2016 Olympics

Before You Take Off: Andy Bisek Reflects On His Career Prior to Rio

Andy Bisek 2016 Rio Olympics
Photo: Tony Rotundo

The thing about Andy is that he’s kind of a quiet guy, but he pays attention to everything.” So says Patrick Smith, Minnesota Storm stablemate and friend of US Olympian Andy Bisek. I hadn’t wanted to bother Bisek this close to the Rio Games. Time is tight, he has a family, and plus, he was getting blitzed by every other media outlet in the country. At the same juncture, I couldn’t not have him here officially. It just did not feel correct to go on with all of this Olympic coverage without him being appropriately featured. 

At any rate, I hadn’t talked with Andy since Beat the Streets and in that interim, he has been covered up and down by everyone else everywhere else. And because I refused to go ahead and ask the same trite questions as other outlets, I also wanted to make sure whatever I asked Bisek would let people catch a glimpse at why he stands out the way he does. The way Smith and I saw it, if you’re here reading about Andy, then you already know he’s a superbly talented athlete and Olympic medal contender. Belaboring that point after a while helps no one, making coming up with a direction that does Bisek the human, justice, the priority.

Smith made sure to drive that home in our conversation. Andy pays attention to everything. I couldn’t get it out of my head. It made me wonder how a guy who is maybe not the most vocal of the bunch but soaks up everything around him deals with his being the name folks are always discussing. Is it a looking glass kind of thing? Ah, whatever. Enough with the rabbit holes. All I know is that Bisek is valuable not simply because he’s the essence of unrivaled determination, but because he is comfortable enough in his own skin to be that example for anyone who needs him to be. Consider that when he takes the mat on Sunday.

Andy Bisek – 8/9/2016

5PM: What is the difference training and being on a World team and training and being on an Olympic team?

Andy Bisek: For me, training has been right along the lines of the last two years in kind of what we’ve done in our preparation, as far as practicing, and in the weight room. It’s right along the lines with that the last two years. I guess outside of that, kind of having a lot more attention on the event, this whole lead-up, and just trying to prepare myself for that has been different.

5PM: Do you hate the publicity?

AB: No, not really. But I want to make sure I’m not being pulled away from the task at hand and what I’m there to do.

5PM: Here’s something stupid, but I am honestly curious: What’s in your suitcase outside of your wrestling stuff?

AB: (Laughs) After the Trials, I went over to Austria and trained with a guy there, and he mentioned to me how much he loves American peanut butter, so I am bringing him some jars of it. I have two things of workout gear, Friday, Saturday, or Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. And just basically the rest of the stuff they gave me to kind of lounge in afterwards. Oh, some fishing hooks and a spool of line, I’ll see what I can do. I’ve brought it on a few trips.

5PM: Hey, you’re going to be wearing sandals in the shower there, right?

AB: I guess I will. I did in Azerbaijan. If I’m going to be training and showering at a club facility, then yeah, I’ll almost always have sandals on. But if I’m at the hotel or in the Village, I’m not sure I will. I mean, I’ll definitely have sandals there.

5PM: Yeah, like Ralph Lauren or Nike. 

Andy Bisek: Oh yeah. There were some furry sandals and some Nike sandals in my bag.

5PM: I asked Pat Smith this same question, even though he doesn’t have any kids. You do, you have two young ones. Is wrestling an automatic thing for them?

AB: It’s not going to be a mandatory thing. If they want to do it, cool, I’ll be glad to try to help and encourage them. But if they don’t, it won’t be the end of my world. I don’t care (laughs).

5PM: Well, it’s like, there are plenty of parents who have never accomplished much of anything who forcefully push their kids into wrestling, and you happen to be on the opposite end of that spectrum.

AB: I think people who maybe were involved, but on a smaller scale, and had such a passion but weren’t in it long enough to see other people so put off by it because of their parents or any other reason. They never felt the love or meaning behind it. If you stay in anything long enough, you’ll see situations like that. You can’t push someone to do this.

5PM: You’re really well known, especially now, for having taken 7th at Fargo, the one event every summer on the age-group level where we’re supposed to assume potential due to the results. Do you think we put too much stock into what happens at the Cadet and Juniors level? I mean, you’re the living legend proof of why we probably are.

