We don’t know what would have happened. This whole sport is in “what if?” land right about now. Last weekend was supposed to be the 2020 US Olympic Trials. Instead, the Bryce Jordan Center on the campus of Penn State University was empty, leaving somewhere between 100-120 Greco-Roman athletes on the shelf wishing, waiting, hoping for the day when they can resume chasing a goal that resides on top of the hypothetical heap.
But still, you ask the question: How would Calvin Germinaro (67 kg, Minnesota Storm) have fared at the Trials a week ago?
We like to say that US Trials tournaments are akin to crapshoots, and that anything can happen. It’s only partially true. Upsets are the product of presumption, anyway, and do not take into account what occurred behind the scenes in the lead-up to whichever event we’re even talking about. This is why old time handicappers and boxing writers used to frequent gyms. They were smarter than most wrestling folk. They used their access to get an inside look at training camps, and then made determinations as to how they figured the result would play out. In wrestling, we use credentials and experience as our guiding datasets more than we do relevant, recent optics.
Even though Germinaro was going to hold a top-3 seed in the Olympic Trials Challenge Tournament, chances are…not many would have given him much of a chance at all.
And that would have been a big mistake.
Germinaro lit up the ’19 Nationals in December, and the manner in which he did his bidding provided ample evidence of his candidacy that was too hard to ignore. He won four matches and wound up advancing to the final, losing a 7-5 decision to Ottawa hero Alex Sancho (Army/WCAP, world #19). That alone, the runner-up finish, got the Minnesotan an extra dose of attention. But it was nothing compared to how he actually competed. Germinaro — confidently, sometimes even angrily — attacked the opposition with zero signs of let-up. For a wrestler who is still pretty new to Senior competition, he looked the part more so than most of the older full-time Seniors who were in the bracket.
Now, it’s easy to knitpick, and look to his bloodline (his uncle, Brandon Paulson, is one of the best competitors in US history), or just trace back his Anoka roots. Those might be assets, but they do not win actual matches. Germinaro, after a healthy career as an age-grouper and an appearance in the Junior Trial finals last year, came of age in Texas due to his cold-blooded ability to separate himself from speculation and rely on his ability to pile up points. Technique is nice, it’s important. But an attitude that says you “belong” is much more useful.
He had momentum. There were good vibes surrounding Germinaro throughout the winter, even after his one-and-done showing in Italy. And now there is a stalemate. A prolonged one. With this extended space between competitions, Germinaro has designs on hitting the ground running as soon as life is somewhat normal again, and recapture the potency on the mat he has so easily expressed. He has tried to stay busy. Workouts haven’t stopped, the dream hasn’t faded. But he’s locked down, practically in a cage. Most can’t wait to see what happens when he is allowed to escape.
Calvin Germinaro — 67 kg, Minnesota Storm
5PM: At the Bill Farrell Memorial back in November, that was when 67 kilos kind of announced itself as a severely stacked weight. It was also the first tournament of the year, and the first qualifying tournament for the Olympic Trials. How did you fit New York into your overall training plan?
Calvin Germinaro: I really wanted to use New York as a gauge. The (Senior) World Team Trials last year, I wasn’t going to go. Funny story: Raleigh last year, my coaches didn’t even know I was going. I surprised everyone. It was like, Oh, you’re here? I just decided to show up and do that one for fun. But it was my first Senior tournament, and my first time down at 67 kilos since high school. There was a lot that I didn’t really know what to expect at first. It set the standard, and showed that I could compete at this level and that 67 was a good weight class where I could set the precedent for what was to come. More to test myself to see where I was at. With the exception of getting pinned by (Nolan) Baker and that loss to Japan (Hayanobu Shinzo), I felt I wrestled pretty well. I not only showed that I could compete at that weight, but do it well.
5PM: Was the adjustment difficult getting back down to the 67 neighborhood?
CG: I wasn’t really cutting weight for 72, so 67 was really my first time cutting down since high school. I knew that it was going to be more challenging than it usually is. I mean, it wasn’t hard, but it wasn’t like walking around at 72 and just showing up to a tournament. That’s what I was worried about, actually getting down, the cut itself, and then with the hour weigh-in seeing how I would be able to refuel and if I was going to feel good. That was what my emphasis was on. Not getting down to 67 so much, just what I was going to have to do to make it manageable and comfortable. Luckily for me, it was pretty easy, and it has been. I can’t be upset about that.
5PM: 67 kilograms this year in the US, I didn’t even see this coming.
CG: You and me both.
5PM: Before this season, we knew that 77 kilos would be stacked, 87 was going to have its usual crew of guys, 60 is always deep, but even more so with the Olympic Year. Now you turn around, and it’s 67 that might be the deepest weight class we have. What do you see when you look at your weight category?
