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!
With the Pan American Olympic Games Qualifier in Ottawa, Canada now mere weeks away, the United States Greco-Roman Seniors are about to break out of a brief lull. In the short-term, what that will look like is a training camp at the Olympic (and Paralympic) Training Center in Colorado Springs. After that, it’s across the northernmost border to accomplish one of this season’s premier objectives.
But since there hasn’t been any recent activity for US National Team head coach Matt Lindland to assess in this latest Report, we have for you several peripheral topics. First on the agenda? Lindland’s perspective on the qualifying process for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Even by current standards, the qualifying procedures that were in place 20 years ago were mind-numbingly cumbersome and are still discussed among Greco lifers. After that, the focus points towards developing youth athletes and how to spot those with solid Greco attributes, as well as a quick look at what that aforementioned Pan Ams camp in Springs will have to offer.
5PM: If you could — and granted, it was a while ago — please outline what you remember about the qualifying process leading up to the 2000 Olympics. If only because, it’s a pertinent topic, plus some of us even now are still a little confused as to what it actually entailed.
Coach Matt Lindland: Well, it’s certainly different from this quad. This one is pretty easy to figure out. If you got top-6 at the Worlds, two third and two fives, you qualified. Now we’re on our way to the continental qualifiers. We just saw the European Championships and the Asian Championships going down consecutively — and then we’re doing our continental championship and qualifier in back-to-back weeks, which is a little different than how they’re doing it in Asia and Europe. Each has different challenges.
But man, that 2000 qualifying process. I’m sure FILA has burnt the documents because they don’t want any evidence of how ridiculous that process was. If I remember correctly, it was the number of athletes who showed up at the event determined the number of points based on placing. So, if 50 guys showed up in Italy, which for us this year was our first Ranking event, then you got 50 points or whatever that number was. The other tournaments that preceded that one, guys quit showing up to it because the #1 guys at that first event had gathered all of their points. It was utterly ridiculous.
I mean, I remember this vividly because I was involved in that qualification process and was just recovering from a torn elbow, the pronator teres muscle. When I would try to finish my lift, I couldn’t create torque with it and pull because my muscle was completely gone and had rolled up in my arm. I was recovering from that, but I got a call that they wanted me to go to Italy. I was not ready, but it was a little bit of a different time and era. It was just expected that if you were the #1 guy, you needed to go regardless. I felt more confident waiting two more weeks to go to the qualifier in Colorado Springs, which was the next one.
I wound up going to Italy. I did not have a great performance there whatsoever. Didn’t get very many points because my placing was quite low. I wasn’t ready. Then two weeks later they sent another athlete to the state next door to where I was living. That was a little disappointing, but I got an opportunity to travel to Uzbekistan and Egypt because of it.
As I was looking at the points, I was pretty confident we weren’t going to gather enough of them, even though I took a gold medal in Uzbekistan, and beat a World champ from Kazakhstan (Bakhtiar Baiseitov) in the semis. The points could not add up because no matter how many guys… I mean, we had guys like Kevin Bracken who stayed qualified by not stepping on the scale prior to the last qualifier in Egypt. That was how he qualified the weight, by not weighing in. So you knew this was a weird system.
It was very awkward with the qualifying points, and that was with 20 guys (in an Olympic bracket). Now we’re down to 16-man brackets. 20 guys was not a lot, but 16 is a tiny bracket. Getting into the Olympic Games is continually becoming more difficult for the athletes, and I don’t think it is just our sport. It’s every sport. It’s a show, and not necessarily about participation and getting all of the best guys. It’s about putting on a great presentation, a great show, and it is the greatest sporting event in the world. For sure. But it hurts to watch numbers of athletes go away who don’t get to compete in the Games. It is tough to watch.
Then we had to qualify at our continental qualifier, and they just gave one spot at the continental. That was your final qualifier. Now if we don’t get it done at the continental, the last chance is a couple of weeks after our Trials in Bulgaria, and I think we can all imagine how difficult that tournament is going to be. Everyone in the world who should be at the Olympics will be trying for that one spot.
It’s a little different in terms of Olympic qualification now. Good, bad, or ugly, it’s just completely different right now.
5PM: When you look back to that 2000 Pan Am Olympic Qualifier, where does that one, just as an individual tournament or achievement, rank to you in terms of your career?
ML: Honestly, that was one of the most fun events I’ve ever been to. There were so many awful things. It was in Cali, Colombia. There were drug cartels everywhere, they did not want us to leave the hotel. We would try to walk a couple of blocks for waters just to rehydrate after saunas and weight-cuts… It was brutal in that sense, but the fact that Dennis Hall, Brandon Paulson, and Matt Lindland were the three guys who hadn’t yet qualified, and I think we all had World champs in our weight classes (laughs). I know for sure Dennis did, I know for sure I did, and I have to remember who Brandon had in the finals. He was either a World champ or had plenty of other colors. But we were the three guys who hadn’t qualified and I was the last one to go. That was probably the most fun.
