Five Point Move is proud to host US Greco Roman National Team Head Coach Matt Lindland every week for “Coach Lindland’s Report.” For fans and wrestlers looking for insights regarding the US Greco National Team, we ask Coach Lindland some questions to get his take on training and upcoming competitions. If you have any questions you’d like us to ask going forward let us know via Facebook, Twitter, or through our Contact page.
This week, we talk to Coach Lindland shortly after he returned home from the Greco Roman portion of the 2016 Olympic Games. Unfortunately for the US, there wasn’t a medal-winning performance in Brazil. The team, comprised of Jesse Thielke (59 kg), Andy Bisek (75 kg), Ben Provisor (85 kg), and Robby Smith (130 kg) went a combined 2-4, with Thielke and Bisek being the athletes who picked up first-round wins. It wasn’t what everyone was hoping for going in. But even with that, there were silver linings. The Americans brought their best effort against some of the World’s finest competition, though their goals were not met. The Coach talks about each performance, what he saw, and where things go from here. We also hit on the Junior World Championships coming up as well as why folkstyle’s usefulness is more questionable than ever before.
5PM: Let’s start at the beginning. As far as the scheduling for when you guys arrived and got settled in, did all that go as planned?
Coach Matt Lindland: I tell you, it went great. The day we arrived, people were looking at us like, What? It was an option? (Laughs) Do you know how long we’ve been here? I think being there further in advance like we talked about before would have not only been a major distraction, but exhausting, also. You’re out of your environment and it takes energy to do anything, you know? When you’re at home and you have your own routines and your own systems in place, it’s low energy, you don’t have to make a ton of choices. You know where the coffee pot is, you know how to make coffee. You know how to get from your house to the training center or from your dorm room to the wrestling room.Very low decisions. You don’t want a ton of guys making decisions in those last weeks leading up to a major competition like that.
5PM: How did you see the team’s performance as a whole? Not individually, not case-by-case, but as a complete unit.
ML: Well, I think we were well-prepared and well-conditioned. I think we fought hard on our feet. There wasn’t an area on our feet we didn’t fight out of, fight in, or try to score out of. None of the guys conceded or submitted but, pretty much everybody was a victim of their par terre defense. We’ve got to be good down there. We spent a lot of time there, we brought in special training partners for that position but we didn’t miss those opportunities to stay south on the mat.
5PM: Jesse looked great first round, he beat up a tough guy but a guy in my mind, he was probably supposed to beat up.
ML: Yeah, he’s a super-athletic guy but you know, very sloppy. He’ll leave his arm hanging, he’ll leave his elbow out and give you a place to duck. He makes a lot of mistakes. But a tough competitor, very athletic, but he’s going to make mistakes and we capitalized every time he did.
5PM: Right, it seemed like if it didn’t go that way, it was going to happen another way. Jesse seemed like he was in complete control and knew it. Obviously, he gets put down against Azerbaijan and that guy is a master on top. Part of it goes back to the rules and we don’t need to harp on that. Him getting put down was as predictable as the sunrise.
5PM: Jesse knew it was coming.
ML: We knew that opponent very well. Not just from video, but from training with them (Azerbaijan) and sparring with them on a couple of different occasions. We’ve been to Azerbaijan, what, like three times now? So we were very familiar with that opponent.
5PM: Andy against Bozo (Starcevic) was an extraordinarily frustrating match to watch. Andy looked really good and then he got put down. Bozo went with a high lock, turns Andy, and he couldn’t get it back. Andy was a serious medal contender going in, so I’m imagining that was kind of a shock to the system.
ML: It was hard because I know how good Andy is and I know how hard he trained and prepared, and how much work he put in. He didn’t quit, he didn’t stop, he gave that match everything he had. It was just that turn, that was it, and that’s all it takes. It happens. It was definitely frustrating. You know I said it all along, everybody was capable. We were right there with those guys, we just can’t get turned. That was what cost us every match, essentially. But we were pretty confident Andy was going to be the guy to get the first medal going the first day and everything.