CG: It’s hard to say that 67 is different from the other weight classes in the sense that anyone can win it on any given day. Especially with it being the Olympic Year and the brackets being the way they are. Obviously, everyone at every weight is a stud. It’s the Olympic Trials. But I feel like the word that comes to mind is “wildcard”, for me at least. I think about me, Lenny Merkin, obviously Sancho, but he’s at the top. Nolan Baker… Any dude can literally come out of nowhere and take this bracket, and I think that’s what makes it so much fun.
77, 87, those guys are mostly well-established, but their brackets are also well-established. Pat Smith, he has already wrestled RaVaughn (Perkins) a million times, he has wrestled Kamal (Bey) now four times the past year or so. You don’t know what is going to happen, but you know what it’s going to look like. But here (at 67), I don’t think everyone in the weight class has competed against each other, or even against the majority of people. It kind of presents a situation like my Open run, where anyone can take it and look dominant doing so. But, I don’t know. I think it’s fun.
5PM: The Open. If you want to say wrestling in the US has a mainstream audience, the Open is one of the only international style events they watch, and this is when you announced yourself as a top Senior. New York you said was a gauge. We talked about 67’s depth. With the Open, you had to qualify for the Trials, and your side of the bracket included a World champ (Joe Warren) and a Junior World medalist (Peyton Omania). Do you bracket watch and look at it after weigh-ins?
CG: Yes and no. I definitely look at my bracket and see who is on my side, what’s going on. I can kind of look and guess who is going to win this one, or how if I do this or that, I might make it to the finals. I can get a feel for what my path will look like. I used to be worse with it, just hypothetically looking at what might happen, but now I take it one match at a time. Just go out there and focus not on that guy, but that round, that match, and proceed as you will. But it’s a little harder at a tournament like that. Top-5 qualify. So even though you’re taking it one match at a time, you’re still thinking, One match down, I have to win the next two to qualify. You have that thought in the back of your mind, but I’m not someone who gets super-worked up over brackets, personally.
5PM: Did it mean something to you to run through Warren like that?
Calvin Germinaro: It was a good boost. No disrespect to him, no disrespect to how others viewed him, and obviously no disrespect to what he has done. I knew it was going to be a tough match. But I also kept thinking, I can’t lose to this guy. I’m going to beat him. He’s old. Like I said, that’s not everyone’s mindset around him, and it’s no disrespect. He did what he did, he still has those skills, but I wasn’t losing to him. I expected to win that one, but by no means did I expect it to be easy. The biggest thing I was looking out for was I obviously saw that little stunt at the beginning of NYAC (Bill Farrell). The biggest thing going through my mind was, I’m going to beat this dude, and if he tries to get physical with me, I’m just going to match his physicality. I wasn’t going to let him push me around just because he wants to be aggressive for no reason. Besides those two things, I was taking it like every other match.
5PM: “Every other match” meant you also had to get through Omania in the quarters. That was a “I will pay money to see” kind of match-up. He was coming off of a World bronze that he earned in exemplary fashion. But your match with him this time around didn’t last a minute. I’m thinking going into the semifinals your confidence had to be enormous.
CG: I was feeling good, yeah. Honestly, I was so excited to wrestle Peyton. It wasn’t at all revenge-oriented, but my last Cadet year I wrestled him in the Trial finals. He tech’ed me first match, I tech’ed him in the second match, and the third match I think was 16-14 — and the takedown that he got happened in the last :10 of which I had criteria and thought I was losing. So, it was a takedown, but I was being the aggressor when I should have just been chilling.
I was excited to wrestle him because we hadn’t wrestled since then, and I know our styles match up. It would have been a fun match, and it would have been good to get that one back just for old time’s sake. I was just purely excited for that one. I knew he would be tough, I knew he would be dangerous. If I’m being completely honest, before I even stepped on the mat I didn’t know what to expect. And I’m talking about the entire tournament.
As much as New York was a gauge, I wrestled two kids who were my age and two foreigners. I didn’t really get a feel for the Senior level. I got a feel for the weight class and I got a feel for the competition, but I didn’t know if I was going to win a match when I walked into the US Open. I always had success at the age-group level. I think since Cadets I haven’t placed lower than third at a World Team Trials. But at the same time, the jump from Cadet to Junior is nothing like the jump from Junior to Senior.
So I didn’t know what to expect, and each match I kept the momentum going. It was fun. That has kind of been the theme of my season. Because, at every age group I’ve had success. I never made a Team, but I’ve had success. I made Pan Am teams, I have won medals. But when I walked into Juniors last year it was, If I don’t make the Team, if I didn’t make the finals, then what the hell am I doing? This was the first time I had no expectations, nothing. I personally didn’t have expectations for myself. I just went out there doing my thing, it was working, and the momentum just kept building.
5PM: Then you beat Michael Hooker, which qualified you for the Trials, and there was Sancho in the finals. He has been a top-2 guy for five years basically. You hung in there with him, and you saw firsthand his top par terre. What was your takeaway considering you got to feel Sancho, and also, hey, you got yourself a silver from the Senior Nationals as a 20-year-old?
