Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco-Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland questions pertaining to recent events, training, and other topics surrounding the sport of Greco-Roman. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask going forward, let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we talk to US Coach Matt Lindland following what was a very eventful few days in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. Team USA Greco-Roman won the 2017 Pan-American Championships on Saturday on the strength of three individual champions — Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm), Cheney Haight (80 kg, NYAC), and Ben Provisor (85 kg, NYAC) — as well as two bronze medalists, G’Angelo Hancock (98 kg, NYAC, world no. 18) and Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC, world no. 20). But before the medals were won and the team took the podium on Saturday, a fire inside of the arena the day before interrupted the proceedings. What took place next was near chaos. Obviously, that along with individual Pan Am performances are put in the spotlight for this report along with some other topics, as well, including Mason Manville‘s (75 kg, Army/WCAP) take on melding all three styles and hey, what is the athletic peak for a US Greco wrestler nowadays?
5PM: Walk us through the fire on Friday. Watching this online, the last thing I remember seeing was (Hayden) Tuma walking off the mat, the feed got glitchy, and then Cheney Haight’s wife apparently saw something and tweeted it and next thing you know, (G’Angelo) Hancock tweets, to the effect, “Annnnnd the building is on fire.”
Coach Matt Lindland: (Laughs) That was pretty much it. I was standing with (Ben) Provisor and he’s on deck. We’re right behind the stands in the hallway, behind the bleachers. So I said, “Okay, I’m going to pee real quick”, because we have six minutes. I went over to the bathroom and the next thing I see is smoke billowing out of the women’s bathroom right next to where I’ve got to pee and Ben goes, “Hey, that looks like a fire.” (Laughs) I’m like, “Yeah, I am seeing the same thing you are.”
About that time, they grab a fire extinguisher and shoot it at where the flames are coming out. Immediately, a flame of like 30 feet high and 30 feet wide just shoots out of the wall and heat just fills this entire hallway up. I’m like, “Dude, we should go.” We start to walk in the other direction away from the fire, which is towards the arena. I look up and (Kevin) Bracken is growling the guys off, like, Hey, we’ve got to get out! I didn’t know where Robby (Smith) was, he must have sprinted for the door because I don’t see him. We all ended up outside on the same side by the beach, and there are people pulling fire alarms. There’s no fire truck. We get outside, the building is still billowing smoke out of it, I’m counting the guys and still no Robby. He had scurried around to the other side of the building, he was out there ready to get on the bus and go (laughs).
We loaded everybody up on the buses and got back to the hotel, and then the rest of the story. We started up the tournament at 7:00am the next day, so it was a pretty early wakeup call — 5:00am the next day, get up, get over to the arena, get warmed up and start the tournament back on. But this stuff doesn’t surprise anyone. When you host a tournament in South America anywhere, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, it’s all the same. I think we made a pretty good argument for future qualifiers being held somewhere in North America. Toronto did a great job. Dallas, Texas, we could have used more marketing and promotion to get some fans in the seats, but no buildings were catching on fire. You could walk outside of the hotel without being afraid of getting robbed or dogs attacking you on the beach. So, you know, it happens.
5PM: With all of the chaos going on, such as the event potentially being moved to the hotel, the fire itself, the evacuating, you name it, when you get back to the hotel, do you have to talk to the team to kind of get their minds right for whatever is going to happen next?
ML: You know, these guys, they’re pros. They just roll with stuff. They have been on enough wrestling trips, we’ve been in enough countries and on enough continents to where nothing really phases these athletes, which is incredible. Wrestlers are pretty damn resilient, to tell you the truth. Especially international Greco wrestlers.
So, we got back to the hotel and they were like, “Okay, we’re going to let you know what’s going on at 3:00pm.” The coaches’ meeting was set for three. I told the guys, “Go up to your rooms and relax, I’ll let you know when I know what’s going on.” Yeah, they did say that they were going to check the venue that night at 6:00, but either way, they (tournament officials) said, “Be ready at 5:30am the next day for buses if the venue is okay and if not, we’ll just move the mats over to here.” I don’t think they were looking forward to moving the mats from the venue over to the hotel.
