Late last month, four United States age-group Greco-Roman athletes traveled to Sundsvall, Sweden for competition and training. The competition, of course, was the annual Sundsvall Open, which for a couple of years wasn’t exactly “annual” due to pandemia. But there they were, the four-piece, mixing it up in separate divisions and weight categories, all within the confines of the Nordic System’s terrifically-productive pooled format. Following the tournament, the Americans remained in and around Sundsvall to train and learn, learn and train, in an effort to ensure that their time overseas offered much more than just a string of matches.
What tends to get lost is the courage it takes for these athletes to embark on these sorts of adventures. Not one of the lot is just an “okay wrestler”. Each of them, in their own unique ways, are actually excellent wrestlers and would likely find success among the traditional folkstyle ranks, provided such an endeavor sparked an appropriate degree of motivation. It does not. Although the scholastic route would be “safer”, they have bypassed that path. Their love is for Greco-Roman, a style as begrudged in America as it is neglected. With few resources available — and even fewer opportunities to progress at an amenable rate — in the US, they have no choice but to take full advantage of overseas exposure.
What they do have is Lucas Steldt, who for years now has made an impassioned effort to develop young USA wrestlers according to how the sport is competed, and treated, elsewhere around the globe. Steldt prioritizes specific overseas tours in specific locations, and he was the preeminent factor for why the four young men mixed it up in Sweden a few weeks ago and remain committed to continuing on in their respective Greco-Roman educations.
But the spotlight now shifts to the athletes themselves. After they returned home from Sundsvall, the four up-and-coming competitors (two of whom, Gunnar Hamre and Aidan Squier, have been featured on this platform previously) reflected on the the trip and what they hope to take away from it.
Will Scherer — 65 kg, MO/Combat WC
Scherer earned silver at the Sundsvall Open. He won four matches en-route to the final, three of which were recorded via fall. Both Scherer and Squier competed in the event’s equivalent of a U17 division. Sundsvall represented Scherer’s first appearance in an international gold-medal match.
5PM: How would you compare what it is like wrestling foreigners to what it is like going against Americans?
Will Scherer: I would say that wrestling foreigners is tougher and you have to train for them more and their hand-fighting is a lot more technical. Americans are stronger and normally have one or two good moves.
5PM: What did making the final at Sundsvall say to you about the way you train in America?
Scherer: It tells me that I’m training with the best. My coach Lucas Steldt trains us like we’re overseas, so the jump into foreign competition feels natural. Like practice. It also shows how great my teammates are who I train with, such as Gunnar Hamre, Aidan Squier, and Ashton Miess. One similarity is that they are all bigger than me, which makes me fight hard for every go while also making sure my technique is solid.
5PM: What was the one thing you felt best about technically while overseas, and what is the one thing you can’t wait to work on once you get back home?
Scherer: I would say that my hand-fighting was very technical and physical coming off of the Senior level camp at the Olympic Training Center where I was working with older guys. I can’t wait to get home and work on my top and bottom par terre because that is where I lost my finals match.
Gunnar Hamre — 67 kg, Combat WC
Hamre, the most hardened of the foursome, went 1-2 in Sundsvall, good for fourth place. But the level of competition he faced was outstanding. Hamre’s division (as well as Brackett’s) was a hybrid of Junior (U20) and Senior, and his weight category included the likes of Abu-Muslim Amaev of Bulgaria and Nestori Mannila of Finland. Hamre faced the latter in his last bout of the tournament.
5PM: You have had a lot of experience training with some very experienced and established US Seniors. Now you have had some time against foreigners whose experience and skill is perhaps higher than most Americans. What does that difference feel like for you if you had to describe it?
Gunnar Hamre: From what I’ve seen, I’d say the biggest difference is the pressure in both the hand-fight and in par terre. Most US wrestlers will push more on the feet by leaning — but most foreigners will push up through their legs without leaning, which makes it hard to move them and counter their attacks. In par terre top, guys from the US will let off pressure before they attack, making it easier to see which direction they want to go to, while foreigners will keep that pressure constant and still be able to move from either side. This makes it harder to see what they want, which also makes it harder to defend.
