It started last year as a rather ambitious effort. Combat Wrestling Club founder Lucas Steldt, who also happens to double as the Team USA Cadet World Team coach, was inspired to find a way to engineer more international opportunities for the country’s youth segment. Overseas adventures tend to be limited to Junior and Senior-age athletes, and the tours that are available for high schoolers (and younger) typically do not offer elite-level competition. The way Steldt saw it, if kids are going to knock around for a couple of weeks in Europe, they might as well gain a sense of what the best wrestlers in the world look and feel like.
“This is not a ‘feel good’ tour where your athletic gifts will carry you through,” Steldt says when relaying the challenging nature of the impending trip. “These are the best Greco-Roman Cadets on the this planet spinning around the sun, and these competitions and camps may be even tougher than the World Championships.”
Therein lies the premier point of this entire enterprise. Dubbed the Go Greco USA Developmental Program — with a heavy emphasis on the word “Developmental” — Steldt envisioned a situation where American wrestlers could be exposed to what “real” Greco-Roman entails when accomplished foreigners are involved. By going about it this way, athletes can experience a pronounced jump in caliber earlier on in their careers so that they can prepare accordingly. “This tour is just a tool to be used by athletes who are structuring their training and goals around an endgame,” adds Steldt.
In 2017, only two athletes — Cohlton Schultz (120 kg, NYAC) and Camden Russell (55 kg, MWC) medaled on the inaugural Go Greco USA tour (“Last year, we took some athletes who had a rude awakening,” Steldt explains). It helped that the pair of placewinners entered in with an already-high degree of schooling and cultivated ability. Schultz, who requires little preamble, went on to win the Cadet World Championships later in the summer while Russell broke through with a gold at the Austrian Open this past March. But the majority of youths who hopped on board boasted little to no prior overseas experience, making their introduction to international Greco-Roman appear closer to that of a crash course than a calling of age.
For that, Steldt blames the American folkstyle system. Similar to US National Team head coach Matt Lindland, Steldt is of the mindset that scholastic wrestling’s “culture” pays a significant role in why the nation’s Greco athletes consistently fall behind the curve internationally. Because they are indoctrinated into a system that sees most of its talent pool turnover following college — and with most growing up focusing primarily on honing folkstyle skills that will eventually be rendered useless when matched-up against foreign world-beaters — American youths find themselves in danger of developing sans a proper baseline. If they are constantly training to beat fellow countrymen in a style practiced nowhere else on Earth, how can anyone expect them to turn into viable Seniors capable of Olympic success?
“Answer me this,” begins Steldt. “Would you cut down every tree big and small on your way to cutting down the biggest tree? Or would you save your ax for the biggest tree by walking around the smaller trees on your way? Parents and athletes are addicted to success gratification like recreational drug addicts. It’s really sad and short-sighted. It’s simply brainwashing, and in the end, it is a way out to quit. They quit when they stop wrestling, whether that is after high school or college. I really don’t blame the athletes, I blame their guidance and society. The amount of resources invested into a youth wrestler is astonishing. The amount of resources invested into a young adult and adult is pathetic.”
Steldt refers to the traditional manner in which American wrestlers trek through the sport as “ass-backwards”, and his solution to the issue is a complete 180 in terms of aggressiveness. Just like last year’s Go Greco USA Developmental Program tour, the attendees will be participating in Serbia’s Refik Memišević-Brale tournament (named for former Yugoslavian World Champion Refik Memišević), an extremely-challenging event stocked with experienced Europeans. Following a week of camp, the group will next travel to Zagreb, Croatia for the 2018 Croatia Open, which promises just as many hardened competitors to deal with. They will end the trip in Italy on a mini sightseeing vacation before heading back to the States.
Due in large part to the scheduling crunch that comes part and parcel with the US tournament season this spring, Steldt is working with a smaller delegation than originally anticipated, especially given the number of athletes present in Year 1. It’s not something he is altogether thrilled about, but he understands the landscape, the landscape he is attempting to alter. But Steldt is confident that the inclusiveness of the tour along with the fact the participating athletes are competing for their country will hopefully, eventually, result in his endeavor growing into a movement that supplies the US program with well-trained Greco athletes for years to come.
“We are taking five athletes who will represent the United States of America,” Steldt says. “I spell that out because it needs to be. This isn’t a Wisconsin versus Minnesota Greco dual for chest-pumping rights. This is an opportunity to represent your country and receive a higher education in the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling.”
Go Greco USA Developmental Program
June 9th: Refik Memišević-Brale Tournament — Subotica, Serbia
June 16th-17th: Croatia Open — Zagreb, Croatia
TEAM USA ROSTER
45 kg — Nate Rubino — MWC (NE)
- 5th at UWW Cadet Nationals (2017)
- 2nd at Fargo Cadet Nationals (2017)
48 kg — Caden Arps — MWC (NE)
- Joined MWC in 2016.
- Entering freshman year at Archbishop Bergan High School
55 kg — Conor Knopick — MWC (NE)
- Northern Plains Outstanding Wrestler (2018)
- 2nd at Fargo Cadet Nationals (2017)
- Three-time Nebraska state Greco-Roman champion
60 kg — Logan Hatch — Combat (WI)
- Jovenes Promesas Cadet gold medalist (2016)
- Schoolboy All-American (2015)
110 kg — Andy Garcia — La Gente WC (CO)
- Two-time Cadet Colorado Greco state champion
- Two-time Colorado high school folkstyle state champion