Depending on who you talked to, the goal for the US Greco-Roman March European tour was either to get some matches in as the World Team Trials begins to close in, or to find some valuable foreign training — once again, as the Trials closes in. But a curious thing happened today. Those “matches”, those tests of skill to be logged as more experience or fine-tuning, instead turned out to be quite the collective statement.
Altogether, the United States enjoyed a 32-19 record throughout the day at the 2017 Thor Masters Invitational. Of course, this number does not take into account the losses US guys endured to their teammates, of which there were several. But during a time when the US’ ability to match up with international opponents is often called into question, that many wins in one day is certainly more than a step in the right direction. It’s a message. Pool competition offers the opportunity for a large enough sample size that is tough to ignore.
2017 Thor Masters Invitational Highlights
Hafizov leaves no doubt
You wanted a champion? You got one. Actually, two. Ildar Hafizov (59 kg, Army/WCAP) impressed last week at the Armed Forces Championships, his first event in nearly 11 months. Despite his 3-0 mark there, the real question was based around how he was going to respond this weekend after being thrown in with full-time athletes once again. Sure, Hafizov, an Olympian in 2008 and the runner-up at the US Olympic Trials just last year, has the experience necessary already under his belt. Plenty of it, in fact. But with the lengthy break before returning last week and then going straight overseas, his taking the mat today offered the potential for some compelling theater. He didn’t disappoint.
Takedowns, lifts, and gutwrenches were the main tools in a consistent Hafizov attack. The first match of the morning saw Hafizov lock up with Kasper Ravn (DEN) and that’s when the beatings began. After some feeling-out, Hafizov got going with a four-point flurry, his polished arsenal on display in full. Up 4-0 and almost ending things with a fall, Hafizov delivered with a lift and turn to close out Ravn with an emphatic 8-0 tech. His next opponent, Finland’s Justin Latvala, didn’t fare any better. Hafizov was leading 2-0 on a step-out and passivity point and then the rains came. The WCAP wrestler powered through with a beautiful throw followed by a turn, and another 8-0 tech was in the books.
Przemyslaw Piatek (POL) offered Hafizov his toughest test of the day. At 2-0, it looked like this was going to be a repeat of the first two matches. However, Piatek came to fight. Hafizov did nail a correct hold for two to go up four, but the pickings were slim from then on. Piatek scrapped and earned two points to cut the deficit in half. Hafizov would pick up another point for some padding towards the end and advance 5-3. Andrei Tsaryuk (ISR) actually drew first blood against Hafizov in the next round. Down by two, Hafizov went haywire to the tune of 11 straight points for his third tech of the tournament. This put him in the finals.
2013 World Military Games silver medalist Michal Tracz (POL) represented the last hurdle. It fell into place under a dramatic setting — the spotlight, the music, the crowd noise, this was offered up as a major league event which made it all the more entertaining. The Danish crowd chanting “USA, USA!” probably had something to do with it. Hafizov bided his time inside of Tracz’s grasp, hunting for those two-on-one’s that have a habit of providing a springboard for big opportunities. Tracz hand-fought diligently but did not reciprocate in eagerness. That would cost him a point. But it was effective enough to stymie Hafizov for the whole of the first period.
Early on in the second Hafizov kicked into gear. A takedown and a turn resulted in a 5-0 lead. The crowd cheered as if the American was one of theirs. They would repeat this behavior a little while later. Hafizov loaded Tracz up for another lift attempt and abruptly ended the match — but not because of points. As soon as Tracz landed he instantly began screaming and stomping his feet in agony. The Polish medical staff along with the event trainers immediately rushed out to tend to him. Unfortunately for Tracz, he could not continue. Even though the ending was probably not how he wanted it to go, Hafizov earns a well-deserved gold medal and in the process, announces his return to the top of the US Greco consciousness.
Robby returns in style
It isn’t as if there is a whole lot left for 2016 Olympian Robby Smith (130 kg) to prove at this point. Another athlete who had been on the shelf due to injury, even Smith himself acknowledged that these two overseas events were more about discovering where he was physically than anything else. And that was the impression you were left with after the popular Greco star dropped his first match to Oskar Marvik (NOR) 3-2, that this was just “training.” Maybe it felt that way but with how things unfolded later on, it all became rather blurry.
Smith came out firing in the next round against Christian John (GER). He seemed to have more bounce, more vigor, although he was knocked first for passivity. That didn’t matter. A bodylock tug of war saw Smith get deeper and take it back for four points. John wanted to respond and he did so by locking around Smith for his own throw. Smith went with it by adjusting his weight, landing on top, and holding John down for the fall. There was a shift in the attitude.
