USA Greco

Coach Lindland’s Weekly Report: This is the Dawn

coach matt lindland, oslo world championships
Matt Lindland -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland pertaining to recent results, upcoming events, training plans, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!

Now they’ve got another one.

Earlier this month in Oslo, Norway, G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg, Sunkist, world #5, 5PM #1) earned World bronze by coming up with three victories, the last of which at the expense of Germany’s Peter Oehler. Hancock’s medal-winning performance naturally served as the highlight for the US program in Oslo; in addition to becoming the lone medalist, he was also the only American athlete to record more than one win. But from a macro perspective, Hancock’s achievement represented a whole lot more — both in the eyes of his fellow competitors and the National Program’s head coach.

hancock bronze banner

The Oslo Worlds are thus explored in this latest report from Coach Matt Lindland in an effort to explain how the recent past, the present, and a hopeful future can all be intertwined as a new season fully descends upon the sport. Plus — one more World tournament is still on the books and it is coming up quickly. Next weekend, the US will enter the U23 World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. Lindland speaks to the progression of several U23 World Teamers and why he likes their chances, as well as what the remainder of the schedule might have to offer entering the latter part of the calendar year.

5PM: Hancock began with two impressive wins and made the semifinal. We had talked before about how we’ve wanted to see him against (Alex) Szoeke. It was a great match — but the sequence of events in the second period which helped foster the outcome was unnerving. Two part question: how did Tracy handle it afterwards, and what did you say to get him back on book?

Coach Matt Lindland: I like how you asked that question, and you know that I don’t make excuses for athletes. But we really got screwed during that match in a couple of ways. First of all, that lift was four points. Do you challenge that with momentum? No, you don’t. And Tracy has been on this very weird over-calibration which says, I’m not going to challenge anything, anyway (laughs). I think we came back between Tokyo and Oslo where it was like, Challenge that! With Tracy basically saying, No! I’m not challenging anything! Then it was, Okay, now that the tournament is over (Tokyo Olympics), let’s have a conversation about recalibrating.

I don’t know if I wanted to challenge that either, just because of the momentum, the timing, and all of the factors that go into that. You could lose a point, lose your (challenge) cube when you’re really desperate… There are so many things that go into that. There were a couple of moments, including in the quarterfinals against (Kiril) Milov when Tracy hit that beautiful head snap straight to four. I mean, feet-to-back, there wasn’t a foul… I’m sitting there like, I want to challenge this unless you bumped him, which I didn’t think he did. There were a lot of those moments throughout the tournament with Tracy where we didn’t challenge anything because I guess we had recalibrated back to a center of Let’s only challenge if we can win. I think that is what we have to get back to.

The whole purpose of giving out passivities is if there is no scoring. Well, there was sufficient scoring against Szoeke. We were up 4-1 because we had just given up a step-out. Again, the whole purpose of passivity is if there is no scoring. I am still confused and would like to get some answers and clarification on this stuff. We don’t frequently see a third passivity, but then a third passivity is asked for following a score. It’s just odd.

How did we get Tracy back? What did I say, what did I do? I just listened. Sometimes you just have to listen to guys instead of trying to talk. I listened to him talk himself into coming back for a bronze medal. It was pretty tough. He had put on quite a bit of weight after making weight that morning. Tracy was just, Okay, I have to make weight tomorrow so I can come back and win a bronze medal. What do I need to cut? Three hours of just listening to him talking while in the sauna. Just really trying to help him think the right thoughts. Honestly, I think it is referred to as “the ministry of presence” more than anything. Just being there for someone. He had gotten some bad calls — but he gave up a turn. Ultimately, he has to take ownership of that match and not give up turns when you get a bad call. That is what we ultimately need to do, work on our par terre defense. It doesn’t matter if we get put down for a third time. It doesn’t matter that there was a score and shouldn’t have seen a third par terre. We have to defend from the bottom.

But yes, that was a good match. Szoeke is a young guy who had really popped up. He hasn’t even spent a ton of time at camps and you know how often we are in Hungary. But we trained with him a little, saw him pop up at the European Olympic Qualifier, and make the Olympics. He wrestled pretty well. He is a really good wrestler, but I don’t think he is a wrestler Tracy loses to in the future. I think that is a match we are going to win 19 out of 20 times. Something like that. But in saying that, he is also not someone you are going to take for granted, either. He is very talented and has a good gas tank. Knows how to pummel. He’s a great fighter, like most Hungarians are.