5PM: The officiating in Rio was among the worst I’ve ever seen.
ML: There are definitely referees that are being investigated for misconduct. This is at least a first step, UWW has finally admitted there is a problem. The only two people who should have any impact on who wins are the wrestlers on the mat. And I hope that coaches stripping does not replace the cube toss (laughs).
5PM: Ha, fair enough. As for 85 kilos, it looked like Provisor beat up a guy as much as you can beat up a guy without it translating to actual points.
ML: I thought Ben had a great performance. He was really physical. That is a very dangerous opponent, (Rustam) Assakalov. That is a super-dangerous guy. That’s who Jordan (Holm) wrestled in the first round in 2014. So he was well-studied. As soon as I knew the draw I pulled up a match of Assakalov’s versus the Belarusian, and he’s built just like Ben. He’s 5’10, 5’8 maybe even. Short, stocky dude and he just pummeled him. I sent it over to Ben and just said, “Look at this match, look at this.” He watched it with a couple of the other coaches and they were like, Man, this guy sucks. No, he doesn’t suck, he’s really good (laughs). But if you wrestle him like this, we can beat him. Lucky for us, that is how Ben wrestles. He gets a good inside position, he gets his head up underneath the guy’s chin. And Ben is hard to score on. Especially when you know the guy has three techniques, and if you can stop those three techniques and don’t give him that overhook since he does everything off of that overhook, his left arm overhook and then he suckers you into giving him a underhook on the other side, he does his misdirection, his twisting bodylock, and obviously, that headlock that he pinned his way to the finals last year at the Worlds with.
So I thought Ben did a fantastic job against him, he even stopped his first couple of attempts on top. And then he relaxed. He kind of took a second and just stopped moving and that was all it took for him to get lifted and scored on. There wasn’t enough time to get those points back. Assakalov was able to hang onto that lead, although it didn’t look like he was going to hang onto it because he was so tired and broken down from Ben pummeling him. But, yeah, I thought he wrestled a pretty decent match aside from getting turned. Again, it’s the same narrative over and over, isn’t it?
5PM: Of course. Robby was a similar case. Robby wrestled (Sabah) Shariati last year at the Golden Grand Prix and this one didn’t go too dissimilarly. In the first match, Shariati wanted to suffocate his offense. Then this time around, Robby came out right away with that arm and scored. He set a tone and put that guy on his heels. Fast-forward to the second period, they had to put Robby down, so they knocked him twice in a short time-span to do it, and then he gets put down and couldn’t stop it. Robby you had to feel good about before that though, right?
Coach Matt Lindland: Robby scored that beautiful arm throw. We knew what we were getting into, like you mentioned, they wrestled before. Again, another Azerbaijani. We were paired up with two Azerbaijanis, the guys we were training with. We knew what he had on his feet. He was going to reach, he was going to push, he was going to put all of his weight on Robby. And the guy’s got a great gutwrench. We saw him pin the German with a gutwrench. So, he’s got a great gut. But we’ve spent a lot of time focusing on that one area. It wasn’t just an afterthought of, Maybe we should work on par terre defense. That was a real concentrated focus, especially even the last two weeks leading up to Rio, we brought Deak-Bardos out again. We got him out earlier this year, we sent Robby out to work with him on par terre defense and we brought him out one more time just to keep Robby tuned up on par terre defense.
But that arm-throw should have scored four. The coaches who were sitting in his corner didn’t have the right angle. I was sitting on the other side of the arena and it was clearly back exposure. I don’t know what those officials were looking for on the mat. And at heavyweight. (Laughs) If you throw a guy at heavyweight at all, it should be back exposure, let alone, he broke. He should have had four. But still, if we get turned three times, we’re not going to overcome that even with those four on the board. Robby shouldn’t have been put down but that’s the nature of the sport, you’re going to get put down. And you know that going into it and you know you’ve got to defend it. That’s the deal. But Robby, we also had him creating that outside-step high dive, I don’t know if you saw some of those attacks. He really dropped levels and penetrated through him. I thought he was potentially going to score on a few of those. But he was ahead, he didn’t need to take any big risks. He needed to stay active, which is what he was doing, and he got put down.