Given the pool system in place, the next opponent was a familiar one — 2016 US National Champion Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP). A friend and former training partner, these two have battled it out plenty before, but with an improved Erickson and a fresh-from-hiatus Smith, the dynamics were interesting. Smith took control on an arm throw that was good for two. Erickson hung in there, prying inside while trying to avoid becoming overextended. Smith took that 2-0 lead into the second period. The two heavyweights clashed and collided, they’ve been through this enough times to where knowledge of each other’s games both matters and not at all. The officials rewarded Smith’s output first with a passivity ding on Erickson. Behind 3-0, Erickson prowled for openings but there weren’t any to be found. A late passive call on Smith gave Erickson a point, but that would be it. Smith takes this latest tangle with Erickson 3-1.
Erickson defeated Toumas Lahti (FIN) in his second bout and now it was Smith’s turn. A snazzy arm throw soon into the match by Smith yielded four. Finland challenged the call, they didn’t think there was exposure. There sure was and with the challenge denied, Smith enjoyed a 5-0 advantage he got play with. It isn’t Smith’s style to mail it in with a lead, so he was still fighting it out to see if anything opened up. It wasn’t to be, but a 5-1 win that launched him into the finals served as a nice consolation. In the 130 kg finals, Smith was called upon to mix it up with Jello Krahmer (GER), another mutual opponent of his and Erickson’s on this day. You wouldn’t say “cruise control” necessarily, but Smith found little trouble netting himself three points, two of which came from a late caution and two for fleeing on Krahmer. The tournament victory gives Smith his seventh international-level gold and kicks off his 2017 campaign in promising fashion. As he stood on the podium to accept his medal, just like they did for Hafizov previously, the crowd chanted “USA” in unison. Smith, a celebrity everywhere he goes.
Coleman back to his old tricks
2012 Olympian Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) was putting on a show all day long at the 2017 Thor Masters Invitational. So much so, that it looked like a gold medal was an inevitability. Curiously, that would not be the case.
Coleman, at home in the 66 kilogram bracket, started off his Pool B competition with a 4-1 win over Pal Erik Gundersen. He gathered steam the rest of the way. After escaping Mohammed Yasin Peter (GER) via a narrow 2-1 victory in the following bout, the 25-year old from Illinois ran all over Rami Syrja (FIN) 8-0. The explosive, high-flying maneuvers weren’t there, but they also weren’t necessary. Coleman asserted control of the center of the mat constantly and worked Syrja’s ties with his own punishing payback. He would dart in, drag, shuck, and force his opponent into uncomfortable positions. Passivity points and step-outs were the method of destruction for Coleman in this bout and effective it was, as he collected a casual 8-0 technical fall.
His next bout gave way to a good one. 2016 Olympic qualifier Edgaras Venckaitis (LTU), who defeated RaVaughn Perkins (71 kg, NYAC) back at last April’s 1st OG Qualifier to earn his spot in Rio, is a challenging, aggressive wrestler with an fiery disposition. That would play into this by the end. Venckaitis took a 1-0 advantage when Coleman upped the ante. A step-out point knotted the score. A passivity and another step-out gave the American a 3-1 lead, a lead that with someone of Venckaitis’ capabilities, is extremely tenuous. But Coleman showed various looks, darting in and out and switching up his attacks.
Venckaitis had a cut on his chin that resulted in a couple of blood timeouts. Whether or not he was frustrated by the blood, frustrated by Coleman’s effective but somewhat subtle battering, or simply by the fact that time was scarce and he couldn’t solve the puzzle, Venckaitis began to act out. He chopped at Coleman during a break and then feigned strikes. Through it all, Coleman maintained his composure and rode this one all the way in, his biggest victory in a while.
As nice as the victory was for Coleman, including the 4-0 overall ledger at the tournament, he did not continue to the medal rounds. Venckaitis, during his fit of rage, purposely injured Coleman’s shoulder, leading the US to pull him from the event to avoid further damaging the area.
US brings the firepower at 71 and Smith makes the podium
Patrick Smith (71 kg, Minnesota Storm) actually started off the morning unable to capitalize on his hard-charging ways, dropping a thin 2-1 decision to eventual finalist Timo Badusch (GER). But from then on out it was “The Smith Show.” We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? The everlasting lungs, the perpetual energy, all vital components of what makes Smith so dangerous. Smith went after Avto Gigolashvili (SWE) with gusto throughout, coercing step-outs thanks to his approach before following up with two consecutive takedowns to wrap up a 7-2 win. Next was Vegard Jorgensen (NOR). You know the drill — pressure, pressure, pressure. Even when the moves weren’t available, the pace was, enabling Smith to move on, 4-0.