We got there in the morning and yeah, it smelled like smoke. But they had cleaned the mats and the soot was off of the mats. I mean, you could see the soot everywhere. It was all over the bathrooms, the sinks were black. But for the most part, they did what it took to get the venue ready and we held a tournament. We literally got out of there in enough time to catch our flight, which was incredible. We had a 3:10pm departure and we knew the tournament was going to run until about noon. It ended at 12:05, we got the guys on the stand, we had three champions who all had to go to doping control. Got the guys back to the hotel, got the guys through doping. I mean, I was carrying Ben’s bag as he was running up to shower. I was loading his bag on the bus. I said, “Shower, change, meet us downstairs and get on the bus.” We hustled to the airport.
I was a little concerned, so I went up and said, “Hey, we’ve got a large group here, can we all check in? We’re running late.” And the guy goes, “Nah, you’ve got plenty of time, the flight doesn’t board for another 30 minutes.” (Laughs) The good thing is that at least they’re consistent. We all get checked in, everyone got boarding passes, and somehow, everyone’s bags made it home. In the process, we got three champions, two bronze medals, and a team title out of it. All in all, it worked out pretty darn good.
5PM: You had three champs but I want to start with one of the bronze medalists first and that would be Hancock. He had the toughest draw out of everybody, Kevin Mejia Castillo, who owned a couple of wins over him, and then obviously, Olympic silver Yasmany Lugo Cabrera. He wrestled great. He gave up two to Cuba trying to throw the guy and if you’re going to give up points, that’s the way to do it. Tracy wrestled great, didn’t he?
ML: Tracy had a great performance. Kevin is a great competitor and he’s always given Tracy a little bit of trouble. I think it was, I think he was 2-0 against Tracy going into this tournament. One at the Schultz, one at the Pinto Cup and relatively short in between those matches and if I remember, he lost both of those matches by par terre turns. So I think going into the match knowing he has made a lot of adjustments and has improved a lot since those matches along with the fact that, you know, You’ve got to take me down to get on top, gave him some more confidence going in there. I think it was 5-0. Great performance. It was a tough environment aside from all of the other stuff we had to overcome. I mean, the mats were completely slippery. It was like being on an ice rink wrestling on those mats. It was so hot and humid in there that not only were we toweling off the athletes between rounds, we were toweling ourselves off as coaches, as well, it was so hot.
When he did get to the body against the Cuban, in my head I was thinking, Okay, you’ve got this, just take the two points. But he went for the big move, Tracy Hancock wants to put on a show, G’Angelo wants to put on a show (laughs). He went for the big throw, slipped, and Lugo stepped over and got two. But absolutely, if you’re going to lose a match, go down swinging. Go down making attempts and trying to score. I think that was a lesson learned. You’ve got to make some adjustments due to the environment. It was very slippery. There are techniques that work better in the match when they are slippery. You level change, attack the hips, and look for a two-pointer instead of that big throw where you could slip and the guy can step over you.
But I certainly appreciated the effort and the fight he put out there. I think for him that’s a guy he can beat, someone who was on the podium at the Olympic Games a year ago. He beat another guy earlier in the year who was on the podium, as well, so I think he sees where he can be and he’s willing to do what it takes to get to that next level.
5PM: What happened with Kamal Bey?
ML: Well, Kamal had an injury in the World Team Trials that precluded him from competing. The Pan Ams are the qualifier for the World Championships, so you can take as many athletes as will weigh in and we want to take all eight athletes to the World Championships, so Kamal very unselfishly traveled to Brazil and made weight. He basically did that for his teammate, Mason Manville, or somebody else. It doesn’t have to be that weight class, but if you only weigh in seven athletes, you can only compete seven at the Worlds. Who’s going to get left home? In other countries, you can do that. You can say, Oh, I don’t think you’re going to medal this year, let’s just save the money and not send you. So that was a pretty big deal for Kamal to go over there and do that.
I was very proud of him for stepping up for this team and his country. I think everyone in our program needs to recognize and thank him for that because he wasn’t able to compete because of his injury and he went out there and the other guy got to get his hand raised. But he still had to make weight, he still had to get on the scale, he still had to travel to Brazil and put up with all of the stuff we go through when we travel knowing he wasn’t going to compete. He had to be there for his passport and there really wasn’t an option with that short of notice.