5PM: Just react to this: I felt that Tracy would probably steamroll, or at least defeat Oehler. The match obviously ended oddly but by then there was not going to be a different outcome.

ML: True (laughs). That’s my reaction. Yes, that was someone we felt very confident about going up against and beating, and putting a lot of points on the board. But there was a great mix that Tracy had with both patience and a sense of urgency, with the latter one of our focuses on and off the mat. He was very patient, but when opportunities presented themselves, Tracy attacked like a panther.

Yeah, it was an odd finish. He had just snapped his leg and was screaming. I don’t know if people at home caught the audio on that, but man… Both Peter’s and Tracy’s weight came down on that ankle… That was a nasty break. You hate to see that.

hancock, oehler

Early in the second period of their 97-kilogram bronze match at the ’21 Oslo World Championships, Hancock (blue) attacked Oehler and was able to wrap the body for a surge of points. Upon Hancock’s action, Oehler’s right ankle twisted in the extreme opposite direction, resulting in an apparent break as well as an automictic victory via injury default for Hancock. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

5PM: A high tide raises all ships. Tracy is part of that whole generation of younger guys from the US who came up last quad. Now his peers — and we can rattle off a dozen and a half names — saw him get on the medal stand. Do you think they perhaps see for themselves that this is more reachable than before?

ML: I would certainly imagine, and my prayer is “yes”. These athletes who have come up alongside Tracy — and you’re right, there are a dozen names we can add — took the route of not going to college, grabbing legs, and trying to get riding time. Instead, they wanted to focus on Greco-Roman. Let’s earn some age-group World medals and graduate to Senior and earn more hardware. I really do believe that this was the first domino to fall; and, Tracy was the first one in. He lived here in Colorado Springs. He was in town, grew up about 15 minutes from the (Olympic & Paralympic) Training Center, and so he was an easy one to grab (laughs). I was the new coach in town and needed some new athletes, and Tracy was one of the first. Then Kamal (Bey) came over, we got Alston (Nutter) and Benji (Peak) to leave high school and go up to Northern… The list goes on and on.

Yes, I really do feel like this gives the other athletes permission. Like, Yeah, it’s okay to go win. We have all known that they are talented enough, dedicated enough. On any given day, it is always about how well you competed on that day. It is not about what you did the year before, the year before that, and what happened last quad. Those things certainly help. They are nice markers along the way. But really, you just need to have a good tournament. You have to get out there and compete well on that day. When I was an athlete and the champion would be presented with the gold, it was saying, I am the best in the world on this day. Any other day, it could be a totally different podium without any of the same athletes standing there. It is really about having a great competition while believing that they deserve to be out there competing.

I was on the phone with Gary (Mayabb) earlier today and we doing our end-of-year evaluations and having this massive debrief. One of the things I mentioned to Gary was how this gives me a lot more permission to coach Tracy now. Those lifts? That was an insane finish he hit when the opponent got both legs outside of his body. You saw a 97-kilo athlete dive underneath. That was the highlight clip from the Olympics when we saw (Mohammadreza) Geraei hit that from a split lift, one leg in and one leg out. Tracy did it with both legs out. I mean, that is darn near impossible to finish at the lightweights and you’re seeing a light heavyweight hit that kind of stuff. But with some slight adjustments, Tracy won’t need to take that finish because he will have his far hip driving through and sitting a little more, which will create more lift and allow him to get his hips underneath his opponent. He could then pop and make that throw a little more dynamic so that there is no question whether it is two points or four. But — I still don’t have a question. Both hands were off the mat, his feet were off the mat, and he landed in danger. That is absolutely criteria for four. Both of those really nice finishes he got in Oslo were actually ugly. Now, having that confidence knowing he can lift these guys? And instituting a couple of minor tweaks? I see him lifting the best guys in the world.

You talk about (Mnatsakan) Iskadaryan from my generation, to now it’s (Roman) Vlasov and even (Musa) Evloev at 97. That is why he (Evloev) has been so dominant, because he has a great lift. He knows if he gets on top he can put four points on the board. If you can put four points on the board and take a 5-0 lead, it’s pretty hard for the other guy to come back. If we can get those adjustments made for Tracy throughout this next quad, we are going to see many more medals out of him. That also goes for his peers, the guys who have come up alongside him and have made all of those overseas trips with us. They’re ready. They are ready, and I believe they have the confidence necessary and know that it is the time.