Smith’s advancement through his pool gave forth a terrifically entertaining match with Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) for bronze. Back and forth the whole way through, Smith held a 6-5 lead with little time remaining, along with a criteria edge. Sancho needed a two-pointer to win, a step-out or passive point wouldn’t cut it. He did get the step-out, but time had run out. Smith, who bulldogged his way through his pool, comes away with a shiny, new international bronze medal.
As for Sancho, he went a weight here at the 2017 Thor Masters and was a finely-tuned scoring machine against first opponent Mikko Lyttinen (FIN), chaining together opportunities while staying in position to collect a crisp 5-1 victory. Next it was Mateous Morbitzer (CZE). Sancho was a bit forceful in his strategy and went after the big points. Though he didn’t capitalize on all of them, it was more than necessary to garner a 5-1 decision. It led to a battle between Sancho and Perkins, each in Pool A. They’ve went at it previously, most recently at last year’s Olympic Trials, with Perkins winning 9-3. This bout was a little different, especially considering the lack of forced par terre. A pivotal juncture of the match took place when Sancho held a head-pinch and moved Perkins out. What was a 4-3 lead increased to 5-3. Perkins upped the action as the period was drawing to a close, though Sancho stayed active, too. Active enough to hold on till the end 5-3.
The most frustrating tussle of the day for Sancho was yet to take place. Against Roman Pacurkolski (POL), Sancho was forced to dig in and endure some heady moments. Pacurkolski let loose on a couple of throws to jump out in front, but then Sancho answered back with his own points. Down 8-5, the American wrestler began force-feeding Pacurkolski different looks, trying anything to get in and on top. The two traded throw attempts midway through the second and after some confusion the score was adjusted to 11-8. Sancho then attempted to jump up on top Pacurkolski from the feet numerous times. Right near the whistle signifying the end of the match, Sancho looked like he had nailed it. He locked around Pacurkolski with a reverse chest wrap and appeared to pop it over for what would have been four points. But there was no call, despite Sancho’s protests, sending him on his way with a tough loss he probably didn’t deserve. But he rebounded in a dominant manner (understatement). To make the medal round against Smith, Sancho steamrolled Pers Ander Kure (NOR) and secured a fall to drop a nice punctuation mark on his day.
RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) carried some of the momentum he built coming back at the Schultz and did something with it. Perkins shut out Morbitzer 4-0 (CZE) to kick off his day. He then gritted through a tough 2-1 win over Daniel Soini (SWE). Perkins, settling into 71 kilos nicely, looked the part and then some. Considering what the 2016 US Olympic Trials champ has been through with the spinal fracture and the subsequent recovery, you have to tip your cap to how quickly he has rounded into form. He looks strong and with how Smith performed today along with the rise of 2016 World Team member Christopher Gonzalez (Army/WCAP), the 71 kg bracket at the World Team Trials should be a lot of fun.
Martinez sees dominant day end early due to cut
At 80 kilograms, Patrick Martinez (NYAC) looked like he was about to have a huge day. Martinez met up with Anton Olsson (SWE) to crack open the 2017 Thor Masters for himself and grabbed a hold of the bout’s tempo soon after. Down 1-0 from an early passivity, Martinez dropped down in a high-dive bodylock for two takedown points. Eventually he’d be awarded his own passivity point to widen the margin. Then a takedown and another for good measure were added to the scoreboard in the second period, Martinez cruising away with an 8-1 triumph.
In his proceeding match versus William Svalestad (NOR), Martinez ran into trouble, though not when it came to the actual wrestling that had to be done. Martinez enjoyed a 4-0 advantage heading into the second period when the floodgates opened, both on the board and on his chin. He used high double underhooks to torque Svalestad to the mat and cushion things to 6-0. However, a cut on his chin demanded attention from the medical staff. It was swabbed and cleaned, and apparently dealt with appropriately enough for Martinez to continue on. Svalestad proved to be a tough out, but the constant fire Martinez brought finally caught up to the Norwegian at the end, when with :7 left, Martinez got behind for the match-ending two points and an 8-0 tech. He was wrestling very well.
Unfortunately, the cut required legitimate patching and Martinez was both forced to get stitches and also, bow out of the event altogether. On a day when he looked to be on his game in a big way, Martinez now begins the first one-week training camp of the European trip. No word yet on whether or not the cut will keep him out of next week’s Grand Prix of Zagreb in Croatia, but it’s doubtful.
- Team USA finished in third place behind Poland (second) and Germany (first)
- Sammy Jones (NYAC-OTS) went up to 66 kilos for the tournament and came away with a sparkling 3-1 win over Erik Weiss (GER). Jones wound up struggling a little more with his following opponents, but he also had some nice moments yesterday that shouldn’t go unnoticed.