From par terre bottom, US wrestlers will defend too hard one way and let their hips come up, or not move at all, or move too much and allow their hips to come off the mat. Foreign wrestlers can really keep pressure all throughout their bodies. They keep almost a seal along the mat with their whole body. When they do move, it all has a purpose; either to break the lock or move off the lock, all while getting their hips away or pulling off so that you lose any pressure you might have had.
5PM: How do you absorb skills and technical concepts you learn overseas and apply them to your own day-to-day training?
Hamre: For me, when I first learn a technique, I will try to ask as many questions to really understand what is happening, what pressures I need and where my body needs to be. Sometimes, I’ll stay after to work on it with my coach or with a foreign coach if I don’t understand it completely. By the time I get back to the US, I try my best to practice and show others the technique. I try to work on it as much as I can until I have a good idea where and when I can use it. I also try to use it during live go’s to really get a feel for it.
5PM: On this latest trip for you in Sweden, with the tournament and the camp, what has provided the biggest boost in confidence?
Hamre: The tournament didn’t go the best for me. I ended up 1-2 for the day, but the training has been going amazing. About half-way through the time in Sweden, I started to get a good feel and mindset during live matches. I was also able to work with many great guys like Niklas Öhlén and Alston Nutter. After practices, I would work with Alston and my coach Lucas (Steldt), and both helped me understand more about what we worked on and where I need to improve myself.
Patrick Brackett — 72 kg, CO
The younger brother of well-known Senior Tommy, Brackett was brand-new to overseas competition when he arrived in Sundsvall. As a wrestler, he is thought of as an exciting and athletic prospect who has the innate tools to develop into a potential force for the US program.
5PM: I’m sure you have heard a lot about what it’s like in Europe. Did anything about your first trip surprise you?
Patrick Brackett: Europe has been a great experience and the biggest thing that has surprised me so far is how good the food is here and how much healthier it is.
5PM: What is your plan for taking what you have learned and then assimilating it into your preparation at home?
Brackett: I’ve been writing notes down on all of the new techniques I’ve been learning as far as what’s been working and what’s not been against the high level wrestlers here. I then plan to go over it with my coaches and continue to build it into my game.
5PM: What were your goals for this tour overall?
Brackett: Going into this tour, I obviously wanted to do my best at the tournament and bring back a medal, which I failed to do. But the biggest thing was that I wanted to soak up as much knowledge as possible and learn as much as I can from the great coaches out here to prepare me for the US Open and the future.
Aidan Squier — 80 kg, Scorpions/HPGP
Squier was the Americans’ only champion in Sundsvall, and a dominant one at that. None of his opponents managed to survive to the end of a match as Squier disposed of each adversary by way of stoppage (three VSU’s and a pin). It was also not his first time medaling overseas. In the fall, the East Coast native earned silver at the Malar Cupen (SWE).
5PM: You placed overseas prior to Sundsvall but this time it was a gold medal. How does it feel knowing you have won a very good overseas tournament?
Aidan Squier: It feels great to see the work that I put in pay off. It is an amazing feeling to see the improvements I’ve made, and the mistakes that I’ve corrected from tournament to tournament.
5PM: Throughout the past year, you have traveled a few times and have really expanded your experience. Does all of this traveling and competing reinforce your decision to stick with Greco?
Squier: Traveling and expanding my experience and knowledge with Greco has solidified and reinforced my decision to stick with Greco as it adds to my love and appreciation for the sport. Traveling and seeing many different cultures is such a great experience to have at such a young age, and with many more journeys ahead of me.
5PM: How do you plan on building off of this trip, the next one coming up, and then zeroing in on possible World Team selection?
Squier: I plan to use the knowledge and experience that I have from competing against Greco athletes from all over the world on the many trips I’ve been on to level up my Greco in preparation for the World Team Trials.
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