‘Competition Day’ Is Here for Haavard Joergensen

haavard joergensen, world olympic qualifier, norway, 67 kg
Haavard Joergensen -- Photo: UWW

Less than a year ago, Haavard Joergensen (67 kg, NOR) was on the cusp of potentially putting the finishing touches on what was, by all accounts, a breakout season. It had begun in early 2023 when Joergensen placed third at the annual Nikola Petrov Memorial in Bulgaria — and continued when he stared down a typically tough field at the European Championships to come away with bronze, his first from the prestigious event. Later in the summer, Joergensen rebounded following a loss at the German Grand Prix to score his third bronze of the season from a top international tournament.

not all roads lead to gold, parent edition, jim gruenwald

That Grand Prix of Germany bronze almost had Joergensen in position for a chance to compete at 67 in the World Championships. The Norwegian Wrestling Federation does not hold a selection process that mirrors what happens in the United States. Yes, they have their own national tournament, but selection for World (and Olympic) rosters is not often determined by head-to-head competition. Rather, their governing body tends to assess individual performances of athletes based on results from either the same or similar events. Joergensen was, essentially, in a race with ’20 Euro gold Morten Thoresen all throughout the ’23 campaign, and Thoresen had forged an excellent ledger in his own right during that time period. It was neck-and-neck right up to the German Grand Prix, where Joergensen grabbed bronze.

A wrestle-off was negotiated. The situation was such that Joergensen and Thoresen were to compete shortly after returning to Oslo from Dortmund. However, Joergensen fell ill with a stomach virus of some description, and the wrestle-off was cancelled. Not postponed, cancelled, as the Norwegian federation had decided that a postponement would pit the pair against one another too close to the start of the World Championships. Joergensen still did compete in Belgrade, but at non-Olympic 72 instead of 67.

Joergensen scraped off the run of disappointment and kept training. Because Thoresen was unable to qualify at the Worlds, this season opened with all sorts of possibilities for him. But once the season really began to gather steam in the winter, Joergensen struggled just a bit. He had a not-fantastic weight-cut for the Grand Prix of Zagreb in January, and in March entered Thor Masters with what he refers to as a “small knee injury”. Meanwhile, Thoresen had been competing sufficiently well-enough to get the start for Norway at the European Olympic Qualifier. He wrestled brilliantly, but wound up just short of securing a berth for Paris.

And now it will be Joergensen’s turn.

Matthew 20 Graphic v2

On Thursday, Joergensen will occupy the 67 kg spot for Norway when the World Olympic Games Qualifier gets underway in Istanbul, Turkey. This is the chance for which he has been waiting. His health is not an issue, as the knee injury from March has been by and large resolved. At the very least, it is in amenable order given the task at-hand. And no one needs to worry about his overall condition. Joergensen is a fanatically hard worker who is recognized by peers across the sport for this aspect of his preparation. But all of this only matters once the whistle blows. Then it will simply come down to how Joergensen is able to combine his refined skill-set and attack protocol with an exhaustive gas tank against some of the best competitors on the planet. He is confident in his ability to get the job done and looking forward to the challenge that this opportunity presents.

Haavard Joergensen — 67 kg, NOR

5PM: After coming off of Thor Masters and having a minor knee injury, what has your training looked like over the past two months as this tournament has approached?

Haavard Joergensen: At Thor Masters, I had this really small injury in my knee but I wanted to go back to the training camp. After talking with my coaches and making a plan for the rest of the season, we decided that I was going to train off the mat for a couple of weeks. I focused mainly on conditioning. Just running a lot, using the air bike, and doing this special Hurricane training that we do for explosiveness. That was the focus for the first week. After that, it was mainly focusing on wrestling. Wrestling as much as possible. I went to Denmark to train with Szymon (Kogut) and the Danish guys, as well as with some guys from Moldova. Then I came back to Norway and kept focusing on wrestling. We then went to Hungary for the last camp for preparation. Now I’m back from Hungary and there are just two days until we go to Istanbul.

5PM: Is there a difference between training for a tournament like the Worlds and for this tournament in Turkey?

HJ: For me, it’s basically to just get a good feeling. When I wrestle a lot, I start to feel like I’m trusting my wrestling a lot more. I gain confidence, and with that confidence my wrestling also improves drastically. I start to score more points, I become more active. Also with the weight. Like everyone, I deal with my weight, and I actually feel much faster and I can maintain a higher tempo. It is about changing your mindset to be as good as possible on competition day.

5PM: You’re traveling to Turkey, it is a different culture with different foods. How do you prepare according to your diet? Do you plan for that in advance?

HJ: Yeah, the whole team actually brings our own food for the competition day and for the days before if you can eat anything (laughs). We don’t really trust the food the days before competition. It’s not that we’re afraid of someone feedings us something bad, it is just that we’re in a completely different nature and culture, and it can be different bacteria that we’re not used to coming from Norway. So, we like to be sure that if we are going to eat, it is something that we’re used to, something we know that our stomachs can handle. It is more of jist being safe. Of course, we don’t be sick or anything on competition day. It’s not something about cheating or anything like that, it is just that the bacteria in food might be different from we normally have. This country is far from us and it can be risky for us. It doesn’t matter which country we’re going to. We want to be safe and eat the foods we normally eat. As humans, we like to eat what we know we can eat. I don’t think it’s smart to try something new or fancy right before a competition.

5PM: All World-level wrestlers are in top condition but you are especially well-known for your stamina and strength-training routine. How far out from a competition do you stop with any sort of strength training movements?

HJ: We don’t really train hard or heavy weights right now. To be honest, we’re just lifting easy weights with explosiveness and few repetitions just to stimulate the muscles. If you don’t lift too heavy and avoid the exercises you get sore from, I don’t think it is a problem to do it before a competition. For example, tomorrow we do have a strength training session but we have our own program that is specific to wrestling. We’re not lifting heavy and getting sore before the competition.

5PM: You guys basically have a full roster, five out of six weight classes going to the World Olympic Qualifier. What is your team unity like when everyone is preparing for something big just like this event is?

Haavard Joergensen: We are of course not the biggest team. We’re all living in Oslo together, we train together every day, and we also go to camps together. We see each other 24/7. I see the guys on the team more than I do my girlfriend (laughs). The guys on the team are like my second family. We spend a lot of time together. For me, I’ll be so happy if any of the guys qualifity. This goes both ways. Everyone is happy when someone from the team is successful. I think if you’re going to do this and make it happen from a small country like Norway, you need to be a team. Wrestling might be an individual sport but we’re nothing without the team. If you are alone, you can’t shadow wrestle yourself to a gold medal. You need teammates. I think a strong team culture is really important. It makes the journey much more fun, also.

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