5PM: Moving on, Pat Smith had won this event twice going into this weekend. This was also his first time wrestling in the tournament as a World Team member. He looked especially dominant on Saturday, as did Cheney, but Cheney is sort of a smoother operator in his approach, they’re different styles. Pat teched both of his opponents and when he does stuff like that, it just comes out looking quite violent. How did you like his performance?
Coach Matt Lindland: (Laughs) I think what you’re talking about with Pat and Cheney in the same sentence, you can call Cheney a smooth operator because compared to Pat’s violent style of wrestling, Cheney is very smooth and slick. Yeah, Pat is a banger, a grinder, he’s going to beat you up, and you’re going to know you are in a fight and I love that about him. I think that is one of the most exciting things to watch. For me, seeing Pat Smith evolve is almost like watching myself evolve because that was a style I tried to apply. I had a philosophy when I stepped on the mat that win, lose, or draw, I was going to make this the most miserable experience of my opponent’s life. That was my goal. This was not going to be an enjoyable experience. If you beat me, you’re not going to want to wrestle me next time because I am going to leave an impression on you that you took such a beating that you’re not going to want to get back out there with me.
Pat does that superbly. He really understands that. Now what he has evolved into is a guy who can take that style and score points with it. He was putting a lot of points on the board. And Pat is a rough customer, he’s a very violent wrestler. But off the mat, he is a gentleman, he’s a scholar, and he is graduating next week with his master’s degree. But if you step on the mat with him, you’re going to know you are in a fight and he has actually turned that fight into some really great scoring opportunities. Watching the evolution of Pat Smith has been a lot of fun.
5PM: Cheney, 2-0, two extremely fast tech’s, one against a guy from last year’s tournament. Throw Robby in there, too. Your two elder statesmen coming off of the Trials were certainly expected to have strong days in Brazil but with everything that had gone on the previous week, it must be nice to know the team’s leaders really understand how to get into autopilot when it comes to setting an example.
ML: Yeah, I think so. Robby has been a consummate leader in our program and with the loss of Andy Bisek and his stoic leadership style, to see Cheney fill those shoes really quickly, he and Andy have similar personalities. Nothing phases them. They don’t get up, they don’t get down — they’re right there all the time. They are very consistent people. Whether that is on the mat or off the mat, they are both very consistent and I love to see that.
You were talking about a lot of the things we had to overcome, but there were a lot of things we knew going into it that were going to be challenging. You’re going to compete on Saturday and we’re going to get on a plane on Monday and travel to Brazil. They all knew that going into it and they all accepted that. They didn’t just accept it, they wanted this opportunity.
5PM: Frustration is one word I guess, maybe I’ll try to find a different word…
ML: You going to ask about Ryan (Mango)?
5PM: Yessir. He can do anything he wants on a mat practically and it seems almost as if he doesn’t know that or something. He always looks like he’s a second away from just bombing everyone he faces. It was tough to see how his day ended.
Coach Matt Lindland: You know what, I think we all have that same feeling when it comes to Ryan Mango. We see the absolute potential that young athlete has. I mean, he has so much talent. Anybody would love to have that kind of explosiveness, those kinds of muscles, that athleticism he possesses. It’s hard to watch because you can see all of the things he is capable of doing, these absolute flashes of brilliance and he just doesn’t have the consistency yet. He doesn’t have the composure yet to stay in the match, stay in the fight like I know he is capable of doing.
And yeah, maybe it is that Ryan doesn’t know how damn good he is because he is fricking amazing. You ever heard of the “growth versus fixed” mindset?
5PM: No, but just by context I can put it together.
ML: Well, Carol Dweck has been a prolific author on this subject. If you tell an athlete how talented he is and how great they are, when they lose or things don’t go right, they don’t think they can fix or change it because they think they are fixed. Like, Hey, I am a talented athlete, why’d I lose that match? I’m more explosive, I’m more powerful, I’m better…whatever those adjectives are you want to use, and you don’t get the results you expect, you start to get this kind of dissonance in your thoughts like, What’s going on with me? So you change that mindset and go, You know what? I may have all of those things and all of those attributes but I can still grow. I can still learn, I can still improve on those technical positions and still improve my techniques, which is the “growth” mindset.
