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This somewhat abbreviated edition of the Coach Lindland Report focuses mainly on two topics that have dominated the conversation as of late: the US Seniors hauling in a combined 13 medals over the past two weekends in Russia and Finland, respectively; and then of course, Lindland’s decision to not send the US to Iran for this week’s World Wrestling Clubs Cup. Since the featured subjects pretty much speak for themselves and there’s no point in layering on context, let’s just get right down to business.
5PM: Two weeks in a row, the US Seniors put in big performances overseas. Last weekend, it was Russia, this weekend it was the Haavisto Cup, a very popular tournament for the Americans. Patrick Martinez and G’Angelo Hancock won back-to-back titles, Dalton Roberts picked up a gold, Randon Miranda made two finals. The Worlds are the Worlds, but do two solid team performances take some of the sting off of Poland at all?
Coach Matt Lindland: Well, Poland was unique and it was disappointing because you know how I felt we were taking a really incredible team, and I think the guys just didn’t wrestle up to their abilities. That was unfortunate and I think it was apparent in some instances why that happened.
But yes, I was really excited to see our athletes performing well (in Russia and Finland), getting medals and winning matches. We won quite a few matches. A lot of the athletes who went over there were guys who really need the experience. They really need the competition, and also, they need the confidence. They need to know they can beat Russians. The European athletes perform at a very high level. We have a really capable team, but sometimes I feel these guys lack the confidence in themselves. I have a different perspective because I’m watching them, who they are, how they are competing, and who they stack up against. I’m always impressed with our athletes and the abilities we have.
I think the problem lies in what we have talked about time and time again, which is that we don’t have the right system in place in the US. We have a folkstyle system and then we try to convert guys to Greco, and sometimes it’s too late when we do try to convert them. Fortunately, we have a lot of very talented athletes who do go overseas, are competing, and growing. They are growing and finding ways to win.
I’m excited to see them growing, not just technically and tactically, but they are also winning the mental battles out there. Wrestling is such a mental sport that a lot of it comes down to how you think, and how you think plays a role in how you perform. So I was very impressed to see our guys going out there and just competing.
5PM: Corey Hope endured a pretty serious knee injury in 2016, was out for a season and a half. He returned last week with a silver and on Saturday earned a bronze. You see Corey at the OTC, what has his recovery been like?
ML: Long. Very, very long. I know Corey had been anxious to get back and compete. He wanted to compete at the Dave Schultz Memorial and it was like, Hey, I know you’ve got a tournament coming up in a few more weeks, why don’t we wait a little longer? Just continuing to test his patience. He’s done an excellent job of following the instructions from the training staff. He doesn’t want to reinjure it, he wants to rehab it right so it is 100%. You know, it looked like waiting it out really helped him because he had some very good performances in Europe.
So I was very happy to see Corey back out on the mat. He has put a lot of work in, a lot of time and effort into this, and anyone who has ever gone through an injury knows how bad it hurts not to be out there while everybody else is doing what you want to do. I’m very happy he’s back on the mat and getting a fresh start. I’m looking forward to talking to Corey once he returns, figure out what we continually need to work on, and help him reach his goals.
5PM: What a lot of US fans still don’t seem to recognize is that the Iranian wrestling fans are not a part of any of this negativity surrounding the decision not to travel over there. We talked earlier in the year about how you won the Takhti Cup and are still recognized for it because they are just so passionate and respectful about their events. So in a way, it’s almost like there are multiple casualties in a situation like this.
ML: Obviously, it’s not the Iranian people, it’s not their fans. It is just simply the fact that our two governments don’t work together very well. That’s really all this is. I think there was a lot of stuff that came out in the news this week, particularly pertaining to the Supreme Court ruling upholding the travel ban, and unfortunately, Iran is not only listed, but listed first. We also know how sensitive the whole Israeli thing is over there and Trump declaring Jerusalem as the capital. Whether we think that is right or wrong, we know how the Iranian government thinks. It’s certainly not the people. We saw how disappointed that athlete was (Alireza Karimi) when he was forced to lose his match at the U23’s. That created quite a controversy across the world.
Going over there, sport diplomats should be granted their Visas well in advance. We shouldn’t have to find out the day of or the day before we were leaving that we even received a Visa. And there were some other unfortunate things. There was a venue change, and it was just a really rough time to go over there. Ultimately, my decision was made based on looking out for the best interests of my athletes.
I did what I felt was best for them, but it is disappointing because it is always fun to compete in front of the Iranian fans. They are the best wrestling fans in the world, bar-none. They understand our sport and they value what we do as athletes. So it’s hard, it’s hard to not go over there and compete, but at the same time, it is hard to actually travel over there to compete (laughs). It’s kind of a double-edged sword. We want to compete over there as badly as the Iranians want to compete in the United States. It’s just unfortunate that our two governments can’t work together better. We need some kind of bilateral agreements that allow us to just get along, coexist, and work together more diplomatically. Hopefully in the future, we can do that.
5PM: Where does this whole issue rank in terms of disappointment or weirdness since you’ve been National Team coach?
ML: Ah, I don’t think this is too disappointing as far as disappointments go. I think my biggest disappointment is always based on when I see athletes not achieving their goals, whether it’s because they didn’t believe in themselves enough or do what needs to be done to get to the level they want to. They think they it’s going to come faster, so they give up too early. Or, they think it’s going to be easy, so they don’t put in the right amount of effort. That is what disappoints me the most, because as I’ve said, we have a lot of talented athletes in the United States and we have really good wrestling. So that is a disappointment to me.
Missing a tournament at this point in the year when we have a really good plan going forward into the new year — the Worlds aren’t till October next year — as far as disappointments or weirdness goes, we can expect this. This has been going on since the 70’s, not getting along with Iran. It’s nothing new. It is just the landscape of the world and what happens.
5PM: Okay, then let me shape it this way. Before you took the job, did you ever happen to consider or imagine odd circumstances like this could wind up popping up?
Coach Matt Lindland: Oh, I think even as an athlete we got to experience a lot of these different situations. Sometimes, we go into places where we think the people are going to be hostile towards the Americans because of some political action. We’ve seen this time and time again throughout our years. So I guess it didn’t surprise me. Essentially, we’re representing the United States. We’re diplomats in a sense, and that is so important for us to understand. When we go overseas, we are not going over as this athlete or that athlete, this coach, that coach or whomever — we are going as representatives of our nation. We want the people to see Americans as gracious, humble, citizens.
I think that is really important when we travel, that we represent ourselves with a lot of dignity, but that we also hold a lot of pride in our country, while showing everyone across the world that same respect and dignity when we are in their nation. And I think that happens. That happens, even in Iran. Every time I’ve been in Iran, we have been treated very well by their people, so this has nothing to do with them. It has to do with the timing and the political tenor that we’re dealing with right now. It’s just a constant reminder to our athletes, from the time they step on a plane to the time they get back, they are representing the United States. We want to put our best foot forward and we want to represent ourselves with class. I think that is really important.