5PM: Getting back to the officiating for a second, here’s a question I don’t think you can answer, but I’m going to ask it anyway. It’s not speculation, is it? There is a bias against US wrestlers, is there not? I’ve been following the Greco program for over 20 years, I watch a lot of matches. If there isn’t a bias, it at least sure seems like there is. I don’t know if you can speak to that or not.
ML: I don’t think there is any way to speak to that. I mean, if you say there’s a bias, you’re whining. If you deny it, you’re ignorant. So, I don’t know how to really answer that, but it’s something you have to overcome. If you score more points, you out-wrestle more guys, you stop their top game, and you’re turning them, it’s hard to be beat. Especially now, the review definitely helps. I don’t think it solves every problem, but I think it helps a lot. When some blatant stuff has happened in the past, I can think of some specific examples, even in my own career. But I probably don’t need to say any more on that subject to tell you the truth.
5PM: The talk before the games and coming out, the talk has been that they (UWW) are looking to revise and re-clarify the ruleset as they tend to do following a quad. If they do remove forced par terre, what is your general attitude on that? Is that something you’re in favor of, or maybe not?
ML: Well I think there’s absolutely two schools of thought on this. The first one is that if you take forced par terre out, you’re going to force guys to score on their feet. It’s going to create action, it’s going to force guys to score on their feet. Okay, I like that, I like making guys open up. We don’t see very many guys going to a straight clinch anymore. When that was part of the game even, you had to lock up or somebody was going to get thrown. Or unclasp their hands even, for that matter. But then you’re in a weaker position. I like the idea of open wrestling and head-up, attacking, digging in your underhooks and getting to that body. Yeah, I really like that. But we don’t see that at the highest levels all the time. We see guys be a little more conservative. I just think that knowing par terre is an element, you know there is going to be an opportunity for points to be scored. I mean, all of your defense is in the front of your body. Your head, your hands, your hips. You have nothing to use but your center of gravity when you go down. It’s such an advantage, guys should score on top. They really should. But the best guys are defending.
So I don’t have an opinion. Whatever the rules are, we’re going to wrestle and train to beat guys with the ruleset that is in place. But I think this goes back to the same old story. We don’t grow up wrestling the international styles. We grow up wrestling a purely American folkstyle and think the scoring is going to transfer over to the international style because on the bottom in folkstyle, you lay down and get called for stalling, in our sport in America. It’s just tough. I’m happy with whatever the rules are. Personally, I think forced par terre adds something to the game, it adds a whole other element. It’s a hard area to develop on the bottom. It is very difficult to develop. You have to put in a lot of time and energy, which takes resources. You have to get to Europe, you have to train with the guys who have been doing this their whole lives, and you have to compete against them.
We’ve done this before. We’ve gotten to that level where we can beat those guys, and this is a very similar ruleset to that time and that era. There are many ways to win. Of course, winning is defined by many steps. Many steps are also necessary missteps. Even in my career, I had a lot of missteps before I was ever able to get a medal at the Olympic Games or the World Championships. From these missteps, you just learn and grow and come out the other side. You know, I think that’s where we’re at. We’re right at the cusp of, Okay, we have to listen. We have to make those adjustments, and now it’s time “to do.” You know, my coach, Anatoly, used to say, “Don’t ever think, just do. Just do it.” (Laughs) Whatever it is, why are we thinking about this? Just get out on the mat and compete. That’s where I think we are at. We’re at that point where I’ve been telling you and the people who read this how good these guys are, and they didn’t get an opportunity to show it because they got turned on top. I think there’s some frustration there, but I also think we’ve got a lot of young, hungry, motivated guys and we’re going forward with this step. For the Seniors, it’s the Golden Grand Prix at the end of September and right after that, we’ve got the World Championships in December for the two non-Olympic weights. We’ll definitely get some potential candidates there who can go out and do some serious damage.