CG: The match with Sancho I really enjoyed. The only experience I had wrestling him previously was during my first semester at Northern (Michigan). He was still up there. I would go with him very rarely, just a few times. But with it being my first semester and I was transitioning to Greco really — and he was a top-2 guy in the country — I didn’t even know what was going on because I was getting my ass kicked so bad. He would be hitting moves and I’d be trying to figure out how my position three moves ago was wrong. Remembering that, and seeing him have success, but at the same time I had already qualified. I had already done what I came there to do. It was like, This is fun; I have nothing on the line, which sounds super-cliché considering it was the National finals. But who would I be if I won the National finals? The goal is to make the (Olympic) Team, whether I was a National champ or National finalist at 20. I was still content with my performance.
Like I said, it was the National finals, so not to sound cliché, but if it’s practice or a match I want to see if I can hang with the best of the best. I proved to myself and others that I could compete and be successful against everyone else in the field. But you don’t know what you’ve got until you go against the best or a top-2 guy. And if you take away that side lift during the one time I was put down, it was a close match. No one likes to lose. I fucking hate losing. But as far as losses go, that one I wasn’t mad at. I proved a lot to myself and to other people. I mean, I was mad I lost. It wasn’t cool to lose. But it was also the best circumstance to lose if I had to choose one.
5PM: You said before that the jump from Cadet to Junior is one thing, but that the jump from Junior to Senior is another. And I understand you made the Junior finals last year, but I was wondering if you thought it was possible that the Senior level fits you better than the Junior level did.
CG: Yeah, I think it’s more that everyone is on the same page. Everyone is good, to an extent; everyone is doing Greco, everyone is doing what they’re supposed to. Whereas at Junior and Cadet, as you get younger, you don’t exactly have to be good at Greco to win Cadets or Juniors. If you’re a freak athlete or you have one good move, you can do some damage. That was always something I saw success with, but also people saw success against me with. At the Senior level, yeah, there are still some freak athletes, but I know everyone who I’m wrestling, I know what they have, and I know whoever that whoever it is — and there can be a combination of factors — the best Greco wrestler is going to win. I don’t think that’s always the case at those younger levels, and that is something I like about the Senior level.
5PM: We are in a really weird situation here. You were going to be a top-3 seed at the Trials. I imagine that doesn’t change. Moving from the Nationals and on through the winter, you were mentioned a lot. You said “wildcard” before, but it might be more serious than that, certainly. There was momentum. And then, in a hurry, everything changes, everything gets postponed, and now it’s a waiting game. How did you reconcile this situation developing and what have you been doing since?
CG: I think, in all honesty, I did have momentum, but I don’t really see it that way. I see it that way, but in my mindset, I like to show up at every tournament doing my thing. Relaxed, but my mindset is there. I think back to New York, the last tournament I had wrestled before that was the Junior Pan Ams. I screwed myself over getting caught on a slip front headlock and went one-and-done. I was coming off of as much anti-momentum as you could entering New York, but I didn’t care. I was still going to show up and wrestle my way, my match. Whether it’s last weekend or next year, nothing really changes in my mind. Obviously because I am young and healthy, the extension didn’t really do anything to me.
5PM: Is there any advantage to it?
CG: One of the biggest things is that though I’ve had some success as of late, I showed in Rome that I am still very young. It’s my first year on the Senior level. By no means am I a veteran or well-mastered in the world of Greco. I’m good at it, and I do what I do pretty well, but there is still a lot more I can learn — not just about the sport, but about my technique and footwork, as well. A year is obviously more time to learn and get better. I don’t really see a downside to it. Not having the momentum won’t be an issue for me, and having another year might be good. My biggest thing right now is the COVID-19 situation and how that has affected my training. But other than that, the year postponement? I was going to be wrestling next year, anyways.
The goal is to make the Olympic Team, whether that’s 2020 or 2024. My plans for the next year, they didn’t change. The Team I was going to make changed, but besides that, the goal is still to be the best Greco wrestler I can be and hone my skills to get better.
5PM: I’m sure you’ve had discussions with coaches and teammates, and we don’t know when life will once again resemble what it looked like a month and change ago. But as soon as you can gather yourself for a training plan of some sort, what is the first thing you want to do once quarantine for you ends?
Calvin Germinaro: I just want to get back on the mat and start wrestling. I find that is where I am best. As weird as this may sound, I don’t really think during my matches. I do subconsciously, but it’s not like I step on the line and say, Okay, he’s going to do this, I should do this and this and this… I not only compete, I also learn. I am very much a “feel” type of person. The more mat time I can get, the better. The more I can feel new positions… If I feel a new position during practice, I can ask Pat about it, or one of my coaches and work on it. I just want to get back and get better.
Currently, I am working out just like the rest of the world, doing workouts that represent wrestling positions and stuff. Pummel matches, dumbbells, stance and motion. — stuff that I can control. But really, the key point I’m missing is just person-to-person wrestling. The biggest thing for me is to just get back on the mat given whatever time I’m allotted left before we have this Trials.