In case it isn’t obvious yet, we have been exclusively (for the most part) chronicling Sam Hazewinkel‘s (55 kg, Sunkist) lead-up to the 2018 World Championships, set to begin October 25th in Budapest, Hungary. It is a journey that began in late June following Hazewinkel’s two-match sweep of Max Nowry (Army/WCAP) in the finals of the World Team Trials. Then we spoke after the first Senior camp in Oregon, and again coming out of the five-day Vegas camp a month ago.
There are a few reasons why Hazewinkel’s journey to the Worlds is being highlighted. For starters, he returned to Greco this past April on the heels of a multi-year hiatus and performed exceptionally, layoff or no layoff. The fact he did all of this at age-35 and is also a college head coach only adds to the storyline. But most of all, it is never not worth mentioning that before he went over to freestyle and made the 2012 Olympic Team, Hazewinkel, a two-time US Senior Open champ, was one of the best Greco athletes in the country. And whenever one of our own comes back into the fold, especially under what are decidedly unique circumstances given the current climate, interest level always rises.
Where we pick up with Hazewinkel this time around comes two weeks after the Grand Prix of Germany, his first overseas Greco competition in more than a few flips of the calendar. The Oklahoman only headed off to Deutschland for the tournament — meaning, he didn’t stick around for the proceeding training camp. Hazewinkel was fine with that because he wanted to witness for himself how the officials were going to make certain calls, and plus, there was an obvious desire to get in a few international matches. Unfortunately, both he and Nowry were bracketed in the same pool, resulting in a bit of a disappointment when it came to Hazewinkel getting his hands on a foreigner.
Sam Hazewinkel — 55 kg, Sunkist
5PM: It was a downer that you and Max were in the same pool. Almost the entire point of you going was so you could have a few international matches and you wound up only having one. I know it’s supposed to be a random draw…
Sam Hazewinkel: It is a random draw, but what they do, it’s I guess computer-generated. There are a hundred numbers. I drew #2 and Max drew #81. The odds that we would be in the same pool were incredibly low. I saw the German (Fabian Schmitt) was #4 and Max was 81, so I stopped looking. Now, the others could have all been 82 to 99, but it is really hard for me to believe that. It is really hard for me to believe that. I guess there are odds for it, but I just figured, Alright, this is good. We’re on different sides, this worked out well. But then we were on the same side. I wish I would have read the numbers because it is just hard for me to believe. Lesson learned. Next time, take my phone up there, take a picture. Do something.
My first match against the German I wrestled horrible and I’ll get into that a little later. It was bad. I ended up getting tech’ed 10-2. And then Max beats the German, which I knew he would, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. So now, I have to wrestle Max and the way they set it up, the way they said they were doing it, #1 guys go to finals, the #2 and #3 guys go to bronze. So the only way I go to the finals is if I pin or tech Max, and really, I needed to pin him. Because if I tech’ed him, then I tech him, the German tech’ed me, and he beat the German. Then it’s either me or the German, but it’s in Germany so they’re going to take the German.
The only way for me to go to the finals is to pin Max; for Max to go to the finals, all he has to do is not get pinned or tech’ed. The German, he goes if I just beat Max. That’s not what I want to happen, I want an American in the finals. Even if I beat Max, it doesn’t matter, I’m still in for bronze. The only way I go the finals is if I pin him.
So I went out there and tried to pin him. Didn’t pin him, lost. And then we’re back there cutting weight getting ready for the next day with Max in the finals and I’m going for third, and they come back to us and say, Hey, we changed our mind. We’re going to cross-bracket #1 and #2 from each pool. We’re only going to do one bronze. #1 from this pool will wrestle #2 from that pool, and #1 from that pool will wrestle #2 from this pool. The winners of each will go the finals, the losers of each will go to bronze. With the way it worked out, both Max and the German lost and they wrestled again for bronze.
It was frustrating, because that would have changed things. I would have beat Max or attempted to beat Max. I mean, that’s hearsay, whether I would have or not. I wasn’t wrestling great so he might have still beat me. But I have a feeling that if I would have beaten him, the German would have been in the finals and they wouldn’t have changed the rules, there would’ve been a German in the finals.
