When the US went over to Denmark for last year’s Thor Masters, they brought a stacked roster comprised of 15 total athletes, including nine wrestlers who were National Team members. For 2018, the number of guns has stayed the same, but the available firepower might be even more prominent.
Out of the 15 American Greco athletes headed to Scandinavia this time around, 11 have been World Teamers at one level or another throughout their careers with four who competed this past August at the Senior World Championships in Paris, and two more who were part of the first-ever U23 World Team. Breaking it down a little further, three of the Seniors making the trip also hold the distinction of having been Olympians. It’s a large group steeped in international experience, and certainly, one of the most formidable Senior rosters the country’s program will be sending across the Atlantic this year.
2012 Junior World bronze medalist/2016 Olympian Jesse Thielke (NYAC) hasn’t competed on foreign soil since Rio, but he’s getting back out there for Thor Masters. Still just 25 years of age, Thielke has moved from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs to South Dakota, where he trains (and coaches) at Legends of Gold alongside rising contender Cody Pack (72 kg). He is also at a weight class that by all appearances, should present a great fit. Thielke had spent most of his Senior career at 59 kilograms, though he hopped up to 66 on occasion. 63 kilos sticks right in between and with the new weigh-in procedures, that’s important. So far, the early returns are promising. Thielke returned to active competition at the Dave Schultz in November with a solid third-place showing that offered several highlight-reel sequences.
Two more Olympians are joining Thielke. US fans already heard last week that Robby Smith (130 kg, NYAC) would be going back to Thor Masters and that is indeed the case. Smith participated in 2017’s running of the tournament after recovering from both wrist surgery following the Rio Olympics, and a high ankle sprain he suffered last January. All told, the bearded one had only about two weeks of prep time leading up to the event and the rust showed in a close first-round loss to Oscar Marvik (NOR). But thanks to the Nordic System format, Smith was able to keep getting matches in and he won all of them to emerge with gold.
Like Thielke, two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (87 kg) is another Rio holdover who has changed training locations recently. “Big Ben” managed to make his first Senior World Team in 2017 by doing the bulk of his training in his home state of Wisconsin under the watchful eye of US legend Dennis Hall. Shortly after the Paris Worlds wrapped up, Provisor received an opportunity to move out east to jump aboard the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club. His previous campaign was more than solid. Last year, Provisor garnered a win at the winter running of the Dave Schultz Memorial and Pan Am Championships to go with a silver at the Tbilisi Grand Prix.
Minnesota Storm fan favorite Patrick Smith (72 kg, world no. 19) and Army/WCAP’s Mason Manville (77 kg) represent the final pair of reigning Senior World Team members scheduled to compete at the 2018 Thor Masters. Smith is coming off what is likely his most memorable season. Right before 2016 closed out, he picked up his first Senior National title. A little over a month later, he flew to Sweden where he trained for the proceeding couple of months and during his time over there he earned a bronze at this very event. Of course, what happened next has been well-documented. Smith put together one of the more striking overall performances of anyone in the country at the World Team Trials, and a week later, dominated the field in Brazil en-route to his third Pan Ams Championships title.
Plenty of eyes will be on Manville in Denmark, as this event will mark the first time he is stepping into Greco-Roman competition following his 1-1 finish at the World Championships. The 20-year-old prodigy is currently in the midst of his redshirt freshman season at Penn State, making his inclusion on this tour encouraging news. To be fair, before Manville ever left for school, he insisted that he wasn’t just going to disappear. Plus, he has Provisor in the room out there in State College, so it is a safe bet that the “Hybrid Wonder” will be able to switch gears back to the classical style without an issue.
But Wait, There’s More
Five wrestlers from the OTS are coming along and two of them are past Junior World Teamers. Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS) earned himself four international gold medals in ’17 in addition to nailing down a place on his second-straight Junior squad. Miranda will be making his debut in the reincarnated Senior weight class of 55 kilograms in Denmark. Illinois native Travis Rice (67 kg, NMU/OTS) sealed a spot on the Junior World Team in 2015, which served as a jumpstart for his full-time career. He hasn’t been on too many trips as of late, though Rice did make it over to Finland for two events in the fall of ’16.
One of the nation’s most gifted Greco-Roman athletes is Jesse Porter (77 kg, NYAC/OTS), who was the victim of some questionable officiating in his opening round loss to eventual champ Fatih Cengiz (TUR, world no. 5) at the U23 Worlds. This season arrives with high expectations for Porter, and a good showing at Thor Masters could provide him with a boost prior to the spring.
Jessy Williams (67 kg, NYAC) keeps trucking away and his inclusion on this tour should provide interest for hardcore fans of the sport. His capability is easy to recognize and he can also be counted on to actively hunt for offense. Williams could stay home and still be a solid competitor, but if he’s eyeing bigger things come June and beyond, experiences such as this one may prove invaluable.
There isn’t much more that needs to be said about Anthonie “Twinkie” Linares (72 kg, NYAC/OTS) entering the new year. A well-rounded competitor who has consistently demonstrated improvement at the top tier domestically, the next most important step for the Californian is tacking on foreign experience at the Senior level, as it is the one area on his resume that could use some beefing up. He’ll have the chance to do that in Denmark between his matches at Thor Masters and even more so with the accompanying training camp. Another wrestler who could be on the brink of a breakout.
Want to know who is finally getting the opportunity to train and compete in Europe — and who might benefit more than everyone else going? Alec Ortiz (77 kg, Minnesota Storm). As crowd-pleasing as they come, Ortiz’s style as a Senior competitor entertains fans and often makes his coaches cringe. That’s because has been unable to balance out his approach due to his previous inability to get overseas. Aside from his appearance at the 2010 Junior Worlds, Ortiz has pretty much been landlocked. The lessons he learns here might do wonders for him going forward.
Last but certainly, absolutely not least is two-time Trials winner RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC), who will back down to 72 kilograms after shooting up to 77 for the November Schultz. Equal parts elegance and ferocity, Perkins is always evolving his game despite a couple of recent injuries that threatened to derail his progress. He didn’t medal here in ’17, but he came close, finishing the day with a 2-2 ledger.
- Only one of the three US medalists from 2017 isn’t competing this year — Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP), who placed first at 59 kilos.
- Team USA finished in 3rd at last year’s Thor Masters, accumulating an overall record of 32-19.
- Three wrestlers — Smith, Perkins, and Provisor — are also scheduled to compete in the USA/Serbia dual on February 20th in Boise, Idaho.
2018 Thor Masters Invitational — Nykøbing Falster, Denmark
TEAM USA ROSTER
Randon Miranda (NYAC/OTS)
Jesse Thielke (NYAC)
Aaron Kliamovich (NMU/OTS)
Travis Rice (NMU/OTS)
Jessy Williams (NYAC)
Anthonie Linares (NYAC/OTS)
Cody Pack (LOG)
RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC)
Patrick Smith (Minnesota Storm)
Mason Manville (Army/WCAP)
Alec Ortiz (Minnesota Storm)
Jesse Porter (NYAC/OTS)
Ben Provisor (NLWC)
Michael Rodgers (OTC)
Robby Smith (NYAC)
Matt Lindland (US National Team head coach)
Ahad Javansalehi (NYRTC/Ithaca)