Two weeks after appearing in the Bill Farrell Memorial, Lenny Merkin (67 kg, NYAC/NJRTC) is taking his talents to Sweden where he will participate in the 2022 Haparanda Cup as the lone US entrant.
Although uncommon, it is not unheard of for an American Greco-Roman athlete to travel overseas on a solo mission. Three-time World Team member Patrick Martinez (87 kg, NYAC) acquired the “Lone Wolf” moniker in ’16 after earning bronze at both the Pytlasinksi Memorial (POL) and Grand Prix of Spain. Other recent examples include Brandon Mueller, who in ’17 wrestled in the Kristian Palusalu Memorial in Estonia without the benefit of a US coach or teammate; Nick Tarpley, who did the same in ’19 by heading to Europe to tackle the Grand Prix of Germany; and Randon Miranda (60 kg, Unattached) last year, which was an excursion that included a gold from the Ibrahim Moustafa tournament in Egypt.
Merkin would rather have a coach joining him on the trip but it’s not a necessity. He is accustomed to handling his own arrangements and does not mind if that means enduring occasional snags. “It is always comforting to have coaches in your corner guiding you and doing the organizational stuff, but I also know that sometimes when there are errors and you have to fix them on your own, it can be a growing experience”, he says.
Merkin’s plan, as described by him below, is increased activity throughout this next year and beyond. There is already one recent performance in his rearview mirror, a silver medal from the Bill Farrell Memorial on November 18. This weekend he will have the Haparanda Cup, then a trip to Turkey for more training, and after that, perhaps, he will have the opportunity to take full advantage of the US program’s 2023 schedule. But first thing’s first, which is the imminent Sweden tournament and its accompanying camp.
Lenny Merkin — 67 kg, NYAC/NJRTC
5PM: A lot of us figured there would be a semi-significant US presence at Haparanda, but it’s just you. That’s it. How did you plan this trip?
Lenny Merkin: I did everything myself. I reached out to the tournament director via Facebook (laughs). Because, I don’t trust email. I don’t know how fast someone else might see it and get back to me. At least on Facebook, I can see if someone has read the message. And then he asked me if any other US guys were going. I told him that as far as I knew, no one else had brought it up. When I reached out to people, no one knew anything. So I was just like, Whatever, I’ll just do it myself.
5PM: Do you like having to travel to a tournament like this?
Merkin: I liked it when I took my year off from school. I was forced to go alone. Then that took a bit of a pause because of COVID and whatnot. So, I think I will like it again. I tend to feel like I might be more comfortable booking and traveling alone. I’m just a little nervous because I haven’t done it in a while.
5PM: What is it about Haparanda this weekend? Is it a matter of where it falls on the schedule? Getting looks against Scandinavian types of styles? Why this specific tournament right now?
Merkin: I want to get as many international feels and as much exposure as I can. I haven’t been abroad since 2019. If I could have gone since, I would have jumped on it. There just wasn’t that opportunity. This year is a big year for me as far as coming back from injuries, seeing where I stack up against an international field again, and hopefully getting into prestigious tournaments, which outside of the US I have never done. I just want to get a full season of Greco, which I haven’t really been able to do because it was always being split with folkstyle. Now I have the bandwith to get as much Greco in as possible and I plan on taking advantage of every opportunity that I can. Plus, I have a unique training situation where I don’t get many guys in the room around my weight. I’m chasing to go with guys who are around my weight, different styles, high-level, and so on. And the fact that there is a camp afterwards makes it worth it to travel all that way.
5PM: Are you prioritizing training or competition this year? Meaning, do you care to just get into camps, or are you more interested in getting actual matches?
Lenny Merkin: I want wrestling, period, whether that comes with camps or otherwise. In camps, there are always simulation matches. I just want to get the most bang for my buck. If I’m already spending money overseas, then I don’t just want to go in a tournament and fly back. I’m already spending the time and money to be there, then I want to get my money’s worth in terms of training, especially when thinking of what I might be lacking here. Not even “lacking”, but things that I can be doing differently. I like seeing wrestling from a different perspective, with different coaching styles. It is more about development for me.
The competitions are nice, of course, because then you can see if the stuff you’ve been doing in the room is working. When the adrenaline is high and all that. I want to test myself first. If I haven’t been training to an extent with which I’ve been happy, then I have nothing to test. I have no moves to test. I might have my mental fortitude to test, I might have some tactical stuff to test. Actual wrestling is different. It is a combination of all of that and I want the full package. And to me, the only way to do that is to go overseas.
The 2022 Haparanda Cup takes place December 3-4 in Haparanda, SWE.
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