Now is a good time to take a look back.
There was some importance to the March European Tour that the United States Greco-Roman team just wrapped up. A new quad dawned following the Rio Olympics and while turnover hasn’t been major, the next generation of Senior athletes have begun to increasingly make their presence known. Greco-Roman talents like the power duo of Kamal Bey (75 kg, Sunkist, world no. 18) and G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg, NYAC, world no. 18) along with established names such as Alex Sancho (66 kg, NYAC-OTS), RaVaughn Perkins (71 kg, NYAC), Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm), and Toby Erickson (130 kg, Army/WCAP) are now being called upon to provide the foundation for the remainder of the current cycle and beyond.
It’s undeniable — the US Greco-Roman program is in the midst of a statement-making period. While rebuilding is part of the formula and of course, the continual ushering-in of tomorrow’s stars, progression is running neck-and-neck with actual achievement. Building experience is vital for the next four years, but getting wins now also holds significance, particularly for the current perception of Greco in America.
So what did we see in March? A monstrous performance by the US Juniors in Austria. Meanwhile in Denmark, the US Seniors nailed down two golds and a bronze, running up 32 wins overall. The next weekend offered up the Grand Prix Zagreb Open in Croatia. Five more medals including another gold punctuated the day. Finally, the Hungarian Grand Prix, one of Europe’s most competitive events, brought with it yet another show-stopping display by Geordan Speiller (80 kg, Florida Jets, world no. 19), a heroic bronze by Daniel Miller (98 kg, Marines) and introduced the world to the fire-breathing passion of one John Stefanowicz (80 kg, Marines).
Because the proceeding month is going to focus a lot on the 2017 World Team Trials, we figured it is a good idea to properly acknowledge what was a very successful month for Greco in the US. Optimism was high going into the tour, understandably. Four Olympians and a couple of Junior World medalists tend to do that. Right off the bat, that optimism became justified.
US Seniors at Thor Masters – Nykøbing Falster, Denmark
US Juniors at the Austrian Open – Götzis, Austria
Juniors go crazy in Austria while Seniors pile up over 30 wins in Denmark
The Austrian Open has represented a good test for the US ever since Northern Michigan head coach Rob Hermann started taking teams over there a few years ago. You could kind of see this building. In 2015, two medals. Last year saw a nice jump, four medals with two champs. So naturally, you had to expect numbers to climb a little more, right? But 12? Indeed. 12 medalists and six champions from one event is completely mind-boggling, regardless of age-group or level. 2016 Junior World Team members Randon Miranda (55 kg, NYAC-OTS), Taylor LaMont (60 kg, CWC, who along with Hancock, earned bronze at the ’16 Worlds), Bey, and Hancock all won, but that wasn’t so shocking. However, when you’re seeing young Nick Boykin (120 kg, TN), who finished fourth in ‘16, ascend to the top of the podium and an up-and-coming thoroughbred like Logan Kass (66 kg, NMU-OTS) make it up there, as well, you know things are getting historic, which is what this overall performance for the US certainly was.
About 1000 kilometers away in Nykøbing, Denmark, the Seniors were busy amassing a mighty 32-19 record thanks to gold medals from a returning Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC) and a likewise still-getting-the-rust-off Ildar Hafizov (59 kg, Army/WCAP). In fact, this group at Thor Masters included four previous Olympians — the aforementioned Smith, Ben Provisor (2012, 2016), Hafizov (2008 for Uzbekistan), and Ellis Coleman (2012). Coleman himself was enjoying a banner day, racking up four consecutive wins with one of those being against 2014 World medalist and 2016 Olympian Edgaras Venckaitis (LTU). Unfortunately for Coleman, he was later forced to withdraw with an ailing shoulder. Similarly, Patrick Martinez appeared to be on the verge of building a strong run before bowing out due to injury.
2016 US National champ Pat Smith (71 kg) wrestled his way to an overseas bronze, defeating Sancho on criteria 6-6 in one of the most entertaining bouts of the tournament.
- March 4th saw all eight 2016 US Senior National Champions in action overseas, six in Denmark, two in Austria (Bey and Hancock).
- Altogether, eight gold medals were won on this day by American athletes and 15 medals overall.
- US Seniors picked up six technical falls at Thor Masters with three of them coming from Hafizov.
- Both the Austrian Open and Thor Masters utilized “Nordic” pool system brackets, guaranteeing multiple matches.