- Two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (NYAC) showed incredible power in his snaps and underhooks while pounding out Ahmed Iskandarani (DEN) 7-1. But the tide turned for Provisor in the next round versus Jonas Plato (SWE) as he lost by the same score. The disappointment in that was due largely to the fact two other Olympians were in his weight, which could have made for fun match-ups — former Junior World medalist Zackarias Berg (SWE) and Rio bronze winner Denis Kudla (Germany). Kudla went to on to defeat Berg 5-1 in the finals.
- 2016 US National Champion Cheney Haight (80 kg, NYAC) wrestled his guts out. He won his first match by a point and then lost his next two by a combined two points.
- The story was similar for Hayden Zillmer (98 kg, Minnesota Storm). Zillmer lost his first bout to Artur Ormarow (CZE) 2-0, won his second match against Rolf Linke (GER) 5-0, and then lost his third to Vilus Laurinaitis (LTU) 2-1.
US Greco-Roman Performances — 2017 Thor Masters Invitational, 3/4/2017
Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP), 1st place
WON Kasper Ravn (DEN) 8-0, TF
WON Jusso Latvala (FIN) 8-0, TF
WON Przemyslaw Piatek (POL) 5-3
WON Andrei Tsaryuk (ISR) 11-2, TF
WON Michal Tracz (POL), default (5-0)
Hayden Tuma (Army/WCAP), dnp
LOSS Etienne Kinsinger (GER) 2-1
WON Lauri Mähönen (FIN) 8-0, TF
LOSS Michal Tracz (POL) 8-0, TF
Ellis Coleman (Army/WCAP) (withdrew)
WON Pål Erik Gundersen (NOR) 4-1
WON Mohammed Peter (GER) 2-1
WON Rami Syrja (FIN) 8-0, TF
WON Edgaras Venckaitis (LTU) 8-0, TF
Sammy Jones (NYAC-OTS), dnp
WON Erik Weiss (GER) 3-1
LOSS Danielo Di Feola (SWE) 13-2, TF
LOSS Mateusz Bernatek (POL) 11-2, TF
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm), 3rd place
LOSS Timo Badusch (GER) 2-1
WON Avto Gigolashvili (SWE) 7-2
WON Vegard Jørgensen (NOR) 4-0
WON Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) 6-6 (criteria)
Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS), 4th place
WON Mikko Lyttinen (FIN) 5-1
WON Mateous Morbitzer (CZE) 5-1
WON RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC) 5-3
LOSS Roman Pacurkolski (POL) 11-8
WON Pers Ander Kure (NOR) via fall (5-0)
LOSS Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm) 6-6 (criteria)
RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC), dnp
WON Mateous Morbitzer (CZE) 4-0
WON Daniel Soini (SWE) 2-1
LOSS Alex Sancho (NYAC-OTS) 5-3
LOSS Pers Ander Kure (NOR) 8-6
Nick Tarpley (NYAC)
WON Jacob Brink (SWE) 4-1
LOSS Niko Erkkola (FIN) 6-0
LOSS Tero Halmesmäki (FIN) 7-3
Patrick Martinez (NYAC) (withdrew)
WON Anton Olsson (SWE) 8-1
WON William Svalestad (NOR) 8-0, TF
Cheney Haight (NYAC), dnp
WON Hannes Wagner (GER) 2-2 (criteria)
LOSS Iwan Nylypiuk (POL) 3-1
LOSS Jarno Ålander (FIN) 3-2
Ben Provisor (NYAC), dnp
WON Ahmed Iskandarani (DEN) 7-1
LOSS Jonas Plato (SWE) 7-1
Kevin Radford (Sunkist), dnp
LOSS Julius Matuzevicius (LTU) 13-5, TF
LOSS Tadeusz Michalik (POL) 8-0, TF
Hayden Zillmer (Minnesota Storm), dnp
LOSS Artur Ormarow (CZE) 2-0
WON Rolf Linke (GER) 5-0
LOSS Vilus Laurinaitis (LTU) 2-1
Robby Smith (NYAC), 1st place
LOSS Oskar Marvik (NOR) 3-2
WON Christian John (GER) 6-1, fall
WON Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP) 3-1
WON Toumas Lahti (FIN) 5-1
WON Jello Krahmer (GER) 3-0
Toby Erickson (Army/WCAP), dnp
WON Jello Krahmer (GER) 3-1
WON Toumas Lahti (FIN) 5-5 (criteria)
LOSS Robby Smith (NYAC) 3-1
LOSS Oskar Marvik (NOR) 4-2