Watching those two beasts get it done and get their weights qualified, there was no way I wasn’t going to get the job done, as well. I love those guys to this day. Those two guys are incredible human beings and inspiring individuals to me as an athlete. They were winning medals way before I was, and they’re both younger than me. Both guys were winning medals a quad before I was. Very impressive guys. Always professional. If you didn’t know what the right thing to do was, just look at what Dennis or Brandon were doing, and something in the middle of what those guys were doing was the right thing to do (laughs). They both had their own ways of getting things done, but consummate professionals, for sure.
5PM: I guess it has been a season and a half now since Mohamed (Abdelfatah) has taken the reins since Momir (Petković) retired. Mohamed is the one running practices now, he is most of the time the man in charge on the mat and has a lot more responsibilities. How has he assimilated into this role considering how long he has been involved with the program?
ML: I think there was a little bit of a transition because he wasn’t the guy who had to hold people accountable. He was kind of the fun assistant coach who everyone liked, and Momir was the bad guy who made you do everything right (laughs). There is always that balance.
But Mohamed is the head coach in that room. His athletes know that, I want them to know that. When decisions are made about the resident program and the EAP (Elite Accelerator Program), those are Mohamed’s decisions. We certainly consult with one another, all three of US staff members — Gary (Mayabb), Mohamed, and myself. But at the end of the day, we empower Mohamed to make those decisions.
I think one of the great things he is doing is he is getting guys like TC Dantzler, Joe Warren, Chris Saba, Darryl Christian, and Adam Wheeler involved. These guys are coming into the room wanting to share with our athletes. I mean, TC was one of my biggest competitors, and what an incredible dude. I love how he has this group text message thread with our residents and he is sending them messages all of the time (laughs). It’s like, they are the messages I would send if I wasn’t the head coach but he can get away with it because he’s the volunteer (laughs). And I remember when I was the volunteer at Clackamas for a number of years, and even in 2013 when I was the volunteer World Team coach in Budapest. It’s a completely different role and I’m a little envious that TC gets to talk to guys the way he does, because sometimes you have to be careful with your words when you’re the National Team coach. He doesn’t have to. What are we going to do, fire him? (Laughs)
It’s just awesome. Herb House is also in the room all of the time and in the office, and very engaged in the program. I love that Mohamed has all of these guys in the room working with each other, and he has no ego like, This is my way. We share a similar philosophy, and we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Anyone who trains in our room can identify that. If they want to do a reverse lift, we’ve got TC and Mohamed in the room; if you want to do straddle lifts or straight lifts, then I can probably work with you; and if you want to attack the body, get high dives, and be violent, there’s Joe (laughs). Saba is going to help you with your arm spins, unbalances, and positions. Each one of these guys has something, and Herb is one of the best mental coaches for some of these guys.
It’s great to have all of these individuals. I know you asked about Mohamed, but I think that’s his strength, that he is so inviting to all of these talented Greco wrestlers. National Team guys, World Team guys, Olympians, and World and Olympic medalists who are in and out of our room on a daily basis. Could you imagine being a wrestler and living in Colorado, and creating that opportunity to have a chance to train at the Olympic Training Center? I think some of these guys don’t understand how blessed they are. This program didn’t exist until 1993. I moved out here in 1994 and was a big part of this program, and continued to remain incredibly great friends with these guys. These were my teammates, my brothers. We traveled the world and trained together.
I’m starting to see that with our guys now. Maybe they get together to play video games all night or they’re doing the incline on Saturday mornings on their own. Or ice climbing. I think I’ve seen (Brandon) Mueller on his Instagram in the waves in Buena Vista on his board. Just getting out in nature, spending time with one another, is so important to this program, and Mohamed is creating that type of environment for these guys. I can’t say enough great things about the way he has taken the reins of this resident program and Elite Accelerator Program. Great job to him.
5PM: If you were to meet a young wrestler who wants to do Greco-Roman but has just a little experience, what would you tell them to focus on when watching Senior-level matches?
Coach Matt Lindland: If they’re watching the Seniors? First of all, I would say watch at the highest level. Watch World Championships, continental championships, domestic National events. Ask yourself, Where are the scores coming from? Where are they getting most of their points? Is it on the feet? Par terre?
We are starting to get statistics on those, such as from last year’s European Championships, the first “Ranking Series” event this year, and I think all three continentals will come out with statistics now.
But you don’t even have to look at statistics. Just watch and see why these guys are scoring from those positions, and why they are getting those points off of those opportunities. The timing of the scores also matters. When are the scores taking place? Early in periods, late in periods? Right after another score? And watch the pace.
Even young wrestlers understand what good position is, so try to identify where and when the scores are happening. Is it because someone lost their position? Well, they didn’t just lose their position, it’s probably because someone broke their stance and broke their position.
Most of all, just enjoy the scores. Enjoy the throws and the art of the sport. Absolutely. I mean, if you’re a student of the sport you can look for those other things and figure out how you can develop some of that stuff into your own style of wrestling. Steal from others, but make it your own, as I think that’s what all great artists do. Just watch the best guys.