So I think there must be something with that because we all see how great the potential is that Ryan has. I mean, everybody — from coaches to spectators alike can see the flashes of brilliance he possesses within himself. But you’re right, maybe he doesn’t realize how good he can be and the moment he does realize that, I think the sky’s the limit for the guy. It’s hard to watch because they are simple mistakes, and I don’t mean that in a negative way. He just doesn’t have the experience yet and really, he has only been wrestling Greco a few full years. I think him and Pat Smith are the same age in their Greco-Roman development in that, Hey, I’m done doing the folkstyle thing and I’m just going to focus on Greco. And we’re seeing somebody like Pat Smith is making those adjustments very rapidly. Because I don’t think things came easy to Pat ever. I don’t know, but I do know he never made his college lineup. And I know Ryan was a Division 1 All-American. These are things we know, we can look up records for these things.
So Pat has always had to struggle and work on these things and maybe things came a little easier for Ryan, and as long as he stays resilient I think we’re going to see him break through and have that moment where it’s, Okay, I’m ready to do this. Because he is more than capable.
5PM: Ben Provisor trucked his first two opponents, that second guy he had a front-headlock on and counter-pressured off of it and the guy basically just fell down because the force was so overwhelming. Physically, he looked incredible. His final was a criteria win but even still, it never looked like that situation was in doubt and that if it came down to it, he was going to find a way to win that one anyway. Is that fair to say?
ML: I had the same assessment. I thought, I don’t think Ben is in trouble here. I was really glad he scored the two points offensively because it kind of proves the point that it doesn’t matter if the referees are giving the guy passive points, all you have to do is score. It proves the point that I’ve been trying to make when we have these discussions over the rules and There should be forced par terre, there shouldn’t be. I don’t know, I think we should encourage action and creativity in our technique. Ben hit a beautiful technique and scored on his feet and he certainly wasn’t being passive, but he got called for passivity four different times with the warning and the point, the warning and the point.
I don’t think he was passive any of those times. And I’ve seen Ben wrestle and I’ve seen him try to hang onto a lead and coast. He wasn’t doing that. He was trying to go after his opponent and score, and it was a very tough opponent. He didn’t need to, he was winning, but he was still wrestling as if he needed to score and that’s what it takes. You have to keep being offensive, you have to keep staying in your opponent’s face and being aggressive. We’re seeing that out of guys like Pat Smith and we’re seeing that now out of Ben Provisor. I thought he had one of the best performances out of anybody on our team this past weekend.
It was great to see that, it’s an area Ben has been working very hard on, to score points. Because he is one of those older generation wrestlers — he’s not an old athlete, it’s just that he has been around for so damn long — he has been on two Olympic teams, Cadet teams, Junior World teams. He has wrestled under a lot of different rule changes and a lot of that being, Hey, don’t force yourself to score on your feet because you’re going to get a chance on top. Ben is very capable on top in par terre with his gutwrenches and has very good defense and is hard to score on in the par terre position. So for him to change his game, which I believe we saw the week before with his attacks, he had a nice duck-under and got to the body to score in the finals and frankly, throughout the tournament, as well.
It’s been really great to see Ben adapt to this rule-set, the style, and making those adjustments. You can teach an old dog new tricks even though like I said, Ben is not an old dog. He is a young athlete who is really capable and it’s good to see him making those changes and the adjustments it’s going to take at the World level under these new rule-sets.
5PM: What is the next step now for your World Team that this is all wrapped up? I know there are plans.
Coach Matt Lindland: Tim, you already know we have plans. You are certain we have plans. Yes, we have a lot of plans. We’ve got plans on top of plans for these guys. The next step we’re going to go through with these guys is the base-training phase. We’re going to focus this week on a lot of recovery and then next week we’re heading to the Northwest and a little town called Eagle Creek. Eagle Creek is probably the nicest place on the planet. We’re going to go out there, one of our donors was nice enough to give us a 6,000 square foot house on top of a mountain that sits right on the river. We have a sauna and an outdoor cold plunge that I’m sure we’re going to be sharing a lot of tweets from as we step out of the sauna and into our waterfall cold plunge (laughs). This is next week and the following week in Oregon.
