For the second time this season, an American Senior Greco-Roman athlete has taken it upon himself to seek out international training and competition without the benefit of a coach or teammates. The first was Lenny Merkin (67 kg, NYAC/NJRTC), who hit Sweden and Turkey back in late-November. Duncan Nelson (72 kg, IL) has now entered the chat after appearing in this past weekend’s Henri Deglane Grand Prix in Nice, France. Nelson also soon aims to parlay his French experience into an opportunity to train with wrestlers from Ukraine.
Nelson’s full-time career began as part of Williams Baptist University’s now-defunct Greco-Roman program. He had gotten off to a promising start by placing third at the 2018 Bill Farrell Memorial in New York. A change of scenery, along with designs on intensifying his training, eventually became necessary, which prompted Nelson to enroll at Northern Michigan University in effort to join the school’s National Training Site under head coach Andy Bisek. There was more progression to be had, and witnessed, from Nelson following his move to Marquette. But various injuries, in addition to the pandemic, temporarily hindered his Senior development; and right when things were beginning to stabilize once again nearly a year ago, Nelson experienced another injury in the form of a broken femur.
Time was required for Nelson, physically and perhaps mentally, to recover. He has done just that, which allowed for him enthusiastic participation at January Camp early this month. The massive gathering in Colorado Springs served as Nelson’s launch point for his trek to France.
At the Deglane on Sunday, Nelson went 1-2, with his lone victory having been recorded via technical superiority. In between, he was defeated by Nika Korshia (GEO) and Kamil Czarnecki (POL). Results rarely matter, particularly at this time of year, and so Nelson’s ledger on its face should be acknowledged but understood for what it represented: testing, which is really what an event like Deglane has to offer. Nelson had not competed in quite a long time, but even if his activity level had remained constant, the story remains the same. He wanted, needed, an idea of where he was at technically and tactically, and he got it. The next step for him is to maintain a steely focus towards leveraging this latest data-set and using it to fight for a World Team spot come June.
Duncan Nelson — 72 kg, IL
5PM: What helped you to identify Deglane as an opportunity worth exploring?
Duncan Nelson: Last year, right before the US Open, I wound up cracking my femur. That ended up putting me out of wrestling for a while, and Benji (Peak) actually convinced me that I should take a six-month break — especially if I am to wrestle for a long time, which I plan on doing. A break would heal up all of my injuries, and I’ve had a lot of injuries in the past. I think that was a really good piece of advice that I eventually took.
I returned home (to Illinois) and began substitute teaching. I had just graduated from Northern during the spring and, after recovering, my leg was healed. The Ukrainian team then ended up in Chicago to train. It was for the German Grand Prix or something like that. I’m not really sure. Since I’m from Chicago, David Stepanyan got in touch with me to let me know that the Ukrainians were here. Him and I went out to train with them a little bit. We got to know the coaches pretty well and some of the athletes. After they left, I stayed in contact with the Ukrainian coaches and planned on going over to Kiev to do a training camp with them. Since I was already going to Europe — and since I’ve also just missed competing — I decided to pick something. I went on the UWW calendar and saw that this tournament was on there. I decided to come to this tournament because I missed competing. I missed wrestling, and I love wrestling. Ultimately, the reason why I do it is because it is really fun. So, I figured I’d come to Europe and do a tournament first before training with the Ukrainian team.
5PM: You wrestled Korshia from Georgia, and you hadn’t competed against a Georgian prior. Did you have an idea of what that style might look like since it’s pretty distinctive?
Nelson: Wrestling Georgia, I didn’t really have an expectation of what their style might look like. I know that there are Georgian wrestlers who wrestle very differently. For instance, comparing (Ramaz) Zoidze to (Shmagi) Bolkvadze, they have very different styles. But I knew that Georgia was a really good country, and so I figured that he would have a really good background. What surprised me was how strong he felt. I don’t think I’ve felt a wrestler that strong in America, besides maybe Andy (Bisek). It surprised me, particularly due to my being down at 72, where I figured I would be one of the stronger guys. But that wasn’t the case with this guy. On-the-feet, I felt like one step behind the whole time maybe. I was a little rusty since I hadn’t competed in a while, and haven’t had a lot of great training before the tournament. Like I said, I was back home in Chicago, mostly working, and the only training I had was wrestling with my brother everyday after school. In par terre, he was a totally different animal. I felt completely outclassed. Obviously. Which is good to know, because now I know what I need to work on going into my next tournament.
5PM: You got a nice rebound win against Poland (Piotr Lewandowski) in the next round. You haven’t had a ton of opportunities to compete overseas. Did it mean anything to you that you were able to come away with a victory at a top-level tournament like this?
Nelson: You know, it actually does feel really good to go out there and get a win. Especially since I haven’t competed in a long time. It almost feels like it is proving to myself that I still got this and still have a lot of wrestling in me.
5PM:You then had Czarnecki, who Alston Nutter defeated for bronze at the ’19 Junior Worlds. Czarnecki has turned into a tough Senior and he earned bronze here. Did you have any idea what he might bring to the table?
Nelson: I actually had no idea who Czarnecki was until you just told me that Nutter beat him. So, I had no expectations, other than that it was going to be another tough foreigner.
5PM: What do you think this tournament as a whole showed you about your game, positive or otherwise?
Nelson: I think the biggest takeaway from this tournament is that my par terre needs a lot of work. It seems like all of the foreigners seem to be leagues ahead of me in terms of par terre. So from now until my next tournament, that is what I will be working on mostly. I hope to get a lot of practice in par terre while I am still here overseas and then once I come back to America. On-the-feet, I might have felt a step behind, but I didn’t feel outclassed at all. I actually felt pretty comfortable. I know that I have to keep doing the right things and keep practicing that. Hopefully, I will just keep getting better.
5PM: How did January Camp set the tone for you prior to leaving for France?
Nelson: January Camp was great. It was really nice to go over there and get some high-level practices before I went overseas. I actually felt really good at camp. The coaches were awesome. The Cuban coaches were absolutely fantastic. I felt like I was getting a lot better. I learned a lot. It was really nice to be able to do that before wrestling overseas.
5PM: When you return Stateside, how do you plan on building off of your time in Europe to set yourself up for the spring?
Duncan Nelson: My plan from here on out now that the tournament is over and I know where my weak points are — and where I am a little bit stronger — I can move onto training camp in Ukraine where I will be able to work on all the stuff that I need to work on and try to learn as much as possible. Absorb as much knowledge and technique as I can from them, and then when I come back to the US, use all of that knowledge and information that I learned. Use it to try and peak before competition time at the US Open. Then hopefully after the US Open, continue to work hard and make a World Team this year. That’s the plan.
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