It isn’t a big group, but the US is sending three Greco Roman athletes over to Finland later this week to compete in two important events. The Northern Michigan-Olympic Training Site program will be represented by Dalton Roberts (59 kg) and Travis Rice (66 kg). Northern Michigan alum Ryan Hope (Cliff Keen WC) is reportedly heading over, as well.
The Vantaa Cup in Vantaa and the Haavisto Cup in Ilmajoki are well-known Senior competitions and a number of top international Greco Roman wrestlers often participate. The US program is also no stranger to both events. In recent years, a delegation of American athletes have made the trip with varying degrees of success. Robby Smith (NYAC) is a two-time Haavisto Cup champion; Andy Bisek (Minnesota Storm) won the event in 2013 following a bronze medal performance the year before. Jordan Holm finished third in 2013. Last year, Spenser Mango took third at both tournaments. It goes back further. Together, the Vantaa and the Haavisto annually offer a competitive experience too good to pass up.
Two-time Junior World Team member Dalton Roberts won the Eduardo Campbell Cup in Panama City last month and was a match away from earning his first domestic Senior medal at the Bill Farrell Memorial this past weekend. It has been an active year for Roberts. After winning the Junior Trials, he went on to also earn a spot on the University World Team in early June. Then it was training camps, the Worlds, and now his more recent competitive exploits. But if you ask him, more matches means more baselines to measure himself against, especially when it comes to international opponents.
“It’s important just to test yourself,” Roberts says. “You’re training, training, training, and you need to test yourself. After this (the NYAC Open) and going 2-2, I know what I have to improve on. It’s great to be going to Finland right after this to test myself again and get a whole week of training with other countries working on stuff I need to work on and then test myself at the end of the week once again.”
His NMU teammate is in a somewhat different boat. Rice, who was a Junior World Team member with Roberts in 2015, hasn’t competed since the University Nationals back in June though he has been training pretty much the entire time. Therefore, the prospect of wrestling again is significant to him, even if he has his eye on another event that takes place a little over a month from now.
“It’s definitely important, but I think the main thing is just making sure I’m ready for next month’s Open,” admits Rice. “There is always a lot going on. NYAC didn’t fit my schedule and I’m glad Finland does. But it’s all about being ready for next month.”
With the US sending a small group, it is perhaps natural to wonder about the dynamics at play. No coaches are going. No trainers, officials or workout partners. Just the three athletes. But being far away from home and having only each other to rely on is not looked at as a disadvantage. Since the focus is pointed directly at competitive improvement, who is going and who isn’t doesn’t enter into the picture for the wrestlers.
“I don’t think it should really change that much having a few guys as opposed to a lot of guys,”says Rice. “Dalton and I have been on a few tours the last few years. We’ve been to Austria, the Junior Worlds and maybe two other places. I don’t think it changes too much, I think it is just the people you do go with, as long as you get along, it should be fun.” Roberts takes it similarly in stride.
“I’m excited. It’s different, you know? Sometimes you have a coach, sometimes you don’t, so we’ll be coaching each other and we’re teammates who train together everyday. It shouldn’t be that awkward for us, but the situation itself is pretty unique.”
The only remaining question is what the three US athletes could expect hanging out in a new country by themselves. Training and competing are the absolute priority. It’s why they are going in the first place. But there will be downtime and how guys spend that time while on a tour differs depending on the circumstances. Roberts has traveled enough at this stage in his career to understand how to make the most of it.
“I don’t know what they do in Finland,” he laughs. “I don’t know what Finnish food is like, but just to experience it and plus, I know a lot of other countries are invited. Russia, Bulgaria, a bunch of European countries and I’m just excited to get some new faces to wrestle.”
Vantaa Cup — November 19th, 2016 (2 kg allowance)
Tikkurila Sports Centre, Vantaa, Finland
Arvo Haavisto Tournament — November 26th, 2016 (2 kg allowance)
Ilmajoki Sports Arena, Ilmajoki, Finland