In a tournament that is, on paper, expected to include one of the densest and most competitive allotment of athletes outside of a World event in recent years, Norway is answering the call by going with a power-packed roster that has a legitimate chance of leaving a lasting impression — and building crucial momentum towards the European Championships later in the spring.
For next month’s Grand Prix Zagreb Open in Zagreb, Croatia, Norway has selected seven of their top competitors, with ’20 Euro gold Morten Thoresen (67 kg), ’22 U23 World Champion Exauce Mukubu (82 kg), ’17 Euro champ Felix Baldauf (97 kg), and ’21 World bronze Oskar Marvik (130 kg) leading the charge.
The trio of Thoresen, Baldauf, and Marvik wield particular influence around the sport.
Baldauf, 28, is the most established Senior of the group following what had been a sparkling age-group career. A Junior World bronze in ’14 and third-place at the inaugural U23 European Championships one year hence, Baldauf hit the scene as a major prospect, and barely missed out on a berth in the Rio Olympics. In ’17, he broke through at the Euros by defeating multi-time World/’16 Olympic champ Artur Aleksanyan (ARM) and closed out against Aleksander Hrabovik (BLR). A bronze at the European Games arrived in ’19, and, all told, there have been seven other relevant international medals earned for Baldauf over the course of the past four seasons. It should be noted that he is also the only member of NOR’s roster who will enter Zagreb as a returning champion after having run the table a year ago.
Marvik, whose ascension to the World podium in ’21 at home in Oslo attracted mainstream attention, has solidified his personal style as a heavyweight. Once caught in-between when it came to the plodding and pushing most prominently associated with his weight category, Marvik learned to adjust his approach by committing to singular tie-ups more often and recruiting more leg drive. What that has accomplished for the 27-year-old is allow for an increase in pressure consistency when opposed by hawk-over types, the byproduct of which have been more opportunities for step-out points, potential attack openings, and — naturally — more passivity calls in his favor.
Similar to his pal Baldauf, Marvik has piled up achievements from various high-level Senior starts. He won the first-ever “Ranking Series” version of Zagreb in ’19 (and placed third there last year), owns a Thor Masters gold, two Nordic Championship titles, and bronzes from both Pytlasinski (POL) and Gedza (SRB).
Thoresen & Mukubu
At the moment, the pair of Norwegian athletes who occupy the limelight are Thoresen and Mukubu. Even those who might be altogether unfamiliar with Scandinavian wrestling have likely encountered what these two warriors are all about.
Thoresen is the throwback with a new-school edge. A brawler by trade, but one who dips levels and darts angles. Persistent aggression has been his calling card, but what has helped Thoresen the most is decidedly simple: he is an apt scorer from top and as well as an adequate defender.
After winning the ’20 Euros, Thoresen was seen as a tremendous threat to secure 67 kilograms for Norway at the continental Olympic qualifier. But when that tournament, and all others, was postponed due to the initial COVID outbreak, it was hard for the disruption to not have a cooling effect on the heat Thoresen had generated. He ended up not competing again for 11 months (which was the January ’21 edition of Zagreb); his two subsequent attempts to qualify 67 were unsuccessful; and after triumphing at Thor Masters, Thoresen’s appearance in the ’21 Oslo Worlds resulted in a 9th-place finish.
Some lost steam has been regained, not easy to do considering the landscape at 67 in Europe. Last winter, Thoresen placed second in back-to-back “Ranking Series” events and, despite surprising early exits from both the ’22 European Championships and Belgrade Worlds, respectively, his resume has expanded and features several significant individual victories, including one at the expense of ’17 World silver Mateusz Bernatek (POL) in the gold round from December’s Haparanda Cup.
Carrying the highest degree of potency on the roster is Mukubu. They have all taken notice. In a compressed period of time, Mukubu has gone from raw super prospect to a verifiable Senior force. Although there were signs prior to ’21, it was at that year’s U20 World Championships when the native of Congo raced to the final, in the process executing throws and scoring sequences that had fans in attendance glued to his matches.
What transpired throughout ’22 further demonstrated that Mukubu’s talents are, perhaps imminently, capable of garnering Senior-level medals. The only events last season in which Mukubu failed to grab hardware were two European Championships (U23 and Senior). He placed everywhere else, with golds from Pytlasinski and the Grand Prix of Spain serving as the highlights. Then in the fall, Mukubu plowed over his side of the bracket before coming away with top honors at the U23 Worlds.
- All of the athletes Norway is bringing to Zagreb for the tournament and attached training camp (with the exception of Thoresen) are scheduled to compete in the Norwegian Championships on January 21.
- Currently, Danish National head coach Szymon Kogut and Sports Director Thor Hyllegaard are assisting Team Norway until NOR assigns a new NT head coach.
- Roster and weight categories are projected.
2023 Grand Prix Zagreb Open
February 3-5 — Zagreb, CRO
TEAM NORWAY ROSTER
Per Anders Kure
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