Andy Bisek: Somewhat, yeah. Because I think there is probably a good handful of athletes who are probably saying, I really like this, but I’m not performing. I’m not getting invited to camps at the OTC or to train for the Junior Worlds. Or they go, It’s not for me..

5PM: Are you saying, in effect, that a kid who doesn’t place well is automatically figuring that since he didn’t, he’s probably thinking he isn’t cut out for this?

AB: Yeah, I could easily see that happening and it’s frustrating. I think for me, I was making a lot of progress at that time. Through my high school career, I hadn’t qualified for state and then I upset the sixth-ranked kid at sections to qualify, and then took third. Then I went to Fargo and took seventh and I was like, This is it. This is what I’ve been believing the whole time, that I can be successful. Some people might not look at that like it was a success, but to me, that was very successful, and it showed myself that I can do this. That I’m moving in the right direction and doing the right things.

5PM: Is that why you were confident in your desire to go to Northern Michigan?

AB: I felt like I made a pretty significant change my senior year of high school and was putting a lot more of meaning and intent into my training and practices. I felt like that showed with my results.

5PM: Right, because you could sense your own potential starting to change. That’s why I think despite the talent levels in the US, we make too much of the champs at the age group level when meanwhile, it’s the kid who hardly placed who has the fire to keep going.

AB: Just because they don’t get the results right then and there, I wouldn’t discount them for anything in the future. It can even be a few months later, they are going to grow at a better rate that the guys at the top a lot of times.

5PM: Coming off the last couple of years, you know, your kids have intersected with your career. And now look at you from where you were. You’re going to the Olympics, you’re training all the time. Is that an easy switch for you to make, going from being at practice and then coming home and now you’re dad?  Is that an easy switch to make or do you need some time to decompress before jumping around like a maniac?

Sometimes, it’s easier than others. Other times, it helps. If I’m not training and I have a week or two weeks off or something and then I’m around my kids, I’ll find myself getting worked up over stuff I normally would let blow right off. Sometimes, having practice is a good release and then I come home and I’m too tired to be concerned with anything, I’m just like, Whatever, go ahead. (Laughs) Sometimes, I’ll come home really tired and I just want to lay down in the living room and I’m just getting jumped on. It’s like, You’ve got to get off of me right now, I can’t take this (laughs). It can be hard, because you can see it in their eyes they want to play with you, and then it’s Okay. I just finished practice, but I have a few more go’s left. (Laughs)

5PM: Do you see yourself as kind of a representative, a poster child, for what can happen when someone stays focused on the style they want and ignores the conventional ways of thinking about wrestling in this country? You weren’t highly-touted coming out of high school, you weren’t ticketed for Oklahoma State or somewhere. Yet, that didn’t matter because you dictated the path you wanted to take. Especially now, do you yourself as the example others will be able to follow?

AB: Yes, at times I feel like that and I’m totally fine with it. If it can get more people to do what they want to do. Once I realized I wanted to wrestle Greco, I wasn’t going to Mankato, I wasn’t going to wrestle folkstyle anymore. I knew that Greco was what I wanted to do and Northern Michigan was the place I wanted to do it.

I just had a kid from a school in North Dakota tell me he wants to do Greco, he came out here to Colorado and stayed at my house for a week. I never met this kid, I just talked to him on Facebook (laughs). He told me he was coming out for a camp and needed a place to stay. So while he was staying at my house, just talking to him he wants to either go to Northern Michigan, out here (Colorado Springs), or Minnesota. I told him, “You can still switch for this fall.” People who may want to do Greco, or really, whatever style they like, they can’t just do something else to do it and then start doing what they truly want later. Why waste your time, or anyone else’s for that matter? Just make the switch and start doing what you want now. I think my case makes a pretty good one in that aspect. I was 7th at Fargo and then the next year, I was on the Junior World Team.

5PM: Has any of this, feel free to rewind it back a couple of years up to now, but has any of this been surprising or surreal to you?

Andy Bisek: I wouldn’t say a surprise because like I mentioned before, towards the end of my high school career this is what I believed I was capable of that whole time. Now it’s coming to. I’ve been training for this, believing in this, and having significant wins over the last number of years until now, yeah, this is definitely where I feel I belong, so it hasn’t necessarily been a surprise.

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