5PM: The majority of US losses in Oslo were close, competitive matches. I’m not bringing that up as some sort of consolation prize, but what I mean is that this overall performance was a little stronger than most realize. (Patrick) Smith, (Dalton) Roberts, and (Ben) Provisor all had excellent opponents but dropped tough matches. (Sammy) Jones was winning until he was caught, and Cohlton (Schultz) did some nice work against the Olympic silver (Iakobi Kajaia). How as a coach do you balance the difference between happiness for the medalist and empathy for those who fell short?

Coach Matt Lindland: I think we’re all happy for the program. We’re out there on the mat by ourselves, but this is really a team effort. Tracy did a really great job of expressing that. He explained how much his coaches, teammates, and mentors mean to him. I think he has known that all along, but him verbalizing that was a big difference from an interview he had in Tulsa a few years ago after winning the (World Team) Trials. Then it was all about him; this time, it was all about others, the people who helped him get to this point. He recognizes that this does take a team effort to do. He was the one who got the medal and stood up on the podium, so I think it says a lot about him.

It also says a lot about our other athletes because they did compete well. Cohlton wrestled a very tough match. He stepped over Kajaia on that third gut. I wish he hadn’t given up two guts. Like we just talked about, you stand up and now you’re down 4-0. But Kajaia got a little greedy and tried for a third. If you watch, Cohlton was looking for those step-overs earlier; and I think if he had just a little more attack off of that bottom he might have stepped over sooner. There was that moment when he had Kajaia on his back. I thought we were going to get a fall over a guy who just took a silver medal in the Olympics. That right there tells you where Cohlton Schultz is at. Greco-Roman is a major priority for him even though he is wrestling in the college system. We’re going to do everything we can to help Cohlton. It’s unfortunate that he was injured for the U23 Trials because then he would have had another chance for a medal this year. But I am really excited about Cohlton’s progress.

Peyton (Omania) kind of got overwhelmed out there early. He is such a super-talented athlete so that was tough. Dalton Roberts, man, he wrestles so hard every time. That Moldovan (Victor Ciobanu) came through the bracket. How hard was that to watch? He probably shouldn’t even received an opportunity on top. He wasn’t doing enough. But he chokes out the Armenian (Gevorg Gharibyan). What an exciting match, but it was hard to watch because if it had went to the Armenian we would have had Dalton back in the repechage. Same thing with Kajaia. I don’t think anyone expected him to lose (in the semis) after making the finals of the Olympics. We were confident that we might have multiple guys in the repechage, but we did get one in with Ben. Ben lost to (Laszlo) Szabo in a very tight match.

One thing our younger guys are doing a better job of is making attempts and taking risks. They are attacking. That is the only way to win. We’re not going to win doing what the rest of the world does, which is wait  for passivity. It is like they see that there is this game involved, where athletes are waiting for passivity. Well, first of all, you have to have unbeatable defense on the bottom if we’re going to play that game; second, we need to have a move that scores four points from top, if that is the game you want to play. Other than that, it should be creating attacks, scoring points, and seizing moments of opportunity. Creating moments of opportunity with our push, pummel, hand-fight, and positioning.

I am looking forward to this group of athletes who are coming up and are all about scoring points and taking risks. Putting the match in their own hands.

5PM: You’ve had several international trips in ’21. You talked last time about how Tokyo was strange. Oslo seemed like a legitimate presentation of the Worlds. I’d reckon that was a breath of fresh air. 

ML: I tell you what, Oslo is amazing. I get why Tracy enjoys going there so much. It is a beautiful city. Norway is a great country, and the people are fantastic. They do have a lot of Greco-Roman wrestling fans. Yes, when we got there, it was a total breath of fresh air. No one was asking you to wear a mask, no one was taking your temperature walking into the building or spraying sanitizer on you as you after you walked into a different room. Tokyo was weird (laughs). You would walk through a doorway and someone was taking your temperature and spraying you with sanitizer. It was odd.

The week before we left for Oslo, their prime minister had lifted all of the restrictions on the country. She basically said, We’re going to do what Denmark did a month ago. We’re going to get our economy back and stop burdening our citizens, so take care of yourself. Take personal responsibility for your health and way of life. It was a very nice perspective to have. I didn’t think about the whole COVID stuff while in Norway. The food was great, they had saunas on the fjord… It was just a great trip.