It’s one of those things. The whole thing was kind of crazy how it went down. But it was a lesson learned for me, I tell my kids all the time, You don’t look ahead at the bracket. Every year at the NCAA’s a #1 (seed) goes down. It’s rare when the semis are the top-four seeds. It’s rare, it maybe happens in one weight per year. So I tell the guys, You can’t worry about who you’re going to have if you win this match because you don’t know. People always lose. You need to focus on this match. And I got away from that. I was over there and I started thinking it through, playing the game, and I should have just wrestled. I’m getting ready for Worlds. I should have just went out and wrestled. I wanted an American in the finals and they put us in the same bracket, but I didn’t go out there and wrestle.
It’s easy to look ahead to the best guys but you can’t do it. All you can do is focus on your match right now. It was a lesson learned there but it was a crazy ordeal. I don’t know if it would have mattered.
5PM: If you knew ahead of time how it was going to go would you still have taken the trip?
Hazewinkel: Yes, because the idea for me to go was to watch the refs and learn. I will say that I didn’t learn much. It changed from match to match. I did learn that finger-grabbing is hardly called at all overseas. But the refs, it was confusing. They (officials) told us at the meeting that if someone was ahead by three points or more they weren’t going to call that person for passivity or negative wrestling unless it was blatant. That was going to be considered like, Put it in the wrestlers’ hands. And sometimes that happened and sometimes it didn’t. You still saw a lot of people getting called.
Jesse Thielke went out there and wrestled great, took down a (World and Olympic) bronze medalist (Stig-Andre Berge), controlled the match, attacked the whole time, and they hit Jesse for passivity with :30 left. They gave the match to the other guy. Just like that, it was 2-1 and the guy who didn’t score on offensive point before that was going to win. I have a problem with that. I have no problem when a guy scores early and is then playing defense. But no, I don’t like it with short time like that where the other guy can now play defense because he’s not going to get called, though that’s a whole nother thing to get into.
To answer your question, yes, I still would have went. The idea was to go over there, learn, and to get the mistakes out now, and I think I did that. It would be hard, but yes, I still would have gone.
5PM: It was a small sample size, a really small sample size, but you at least got the feel again for a foreign guy. Is there anything you took away from that one match offering some value?
Hazewinkel: The biggest was that I need to be in better shape. I was in good shape but I didn’t believe in it. In my own head, I didn’t have enough faith in it to push like I really needed to early on. The second is that it was a really good reminder that the battle is in breaking position. The battle isn’t trying to score a bunch of points, and I know that and still tried to do it.
What it came down to was pride. I felt like I was a lot better. I felt like I should have just been able to go out there and throw him. I didn’t give him enough credit. I still feel like I’m a lot better, but I didn’t give him the credit he deserved for me to fight the position. I felt like I should be able to make him step forward and then throw, as if he was a beginner. If I had spent a little more time trying to break his position I feel like I could have controlled that match way easier.
That was my big takeaway, stick to the game plan in the match. I get caught up in the game plan in training now, because I have to. And I’m okay with the game plan for training. I feel like I stuck to it. I knew I wasn’t going in there peaking. But because of that, I changed my game plan for the match and I shouldn’t have. I needed to keep my match game plan, which has always been to go out there and wrestle, break position, and when they make mistakes is when I am going to score. And I got away from that. It didn’t work well for me at all.
5PM: When you say “pride”, explain why that’s a negative.
Hazewinkel: Yeah, well in my mind, I think there is a difference between confident and cocky, and I was cocky. I went out there thinking I could just throw him. Didn’t set him up. We’ve all seen the match where a wrestler goes out there and he’s trying to rope-a-dope him when he hasn’t tired him out first. I have no problem with the rope-a-dope; when a guy is tired you get him to chase you a little bit. But I started with it. Just way overconfident.
I like confidence, I don’t like cocky. It took me a few days of going through it to see mentally where my mistake was and there are three or four areas. I think overconfidence was a big one because I was expecting to just go out there and crush him, just, He’s a nobody. I could tell right when we shook hands that I should beat him. Right off the bat, he took a quick little takedown. Right when I arm-dragged something, then I kind of fell, an odd scramble, I went to side-roll him, and then another odd scramble and I’m down 4-0. I wasn’t the least bit worried but it didn’t change my mindset at all. I didn’t think, Okay, let’s break position. I just went right back to trying to do the big move and finish it quick, which isn’t correct. I should have made the adjustment right then and I made it too late.
