USA Greco

Coach Lindland’s Weekly Report: We Have Trials

lindland, pre 2020 Olympic Trials
Matt Lindland -- Photo: Tony Rotundo

Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland pertaining to recent results, upcoming events, training plans, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!

One of the first major post-public launch pieces for this platform was also the very first Coach Lindland’s Report, which arrived right before the 2016 Olympic Trials in Iowa City. Five years later, we’re back in the same spot, looking ahead to the most prestigious Team selection process our nation calls to order.

But it’s not all about the Olympic Team Trials beginning this Friday in Fort Worth. A big part of the story is the Last Chance Qualifier. 12 athletes emerged out of one of the roughest and most heart-pounding domestic events in recent memory. Not every athlete is mentioned by name. A few are. Among them are 17-year-old Robert Perez III (67 kg, Sunkist), who dazzled en-route to third place; well-known prospects like ’18 Junior World silver Andrew Berreyesa (87 kg, NYAC/Spartan RTC) and Tommy Brackett (87 kg, USOPTC); and champs Austin Morrow (77 kg, NYAC/NTS, 5PM #13) and Tanner Farmer (130 kg, NYAC/IRTC, 5PM #10).

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As far as the Trials are concerned, we make it a little more personal. Coach Lindland is asked about his perception of time related to how slow (and how fast) this season has gone, and he offers that it is about to soon hit warped speed. To close out is an overview of where Lindland’s mindset is entering this second Trials as National Team head coach compared to his first, which is now half-a-decade ago.

5PM: Since Rome (Matteo Pellicone Memorial), I’m sure you have been in contact with a lot of full-time athletes who are preparing for the Trials. Have training plans and schedules stabilized for the more established group? Or has it varies from location to location?

Coach Matt Lindland: For the guys in Colorado, nobody is training at the Olympic Training Center and nobody is training at WCAP (Army’s World Class Athletes Program), but they have consistent places where they have been training. They’ve had consistent coaches and partners, so I expect everyone to be well-prepared to burn it down. I’m excited to watch what our athletes are going to do out there. I am thoroughly excited to see what’s going to happen.

I feel like everyone has a pretty consistent place to train. I know that Cohlton (Schultz) is finished with his college season. He had Chad Porter out there, but Chad took off for that Last Chance Qualifier and Cohlton came out to us for a few days to get some training in with Tracy (G’Angelo Hancock) and Diante Cooper. He had a couple of good workout partners. We were running practices. I actually had to jump in and run last week’s practices because Coach Mohamed (Abdelfatah) was in Texas.

It has been great. I guess everything has been getting back to… Well, I guess this is the new normal, not having access to world class training facilities like we had back at the Olympic Training Center and like the Army guys have had at Fort Carson. But most people are in their normal training spots.

5PM: Before we get back to the Trials, let’s hit the Last Chance Qualifier. I’m interested in your personal perspective. Throughout your career, both as an athlete and coach, was this the most loaded Last Chance tournament we’ve ever had? I don’t remember one. 

ML: You know, it’s hard to say because when you’re in it, you don’t have that outside perspective. For me, I got tasked with trying to separate the #1 and #2 guys along with a small committee of individuals trying to put that together. It’s like, No, you can’t seed this guy here and not this guy here… It was just unbelievable with the number of athletes who were showing up for this, let alone trying to predict who our best guys are at those weight classes. We just separated based off of statistics and head-to-head competition to figure out the two best candidates for separation.

I think the tournament delivered that. I mean, we got the right guys out of that tournament. For sure. There’s no question. And there are a million talented guys who won’t be at the Olympic Trials, as well. That’s probably the way it should be. It shouldn’t be easy to get into the final Olympic Trials. It is not easy to get to the Olympic Games or win a medal. Every stage of that process becomes more and more difficult.

I hope that the athletes who didn’t qualify are still motivated for this next quad. It’s going to be a shorter quad, just three years. So I am looking forward to seeing a lot of these who guys who were right there — the #3’s and #4’s in their weight classes — stepping up. We had 17-year-old athletes competing at 60 and 67 kilos. 17-year-old athletes who are full-time Greco-Roman and they were right there. I hope they got that taste of, Man, I could definitely do this and make an impact. And I think a couple of those guys are going to make an impact this year at Juniors. A couple of them are first-year Juniors and were close to making it to a Senior Olympic Trials. That was exciting. That was thrilling, and I definitely think the right guys got out of the brackets, as well.

5PM: One of those 17-year-olds to whom you are referring is Robert Perez III. I’ve see him wrestle a thousand times but everything about this was different between the age level, the competition level, and intensity level — yet, he was a factor. Most know he had amassed a lot of success at age group. What was it about him that you identified and were attracted to regarding what his potential could be?

ML: I think I learned more about him afterwards, but the initial thing you could see was his love for the sport. He actually loves getting out there to compete in Greco-Roman and has a huge desire to do well, which means he is very coachable. He is willing to make all of the tough sacrifices that you do not see 17-year-olds, or 16-year-olds when he first started with us, make. Like moving out of his parents’ home and into the Training Center. When COVID hit, he got sent home. He must have been absolutely out of his mind because all he wanted to do was get back to Colorado and train with his teammates. He is a pretty special young guy just for the fact that he was willing to move in with a family he had never met before so that he could have the opportunity to train with Coach Mohamed in the program that he is running out of Colorado Springs.

