken away from them that they had absolutely no control over.
So yeah, it absolutely sucks. It was his first Team, first shot to win a medal. Our system to make a Team is a whole process in and of itself. Watching him make the Team and get the chance, to watching some freak accident happen, it was like, Oh, man, this is rough.
5PM: How were you able to scrape it off and just focus on what you need to do?
AN: Well, I mean, every time you put those shoes on and step on the mat — not to be dramatic about it — there is a chance that you could come out in a wheelchair. It’s just part of the sport. Injuries are going to happen. It is just really unfortunate when they do.
But I feel horrible for him. It stings. It hurts me, too, not being able to step on the mat with him. But, these things happen.
5PM: At the Senior Trials in September, I thought physically and athletically you looked very good. But that tournament did not end how you would have preferred. At the same time, I figure at the very least the Senior Trials bridged a gap during a year when there was not a lot going on competitively. Is that how you viewed it? Or did it take you a couple of days to get over being disappointed from not making the Senior Team?
Alston Nutter: It took me a couple of days. I had two super-tough losses. I had (Alex) Sancho and I was winning the match but then I lost. That was really tough. Then I picked myself up and had a tough match with (Hayden) Tuma. After the tournament I had a lot of self-reflection. I honestly laid out everything that I needed to do to win a medal for U23’s. It allowed me to make a list of things that I still need to work on. I had to improve my match IQ, a little more conditioning, and that was the difference. I laid out everything I needed to do, and then I got right back to it. Like, Alright, we’ve got to do this. There’s no point in pouting about it. I’m 22, I’ve got time, so let’s just do what we can. Let’s get it done.
5PM: We’ve had good U23 Teams since the first one in 2017. This year, there was a legitimate camp at NMU. Some guys who used to be part of the program came back to participate. Was having that camp as beneficial as the National Program hoped it would be?
AN: Oh, definitely. It was super-beneficial, to have those guys back and to train together. That was awesome, too. To train together and get better. It was definitely beneficial. On top of that, I got to hang out with some of my old buddies; and also, meet the guys I didn’t know who also made the Team.
5PM: You’re about to step into your third Worlds. The last time you were in a World Championships you came home with bronze. The mystique is probably gone but this is a jump up in age level. Are you approaching this the same way you did in ’19? Or have you changed enough to where you look at the U23 Worlds as representing something a little different?
Alston Nutter: I wouldn’t say that it’s a different mindset other than that I am a little more mature now. I know what I need to do. Obviously, it is a little bit different. The guys are a little older, a little stronger than at Junior. But that same hunger and fire I am going to bring. That taste of winning a medal, I want it again so bad. And, it has been coming up on three years. I can’t explain to you the feeling that you get when you do win a medal. It’s addicting. I really want to do it again. I thought about it every single day and I did it the last time. And I really want to do it again. I’ve busted my butt, put the time in, taken my losses… I’ve looked at myself to see what I need to do. Now I get a chance to do it. I really want it. I do.
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