That’s pride. That’s what that is. It’s me being unwilling to say, Hey, I’m down 4-0, let’s buckle it down and be smart. Let’s come back one point at a time. It was me thinking, Okay, one throw and it’s 4-4 with me winning because I have the higher-scoring move. No worries. At this level, you can’t do that. You shouldn’t do it at any level, but especially not at this level. Guys know how to shut down, they’re smart. The German was good. He was good enough to be there in the tournament, he was good enough to shut down against me, let me overattack, and then he scored again. I didn’t give him the credit he deserved and that’s to my shame. I should have wrestled better.
But it’s just that whole idea. I went into the match mentally not thinking like I needed to and it came down to pride. My whole focus was wrestling the Junior World champ on the other side (Nugzari Tsurtsumia of Georgia). I was focused on somebody I’m not even wrestling. You can’t do that. You can’t look ahead, you have to look at where you are right now.
5PM: So, is it pride that is the issue here or that you didn’t equate that pride with the necessary output?
Hazewinkel: Yeah, but either way, that’s pride. I have to think that there was a part in my head saying, Buckle down, and I didn’t give it any credence. I went right to, Oh, I’m still going to beat this guy up, and I don’t like that. I don’t think I can allow that into my game plan. I wouldn’t want my wrestlers doing that. I want them being in the now, This is where I’m at right NOW. Rob Hermann used to tell me to go into the match as if you’re down by five points because when you wrestle, good things happen. So I don’t want to say that if I’m down four I need to be worried; I just think overconfidence got me in that hole and I needed to correct that and I didn’t. I felt like I still wasn’t worried and I think that pride is very much the core reason.
5PM: Do you feel like you missed out by not participating in the camp?
Hazewinkel: Yes, obviously it would have been good to do the camp. Honestly, in the past, camps had always been hard for me. I don’t know why. I just never really enjoyed them, never felt like I got a lot better. I loved the wrestling part of it, I loved wrestling with the foreigners. I don’t know, I don’t know that I missed a whole lot. I just think it would have been in my head knowing that I’ve got my team here (at Oklahoma City University) and I’ve got my family…I just don’t think it would have been good for me. I think it was the right choice to not do it.
Now — to argue if it would have been better to do the camp and not the tournament, I think that’s fair. I could watch film to see what the refs are doing. I think that could be argued, although I wanted to see it in person. I wanted to see how the refs were doing everything and I was able to see that. I got the sense that they don’t know what they’re doing but I learned a lot.
The finger-fighting, for instance, is not near of a big deal overseas as it is in the US, which I love. I’m a big fan of fighting hands to get to my ties, so I am glad that I know I can do that. I was really worried about that. I had been working on getting to my ties without hand-fighting. That was a good thing to see, and I’m going to keep working on it. Because, you never know, at Worlds they might change their minds about it. Just little things like that were the game plan for me to prepare for Worlds and I got do that, which was good.
5PM: You’ve been a part of World Team camps before, they are a grind and they’re orchestrated that way for a reason. Do you have any specific objectives you’re looking towards as next week’s camp at the Olympic Training Center approaches?
Hazewinkel: The main thing I want to work on is par terre. I want to get a lot better at par terre and I just don’t have the same kind of partners here. Everybody knows feet to a degree but par terre is hard to find.
The other part of that is I really want to work on is my match strategy. That is something we haven’t done a whole lot of in the camps yet, wrestling matches. I asked Matt (US National Team head coach Lindland) about it. I’m curious to see if he’s going to add it in because I think he maybe had one day of matches the week I’ll be there. He might have a bunch set up for the next week but I asked him to add more in there for me because it helps me the more I have my match strategy down. Knowing what I’m doing, up a point, down a point — I want to review all that. I only got two matches in at the German Grand Prix, and other than that, I haven’t wrestled in two years, so I want to get up to date on my match strategy.
I made some mental errors in Germany that I don’t like and that’s the kind of stuff I feel I can correct. I don’t know if I’m necessarily going to learn a new move in a week at camp, but I can wrestle some really good Greco guys like Dalton (Roberts) and get a good feel for what I’m going to do in situations to just make sure all of that is sharp in my mind.