I would have liked to see more guys in medal matches, but the Team worked together so well this time. Every year, you get a little bit different chemistry. You get a lot of the same guys and a few different guys, but just one or two different guys can really change the chemistry of the Team. We had such good camaraderie going through this training cycle and in New Jersey, and I think a lot of that was due to our new Team leaders creating a really nice environment for us in New York and New Jersey. They did a really great job of helping bring our program together and making it feel like a team. They contributed in that sense. That is something I’ve been working on and our program has been working on for a long time, to have this tight camaraderie. We’re in this together, and we felt that. I think that is going to be a big difference-maker moving forward.

5PM: U23 had camp at NMU while you were in Oslo. The bad news is that Benji Peak is out, but the sum of all parts is still a very strong Team. We have said this before, specifically the first three U23 World Teams, and those results were underwhelming. Whether it is one thing or multiple things, what has you the most optimistic about this year’s U23 squad?

ML: We have a bunch of guys who are fully-committed to Greco-Roman. We have a couple of guys who are still dabbling in folkstyle. (Nick) Boykin has gone back to folkstyle, but I think maybe for him that offers the discipline and structure he needs to excel. I thi

nk Taylor (LaMont), no matter what he does, he will excel. He is a very focused individual. I have the kid texting me about making sure he has a refrigerator in his room (in Serbia) and asking how he is going to get to the grocery store because his diet is so regimented. I just texted him back laughing, I got you a refrigerator. You think I won’t find food for you, buddy?  I included like, a smiling emoji (laughs). He comes back, No, I know, I just want to control what I can control (laughs). But he is just so disciplined and structured that he will find success wherever and in whatever he’s doing, even after the sport of wrestling. I love to see that.

As for Nick, the only thing I ever thought he was missing was that killer instinct, that toughness. From the very first time I ever saw him compete, I thought, Instinctually, he knows what he wants to do. But it was fairly apparent that he hadn’t had a lot of Greco experience. My feeling was that if we got him in here, and he is such an incredible athlete, that we can train him. He is a very coachable young man and very enjoyable to work with — but he is just so, so nice (laughs). There has to be a switch, and maybe folkstyle will help him find that switch to go from this incredible, loving human being to a killer on the mat. Because, it is the only thing he is missing. That little bit of killer instinct.

Britton Holmes is one of the athletes who grew up here outside of Colorado Springs, wrestled a lot of Greco, went to Northern, and now he is in the Army full-time. Spencer (Woods) is in the Army as an athlete… Alston (Nutter), David (Stepanyan), and Dylan (Gregerson), these guys are all full-time Greco-Roman athletes. Nate (Moore) and Brandon (Metz) are our two folkstyle-first guys, but they are also two very talented athletes. I am very excited about Brandon, seeing that big man get out there. He can move, and he is not afraid to try and score points. If these guys all go out there with an attitude that says, I don’t care who is standing in front of me or the name on the back of their singlet, I’m going to compete as hard as I can, then we can have a lot of success. I’m excited about this opportunity to take these guys over and see how they compete.

5PM: After U23 there are still a few potential international tournaments left on the calendar before the New Year. Is anyone going to travel?

Coach Matt Lindland: You know, between the time when the U23 Worlds is over and the first of the year, we probably will not take a delegation anywhere. Not only is the tournament in St. Petersburg (Russia) canceled, it seems like Ibrahim Moustadfa (Egypt) is on the brink of something. Oleg Karavaev (Bulgaria) was a team-dual format so we didn’t put that into our schedule. With COVID shutting everything down in Europe and hearing about this spike, I think we are just going to leave it up to the clubs between now and the end of the year when it comes to getting international competition.

There are opportunities for guys if they buy in knowing that they are going to have to do all of this extra testing and jump through a bunch of hoops. Flights might get canceled. It has been a challenging situation. Hopefully, things start turning around really quickly come the New Year. If you look at the UWW (United World Wrestling) schedule, none of the “Ranking Series” events are listed yet. The schedule is pretty thin, to say the least. If you look, some events have dates but not locations. I am communicating with coaches and federations from across the world trying to get something put together. But the whole world is moving really slow in releasing information, which makes it hard for me to release a schedule knowing that there are all of these events that could be canceled potentially.

I did hear that we found a date for the Bill Farrell Memorial, and that will be April 1, 2, and 3. That is a good event. Generally-speaking, we will get our athletes together in January and have a New Year camp. We will try to get overseas for some training through January and February, and then come back here and start training domestically. We will maybe get that Bill Farrell tournament in before the Nationals and the Pan-Am Championships. After that, we will try to select our Team and get our athletes more training and opportunities before the World Championships.

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