We’re going to be focusing on getting our guys healthy and getting them strong, building that base conditioning. We’re not working on our anaerobic, high-intensity so much, but we will be doing some circuit training to also incorporate that. When we talk about base training, we’re talking about laying a foundation. As we get these guys ready for the World Championships, we want them to have a good foundation underneath them. And then we can go into Europe and compete. We’re not trying to peak in Tbilisi in June. We want to compete to the best of our abilities, but we’re certainly not trying to peak at that time. Then we’re going to go into a hard anaerobic phase with the Hungarian team and hopefully some international teams will be at that camp also. We’ll spend a couple of weeks in Europe and then we’ll come to Colorado and take our guys through their final training camps in July. Next, we’ll head over to France to acclimate in Mont Pierre, which is in the south part of the country. Then we’ll head over to Paris, get our guys on the scale and get them on the mat.
5PM: There is a Cadet tour in June going to Croatia and Serbia. That’s a profound development, what a great overseas opportunity. What’s the story with this whole thing?
ML: We’ve got our assistant coach from that part of the world, Momir (Petković), and he gets invites all of the time and it’s us really pushing to get our Cadets and Juniors more international opportunities. We have done a great job with events such as the Concord Cup and the Superior Camp. This year for the Concord Cup, I’m not sure how many teams, I think it’s three. Hungary is not coming this year, but we’ve got two Nordic teams and one other team for sure is coming to that camp. Germany, Czech, and Sweden are coming to the Superior Camp.
But we really want to get more of our athletes overseas so they can start to experience what that’s about so it’s not foreign to them when they make a team. We’re going to send a team after the Cadet Trials in Akron. They are going to head over to Croatia and compete in a Cadet tournament. They will follow that up with a camp and from Croatia they will go to Serbia and like I said, we’re going to have a training camp over in Hungary and our coaching staff is going to leave camp for a day to watch our Cadets compete and maybe help Coach Lucas (Steldt) out while he’s over there. Our Cadets are going to get an opportunity to train where they wrestle Greco-Roman in that part of the world. Croatia and Serbia, they don’t compete in freestyle, they don’t compete in folkstyle. When you say “wrestling”, you’re talking about the classic style and that’s it.
5PM: If you’ve read the Mason Manville piece and the way he talks about blending styles and adjusting them, it was really interesting. I asked him since folkstyle is here and that is our system, if we’re not doing the best job we can of using its more transferable attributes and applying them to Greco. What did you think about that part of the conversation?
ML: First of all, if anybody hasn’t read that piece, Mason has a great perspective on life. He has a great philosophy. I think that he has really grown up and matured a lot in the last year. He spent eight or nine months in Colorado Springs in a Greco-only environment. Mason was training with our resident program and was a part of the program for most the last year. Really, that is the first time Mason only trained full-time Greco. He has applied his philosophies, he’s done it all. He won a World title and that was in freestyle. But Mason has had a lot of success in every style of wrestling.
So for Mason, I think it works. I tried everything to get him to see that, Hey, as a Greco guy, I want to keep you in our room and keep you out here. But he already has his mind made up and that’s what I wanted to ask. If you’re mind is made up, I’m not going to try to change it. But if it’s not, let’s keep the options open that you can stay a part of our program and keep training Greco. That’s where I’d like to see him because I have seen how much he has excelled in such a short period of time. Even in his positioning. If your body is always in the right position, it’s hard to get scored on. If your body is always in the right position, you have a greater opportunity to score on your opponents. And when you’re switching styles, I feel like some of the positions in folkstyle really get our guys off-balanced and out of position. Whenever he has lost matches I’ve thought, Well, if he was training full-time Greco, maybe he wouldn’t have made that mistake, or whatever it is.