Robert is willing to do whatever it takes and make the sacrifice to get there. I don’t think people realize that is not normal, for a 16-year-old to move out of his parents’ home to train with Senior athletes. And, take his lumps. I mean, he came into the room and was not one of the best guys in the room. But he has slowly worked his way to the top of that ladder in that environment. He has great training partners around him. Even when he just fell short of qualifying for the final Trials, he called me to make sure that I knew he was going to stay out in Texas to help his teammates get ready so they could make an Olympic Team. It takes a very selfless athlete to do that and it shows the kind of character he has.

I think once we got to know him, we saw his work ethic, his coachability, and all of the other intangible factors that are going to contribute to him becoming a very successful Greco-Roman wrestler for the United States in the future. We’re expecting big things out of him, but I think that he is a guy you can put high expectations on and he will step up to them. And the expectation that we have for him right now is for him to come home with a Junior World medal.

5PM: We have Last Chance tournaments annually, the week before a Trials or whenever. This one was a little different in that the venue and dates were locked in a little after than what is the norm. Plus, everyone knows the story about how athletes have had to adapt their training. All of that said, were you pleased with level of wrestling that came of the tournament?

Coach Matt Lindland: I was absolutely glued to the screen (laughs). Trying to watch both mats at the same time was a challenge, but it was a lot of fun watching these guys compete at a very high level. Again, every bracket you looked at you said, Oh, that guy could have qualified. We had a Junior World medalist with Andrew Berreyesa, we had Tommy Brackett, and they fell just short of making it to the finals of their weight class (87 kg).

It was exciting to see Austin Morrow move up to 77 kilos and looking better at 77 than I have potentially ever seen him look at 67. He has always been a great competitor. For him to move up to a new weight class and have a lot of freedom… You could just see that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and he had a lot of fun out there. You could see how skilled he is when he’s not cutting weight and torturing his body. That was fun to watch.

It was great to see all of these guys compete. Tanner Farmer had an absolutely great tournament, as he should. He was a world class athlete before he started his Greco-Roman wrestling career with being a Division I starter in football at Nebraska. We knew he was an athlete, but now he is turning into a certified Greco-Roman athlete, as well. So yeah, I was absolutely glued to the screen for every session. It was a lot of fun.

5PM: We have covered how this season has felt, how sometimes it has gone really slowly yet other times it just seems to speed up. Now that we are basically just hours away from the Olympic Trials, is there a sense of relief? That we’re actually here? Like, how unless there is a giant meteor shower, this thing is going to happen?

ML: (Laughs) I think me and everyone else have been pretty optimistic that we were going to get to these Trials, have a Team selected, and put a training plan together so that we can help these athletes prepare as best as they can for the Olympic Games. It is not like the NCAA’s where it is a throw-away year. You didn’t lose eligibility, you didn’t gain eligibility, so we’re just going to have a tournament and nothing counts. Well, I think everything counts right now for us.

As we continue to get closer, everything is going to speed up immensely. It has been very odd that we shut down and then slowly opened back up; and then we finally got over to Europe and started competing. Then all of the sudden it has been, Now, Last Chance Qualifier… Now, Olympic Trials. And now we’re planning camps for the qualifiers of the last two weight classes (77 and 130 kg). The Pan-Am Championships are coming up, and then it’s the final press. It feels like we’re going to blink our eyes and be in Nakatsugawa for our final acclimation camp heading into Tokyo.

It feels like everything slowed down — stopped — slowed down, and then slowly picked back up. Now it’s going to be at a pace where guys are going to have to keep up, I’m going to have to keep up, and the rest of our coaches, too. We are going to be busy. It is a very condensed schedule this year because of the COVID pandemic.

5PM: This will be your second Olympic Trials as National Team head coach. The first time, there were three guys who were qualified entering the tournament and this time you’ve got four. And, throughout the quad, there have been plenty of moments and adversities. Just the nature of this sport. How different is your perspective heading into your second Trials as National Team coach compared to the first one?

Coach Matt Lindland: I feel like I have gotten to know this Team a lot better and understand them. I know how they compete, how they like to prepare, how they like to train. I think I’ve done a much better job of helping our athletes reach their goals just because I know better. I started in ’14 and it seemed like in the blink of an eye that we were at the Trials and then Rio. I’ve really been in the trenches with our guys. I know what they need, I know how to help them. I don’t know everything; I’m always open to learning and growing, and getting to know them better so that I can help them better. But I feel like that relational piece has really started to cement itself. I have relationships with all of these guys. My heart goes out to them when they lose, and when they win I want to celebrate with them.

Somebody is losing here. There is only going to be one guy going to the Olympics at each of the four weights that are qualified. For the two weights that aren’t, we are going to have to put some work in and get those qualified. Whoever comes out of this tournament I know is going to be someone who is willing to do it, and we’ll get that done.

I’m excited for the next step, which is qualifying those two weight classes and then preparing our Team for Tokyo. We are definitely excited to go over to Bulgaria and have the tournament of our lives, because that’s what it is going to take since there are so many talented athletes who are not qualified yet. But I know we are in that mix. Whoever our guys are who come out of this grinder of a weekend will be well-positioned to get that job done. And I’m excited for that opportunity.

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