- In Austria, US teams finished 1 & 2, as the sizable contingent was divided into separate squads. The Seniors came in third at Thor Masters.
US Seniors at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open – Zagreb, Croatia
Sancho’s gold leads the way as US picks up five more medals
Technically, Alex Sancho’s first international win came in 2014 at the Bill Farrell. But wrestling overseas offers different challenges (such as 7pm weigh-ins) and though the training camps are important, adjustments usually need to be made. There’s a different edge needed and Sancho had it, as he was virtually lights out in Croatia. A dominant tech fall in the first round gave way to a memorable victory over 2016 U23 European Championships bronze medalist Mate Nemes (SRB). In the 66 kg final, Sancho used a front-headlock throw for four points and cruised to a 5-3 win over Mihai Mihut (ROU).
Four bronze medalists were the other part of the story. Perkins outscored his vanquished opposition 15-1 in three victories; Bey, up a weight from 75 kilos for the second consecutive week, overcame a loss to Croatian Olympian Bozo Starcevic (world no. 11) to pin Michael Wagner (GER) in the medal round; and Erickson, who had wrestled quite well in Denmark, got on the board at Zagreb thanks to a controlling 2-0 win over Arata Sonoda (JPN). Jesse Porter, the stud 75’er from NMU, also grabbed a bronze, though he only had one match on the day, a close losing effort to Soh Sakabe (JPN).
- US wrestlers picked up 17 wins at the Grand Prix of Zagreb Open to go along with the five medals.
- Bey recorded both of his victories in Zagreb via fall.
- Ben Provisor, Hayden Zillmer, and Cheney Haight all went 2-2.
- The US team finished in second place overall.
Polyak Imre Memorial (Hungarian Grand Prix) – Szombathely, Hungary
Speiller’s talents on full display, Miller with an unforgettable four, and Stefanowicz defiantly commands attention
Geordan Speiller making it to the finals of this event was not surprising. After all, it’s not like his abilities are a secret. Even still, he let loose at times in shockingly easy fashion. On his way to the finals at 80 kg, Speiller outscored opponents 19-5. It wasn’t a smooth ride all the way there — Nikoloz Kilosavi (GEO) wrenched Speiller’s arm twice with a hammerlock and it took a passivity point for the American to get by 2016 University World bronze Viktor Sasunouski (BLR, world no. 14) 1-1. For gold, 2014 World Champion Peter Bacsi (HUN, world no. 5) landed one four-point arm throw to defeat Speiller 4-0. Coincidentally, last year at the same event, it was Speiller who came out on top against Bacsi to the tune of an 8-2 score.
Daniel Miller might have had the best overall showing of his career. The Marine kicked off his 2017 Hungarian Grand Prix with an easy tech against upstart Fodor Tamas (HUN), countered a throw and landed his own to pin Revaz Nadareshvili (GEO), and in the bronze medal match, unveiled some heart-pounding heroics. Down 5-3 to Felix Radinger (GER), Miller swooped in on a high-dive for four points with under a minute left.
Nothing makes you sit right up to the edge of your seat like watching a prospect almost come away with a win an incredible upset and that’s exactly what John Stefanowicz (80 kg, Marines) did. Stefanowicz was hanging in there the entire time with 2016 European Championships gold medalist and this year’s Poddubny champ Zurabi Datunashvili (GEO, world no. 8 at 75 kg), staying in his face the entire time while showing excellent awareness in the ties. Like Miller, Stefanowicz was trailing by two, but with only under :10 left. He got in an arm throw, decided against it, and then literally spun around on his feet before rushing Datunashvili to the edge where he threw him down for an apparent four. After a challenge by the US, Stefanowicz was awarded just two for the action, giving him a hard-luck loss and Datunashvili the win via criteria. It’s almost immaterial — what you saw out of Stefanowicz had to leave a lasting impression.
- On Day 1, the US went 0-3, though Raymond Bunker (66 kg, Marines) put forth a strong effort versus former Junior World Team member Shogo Takahashi (JPN).
- Miller had the only tech of the tournament and the only fall.
- Barrett Stanghill (80 kg, Minnesota Storm) was defeated by Pavel Pominchuk (BLR, world no. 16) in the qualifying round.
- The US Seniors ended the March European Tour with three golds, one silver, six bronze medals, and a record of 57-39. Counting the Juniors, the medal count rises from 10 to 22 with nine golds, three silvers, and 10 bronzes.