Over the weekend, both Austin Morrow (66 kg, NYAC/OTS) and Khymba Johnson (85 kg, NYAC/OTS) earned gold medals at the 2017 Eduardo Campbell Cup in Santiago De Veraguas, Panamá. For Morrow, who had won the event once prior, his performance on Saturday was as much about rediscovering confidence in his body as it was getting matches in. In 2016, the soon-to-be 24-year-old sustained a separation in his right shoulder while competing in Budapest, Hungary at the World Wrestling Clubs Cup. He came back in the spring for the World Team Trials and reaggravated the injury.
Morrow fixed it up enough to give it a go at the University Nationals in June only to have his left shoulder eventually betray him, as well. This all led to a summer that included an enormous amount of physical therapy just to get back to competitive health, making Morrow’s showing in Panama impressive and important for numerous reasons.
Johnson, 23 (he turns 24 in a month), began establishing himself as a force to be reckoned with domestically a few years ago, but it was in 2016 when he really made headlines. At last December’s US Nationals, Johnson grinded out an upset victory over two-time Olympian Ben Provisor (Nittany Lion WC) in the semis and then put forth a spirited effort against Kevin Radford (Sunkist) in the finals. A bronze medal at the 2017 Dave Schultz Memorial in February legitimized Johnson as a live contender for April’s Trials, where tough losses to two-time World Teamer Patrick Martinez (NYAC) and Lucas Sheridan (Army/WCAP), respectively, derailed his bid for a National Team spot.
Like Morrow, Johnson’s last time out before the Campbell Cup was an appearance at the University Nationals up a weight class. On Saturday, the Caribbean-raised native of California was as sharp as ever, winning three matches en-route to victory by a combined score of 20-0.
Morrow and Johnson both offered insights on their performances at the Campbell Cup and how they can build upon them as the new season gets underway.
Khymba Johnson — 85 kg, NYAC/OTS
5PM: What prompted your participation in the Campbell Cup this year?
Khymba Johnson: I needed something to kind of test me early on. Last year, I waited until NYAC (Bill Farrell Memorial) and that was towards the start of December. I needed to have something a bit earlier to see where I’m at on the mat and what I need to improve on, be it technique, cardio, or strength. That’s why I went to Panama, it was a pre-test.
5PM: How has your preparation as a Senior athlete changed over the last couple of years? You’ve experienced growth, so how has your training changed to accommodate your skills picking up?
KJ: More disciplined. Before Andy (Bisek) started here, training was hard. It’s still hard and everything, but now it is just more disciplined and there is more accountability as far as not showing up or showing up late. Now, I’m more aware of what I need to do to be on that high level, you know? That level I’ve seen Andy on, and he’s explaining it now. It’s almost like he is giving us the answers for a test and I’m observing as much as possible.
5PM: What did you take out of your performance on Saturday? In other words, what did you like the most about how you wrestled other than simply winning?
KJ: The positives I had were knowing that my ankle was hurt and being able to switch up my stance and stick to the new ones. I think there are times when you’re thrown for a loop and can’t hit your go-to moves, it frustrates you. I stuck to my pummeling and drags, so being able to stick to a new game-plan after I got hurt is a positive, I’d say.
5PM: You went up to 98 for Universities and then you were back down to 85 for Panama. Next up is the Dave Schultz Memorial, where the new 87 kilos will be unveiled. Is that where you plan to be now and for the foreseeable future, or might you be going back up again?
KJ: No, I plan on staying at 87 for awhile. The one in Akron, I had a bad neck and for that, I wasn’t so focused on cutting weight. I just told my coach, Hey, I’m not going to cut, that’s what went on in Akron. But as far as this weight class, I plan on staying here for awhile.
5PM: After Schultz, there is a lot of space before the next event held in this country. What are your tentative plans competitively coming up? Are there any chances you’re going across the Atlantic at all?
Khymba Johnson: As far as this semester or until the end of the year, I don’t have any other plans besides Schultz. I don’t know if they are doing a training camp at the OTC or not, I will be going to that. As far as this semester, no, because I have to get my finances together because I’m a bit tied up. After Schultz, I won’t be at any training camps, but I will still be here training, so that’s about it.
Austin Morrow — 66 kg, NYAC/OTS
5PM: After you weighed in on Saturday, what was going through your mind knowing the next day was the tournament? Were you nervous, pensive, what have you, about how your shoulders would hold up?
Austin Morrow: No, nope. Not one negative thought. 100% positivity. Honestly, I just go out there and tell myself I’m going to kill people (laughs). That’s what I tell myself.
5PM: How soon into your wrestling on Saturday did you realize you could have full confidence in your strength and mobility, and also, how encouraged did that make you feel?
AM: I’d say probably right after the fourth match, because that’s when we had a little break, before the semifinals. I just felt great. There were no restrictions. I was hitting high-dives and arm throws, I was hitting lifts and guts. And I was pummeling hard. After I didn’t feel any pain in any of those matches, I was like, Oh, I think I’m back to the old me.
5PM: You outscored five opponents 44-1 and that’s not counting the fall over the Panamanian in your second match. How important was it for you to put on such a strong showing given that this was your first event back following rehab?
AM: I wanted it more than probably anything. I would have been fine I guess with winning 2-1, 3-1, but my thing is, I want to score points and I want to make it as big of a gap as I can between me and my opponents. If I can win 8-0 every match for the rest of my life, I’ll be a happy man (laughs). Yeah, so I think it was real important for me to be able to go balls to the wall without anything in my mind like, Pace yourself here so you don’t get hurt. I was able to do that, so I was pretty happy.
5PM: How does you set you up now for the rest of the competitive calendar. Khymba looked at this tournament as a “pre-test”, and I wonder if that’s how you look at it, too.
Austin Morrow: Yeah, definitely. I like to think of it as getting the ball rolling. I know we compete year ’round, so it’s nice to get that momentum going and once it’s going, keep on rolling with it.