When that first group of US Seniors traveled over to Oklahoma last month, it was an instant headline. And when the announcement came that another handful of athletes would be able to participate in full-contact training sessions — this week in Boise and semi-soon after in Nebraska — the conversation grew even louder. Wrestlers receiving the chance to actually practice wrestling counts as a worthy news item these days, but even with all of the good vibes surrounding bodylocks and live go’s, many are still forced to improvise due to various physical distancing parameters.
Such is the case in Colorado Springs, where US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center resident athletes have recently been meeting up for outdoor sessions focused on strength and conditioning drills. Compared to what is currently going on at Suples this week, that might not seem like much. But given the (constantly changing) circumstances in “Olympic Town USA”, it’s the best USOPTC Greco-Roman resident coach Mohamed Abdelfatah can do.
“The guys who live in Colorado, until we are re-opened they are running outdoors, hiking,” says Abdelfatah, who won a World title for Egypt in 2006. “Everyone has their resistance bands and we social distance. All of those are things that we are doing to keep them in shape, and at the same time, keep them safe.”
For the most part, the exercises Abdelfatah relies on are extremely familiar to his charges. One of the coach’s preferred methods when it comes to strength training is mixing in movements and motions along with traditional weightlifting. Drills involving box jumps, hurdles, an of course, the training bands popularized by his predecessor, Momir Petković, are seen as important as anything that can take place in a weight room — which has made what might be interpreted as a difficult situation just a little more manageable once meetups started occurring in the open air.
“We try to keep some of the same exercises that we use in wrestling to make the guys feel active and fresh that way they’ll be ready to go,” Abdelfatah explains. “This is what I coach from, this system. Usually, we don’t like to be in the gym much. We try to build their conditioning and strength outdoors with the elastic bands to give them a different feeling than the strength you get from the gym.”
The turnout thus far has proven encouraging. Nearly every wrestler who calls the USOPTC home has shown up for Abdelfatah’s thrice-weekly workouts, including well-known Seniors like Morgan Flaharty (67 kg, NYAC), four-time Open champ Kamal Bey (77 kg, Sunkist), and Corey Hope (77 kg, NYAC), with a handful of potent age-group prospects also joining the fray. ’13 Trials runner-up Marcus Finau (NYAC) is on-board, as well. Finau resurfaced on the Senior circuit at the December Nationals for the Tokyo push (and hopefully beyond). In addition, he was part of the collective that threw down at the Oklahoma RTC in June, resulting in high praise from Abdelfatah.
“He’s doing well, he’s doing as much as he can,” Abdelfatah says of Finau. “I think Marcus’ size is very good for 87 (kilograms). A few years ago he was 96 kilos. Since he has come back I feel like he is already in shape now, and once he’s back on the mat and in the system, I think he will be very dangerous at 87.” The coach has similarly strong feelings for Hope, with whom he has forged a strong relationship dating back several years.”Corey is very disciplined,” notes Abdelfatah. “He is a hard worker. He believes that his dream will come true one day and he’s doing great.”
Hills. Grass. Mountains. They’re all part of the plan for the foreseeable future. Everyday life in Colorado is a lot looser than in many other states, just not when it comes to wrestling. The USOPTC is still closed — and there has been some confusion lately as to what is allowed during training, and what isn’t. So, Abdelfatah is playing it safe. He is steadfastly observing all of the required protocols in an effort to at least offer a semblance of a collective training experience.
Abdelfatah doesn’t want to make a wrong move. At the same time, he wants to get up and going again as soon as possible. The only consolation available these days is the idea that when wrestling is fully back, his guys will have an edge.
“We are having a hard time right now and we don’t know what’s coming next. It is very hard for coaching the plan, for six weeks or for eight weeks,” admits Abdelfatah. “Because, you don’t know how long this is going to be. We’re just trying to follow the rules as much as we can and try to do our job to get them ready. Hopefully, they will find a vaccine or a medicine and we’ll be ready to come back faster than everyone else who is staying home with nothing to do.”