I was always a junkie for film when I was an athlete. I am still pretty engaged in watching film and trying to determine trends with what’s happening in our sport, but I loved getting my hands on video in in the freaking 90’s. It was like gold, it was like, Wow, someone brought this back from Europe, because there was nothing on the internet.
I love how it is now. All weekend, just sitting there watching the European Championships and then the next weekend, the Asian Championships. It’s a totally different world we live in now, you have more and more opportunities. I think it is this way with all sports, especially if you look at exciting sports such as extreme motocross. The tricks that they’re doing from one year to the next just keep getting more and more artistic, adventurous, and risk-taking.
That’s what we see, and I think we’re seeing that in the sport of wrestling. There is so much creativity out there because we’re watching what people are capable of and the bar just keeps rising. So, enjoy the sport, enjoy watching it. We are very blessed to have the opportunity to have so much access to all these films.
5PM: On the flipside, what do you yourself look for in an age-group type of athlete who wants to try Greco in terms of their qualities and attributes?
ML: Oh man, there are so many different things to look for. I like to work with guys who have long arms for leverage, for lifts (laughs). But I can work with guys who are short and stocky and have lifts. I think it is more personality. Someone who has more of a pioneer spirit and is willing to take a path that everyone else isn’t on. I think that’s the guy you have to look for, someone who wants to be great at their craft and they’re not following the crowd.
We all know what kind of wrestlers were looking for: the guys who can win; the guys who are clutch performers; guys who when the stakes are high at big events, they perform their best. Those are the types of guys you want in your program.
But you also want quality individuals who are going to do the right things off the mat and represent your program well, represent the United States well. But ultimately, you’re looking for a guy who is going to be a creative artist and is willing to be a pioneer in the sport, and who will take the path less traveled.
5PM: Camp is about to start prior to the trip to Ottawa for the Pan Am Championships and Pan Am Qualifier. When they first arrive and camp starts, is there an assessment as far as where everyone is at, be it physically or mentally? Is there a need at this point to have any talks or meetings?
Coach Matt Lindland: Yeah, I think there is. We have a couple guys already here, (Adam) Coon and Robby Smith are already in town. Robby should be back on the mat in the morning. He’s got a slight cold, a virus. It’s probably just from traveling and being over in Cuba. You know, you’re on the road and your body just needs to get home and into your own bed to get well. But he should be back at it tomorrow and then we have everyone else coming in on the 23rd outside of our military athletes who won’t make it in until Tuesday.
Our first morning briefing will be on Tuesday with the Pan American guys, the athletes who are traveling to Ottawa, regarding what this week looks like. They will already have a day logged at camp, so it’ll be a pretty good vision of what this looks like. It’s really about how we going to peak for the Qualifier on the 13th. We definitely need to hit a little peak there so we can go in there feeling really fresh and recovered. There is a lot of built-in recovery in this camp, and there’s certainly a lot of high intensity, too. We are a couple of weeks out from the event that we are trying to peak for. We are not about trying to peak for the the (Pan Am) Championships. We will train up to that and we’ll get the guys rested well for that, and then we’ll use that Championships as our final push with matches. The week of the Qualifier we will get on the mat and stay really fresh.
The camp the guys are coming into will be a lot more individualized. The mornings will all be under an hour for practices on the mat. The times and the positions we are going to go live in will take place that morning. In the afternoon, it will be a lot more individualized. Guys will have their own opportunities to work on what they feel they need to, but I think we need to be on the mat, though. I met with all of the coaches and we discussed when we should break. Everyone agreed we should stay on the mat.
It’s a short travel up to Canada, so we’re not traveling overseas. We will get up there and just get the guys ready to compete on the 6th and 7th for the Championships and then figure out where we are going to be sitting in the brackets and kind of looking at matchups that could potentially happen again. We are going to be ready for all of these scenarios. I feel really good about it.
As far as where the guys are, I don’t think there’s much to assess. I was just with everyone over in Denmark and have a pretty good pulse. I’m communicating with guys over at (Army) WCAP and have been staying in touch with those guys. We got Adam in here early, so really got a pretty impulse on where everybody’s at, to tell you the truth.
It all comes down to that communication right now. If you need something, they need to be letting us know what those needs are and how we can serve them. Because at the end of the day, we all have the same goals, which is to get these weights qualified.
I think guys are our focused on the task at hand; and if it continues like Denmark where the guys were just on task, on target, on time to training, and with a sense of urgency, I think it’s going to be a great camp. I am really looking forward to building off of what we started doing in Denmark and keeping that great attitude. The guys are really coming together and supporting one another. Those things that I alluded to earlier talking about our residents program. When I had the opportunity to be a part of that and the National program, it was with guys who I’m still friends with to this day. I just saw Randy (Couture) at a wedding last weekend (laughs).
At the end of the day, that’s really what it’s all about — just going out there, pursuing your goals together and trying to get all the guys on this Team qualified. And then have a great time in Tokyo.