Of course I would love to see Mason full-time in our program, but I respect his decision and not only that, I fully support it and whatever he wants to do. I think from reading his article he sees this as a holistic approach — I don’t just want to be a better wrestler, I want to be a better scholar, a better human and I feel like this is the place for me. Good for him. Not many 20-year-old men have that perspective on life and I think that shows a lot of maturity on his part.
Philosophically, I don’t know if I would necessarily disagree. I think all martial arts have value. I can tell you a story about when I didn’t make the 1996 Olympic Team and I felt like I wanted to take a break from wrestling and make sure I wanted to do it for another quad. Because I’m a wrestler, I wanted to get back on the mat and since I lived in Colorado Springs, I trained in the judo room and trained with the judo players. I did the folkstyle system so I understand. I just think it delays the process is all. I’d like to see Mason at 24 have the best opportunity to get his medal in the Olympic Games and I think putting yourself in the folkstyle environment may slow him down from reaching that goal of his. But it’s his plan and like I said, I want to support it. And I do love the attitude. I just think at that age, whether that age is 14, 16, 18, 20, but maybe for Mason it’s 24 when he decides to focus on Greco.
But there is a time when if you want to be the best in the world at one of the styles instead of really good at all of them, there is a time to focus on one style and really make a run at being the best in the world. So I am not saying I disagree with him at all, just knowing what I know from being on this planet more than twice as long as Mason, I think I have a little more perspective and wisdom, and that is the advice I would give somebody if they said, “I want to be the best in the world”, whether that’s an Olympic Champion or a World Champion, I would advise that athlete to focus on one style, whether that’s for a quad or two quads.
5PM: This might be slightly off-topic, but what do you think the athletic peak age is for an American Greco-Roman wrestler?
Coach Matt Lindland: (Laughs) Interesting question. It’s funny, Les Gutches and I were sitting in the office today looking at what is called the Elo System. It’s 30 years old, you can Google it to find out more about it. But it is for international chess play and within the model wrestling is using, they actually have the metrics for age in there. And so, as long as your are treading in that sweet spot that is 20 to 28’ish, it’s certainly not over 30. When you ask about what is the peak time for an American Greco-Roman wrestler, well I didn’t get my medals until I was 30 and 31, and I feel like I delayed my development by putting myself in folkstyle environments for too long.
It’s really not off-topic because it aligns with what we were just talking about when discussing Mason. I don’t want to see him miss that window. I think he is capable of doing both while he’s in his peak years. But when you look at how athletes perform against other international competitors who are ranked and if you are beating these athletes, it also takes into account the peak ages. And I don’t know. I think it’s getting younger, no, I know it’s getting younger. Just look at the last two quads. In 2012, the average age was 27. In 2016, the average age of a medalist was 22. Those are the averages. Like I said, that sweet spot is in that 20, 24’ish, 26’ish area.
When you take an American athlete out of a system that nobody else in the world wrestles in and have to convert him, there is a conversion time and you have to take that into account, and it does affect that age. It’s a tough question. I don’t know if I know that exact answer but I think we’re going to figure it out soon when we start really applying the system across the board. We’re going to use this system to determine the bonus pay for international tournaments based on the strengths of the tournaments. It’s not going to be every event. It’s not going to be every tournament. It’s not going to be, Yeah, we know Poddubny is tough, the Hungarian Grand Prix is tough, and yeah if you go to Vantaa and the Haparanda, they’re not as tough, but those are tournaments where we send a lot of our more developmental athletes to as they are working their way up. Those tournaments have a place but they aren’t maybe where you want to send yourself if you want to get ranked higher in the world. And stipends are going to be based on your international ranking moving forward.
So I think that number is going to keep coming down. I don’t know how low it’s going to ever get. I don’t know if we’re going to have 16-year-old athletes like gymnastics does at the Olympic Games. But it’s possible. It certainly is possible. I think athletes in this generation are better than the generation before, and those athletes were better than the generation before them. Our athletes keep getting better and they get better at a younger age. I think we have to start looking at different things in our country in terms of development. That’s why I’m so happy to have Gary Mayabb on board to help me build this development plan and system that is going to be around longer than I will be. We’re going to build something that is going to help America put guys on the podium for years to come.