5PM: I was going to ask you about that next, which is that the Golden Grand Prix happens in about four and a half weeks. Who might be going, when will the guys from Rio be getting back out there?
ML: Yeah, Andy is taking some time off. I mean, I know who I’d like to send. We qualified every weight but 98 through the Pan Am Qualifier, 98 kilos is the only weight we didn’t qualify. And that includes the two non-Olympic weights, as well. Yeah, I have some ideas of who I want to send. I want to see who’s healthy, who’s ready. So no, I don’t think it’s necessarily, Here’s number one, here’s number two. I don’t think Jesse is ready to make 59 for a while, if ever again, potentially. I’d like to see him move up to 66 and maybe that’s where he gets his first chance at 66. I don’t know. I just got off a plane and I’m trying to think it through right now what the best step is, but the rest of my staff is still in Rio and I want to consult with them and figure out what the best course of action is.
5PM: I’m sure you would have been happier bringing home four medalists but all the same, you’re just coming off your first foray as the head coach of the Olympic Team, that’s quite an impressive piece to your career. Results aside, how was your general experience?
Coach Matt Lindland: My general experience is that I love working with this team of guys. I think we all came together as a team and I hope that is something that’s going to continue. We’ve heard our guys talk about the Greco team like it’s a family. It has a lot different dynamics than freestyle, which trains at all different regional training centers and they come together as Team USA instead of working and training together on a daily basis. I like that we’re building our culture here. We’ve got really good men on this team. Some phenomenal leadership. And we still have a couple of guys who need to mature and grow into good leaders. So with the shakeup, who is going to stick around after 2016, who is going to do another quad, who is going to go another year, I don’t know if any of those decisions have been made with certainty. I know everybody’s got some thoughts and those thoughts are constantly ebbing and flowing, to tell you the truth. One minute, it’s, I’m going four. The next minute, it’s I’m going a year. I don’t think guys want to make any decisions after a tournament like this because they are still a little emotional over the loss of opportunity. But I am very happy with the guys we’ve got moving forward.
And moving forward in the next quad it’s going to be my team. Ben was on the team in 2012, you know. Andy, Robby, and Jesse made the team in 2013 when I was just a volunteer coach. So they’re not necessarily my guys I’ve brought into the program and completely trained under my philosophy. So I think in four years, we’re going to have a completely different mindset with athletes coming in. Different philosophies. I think a lot of that stuff is meshing over and crossing over. But I think as much as I love every one of these guys and enjoy the opportunity to work with them, I still feel like they’re kind of Momir’s guys, especially Andy and Robby. For Jesse, I was around. He’s one of the guys I could say, Alright, he was one of the younger guys coming in, because I could see him having two more quads. These other guys I think would be really fortunate if they all stuck around for one more quad.
5PM: So now you’re back and you have the Junior World Championships on the horizon.
ML: I’m going to leave in six days.
5PM: Oh, jeeze, that’s right.
ML: I turn right around.
5PM: This is a Junior World Team that top to bottom seems like it is going to perform very well at these World Championships. Is that what you’re feeling, as well?
ML: Yeah, I definitely feel that same way.
5PM: What is the schedule and how is that all working? Training for the remainder, logistics, all that.
ML: Every one of the athletes went home with an individual plan. Kamal (Bey) and Tracy (Hancock) were training along with Cohlton Schultz, who’s on the Junior team, in the mornings with TC (Dantzler) and Ike Anderson in the afternoons. They kept their training going. I know Taylor LaMont in Utah has great coaches and training partners. A couple of the Northern guys went back up there to train. I think Rogers and Reenan are still doing that thing in North Carolina. So I think everyone has their plan and then they are coming together. They all fly out tomorrow morning. They are all meeting in North Carolina and are flying out to Frankfurt. And then they get off a plane and take a train to Freiburg where we have a training camp set up for the week. I travel on the 26th, I get there on the 27th. The athletes will leave Freiburg for a two and half hour van journey to Macon. I’ll be there a day ahead and see if I can get anything set up, whether that’s a scale, the saunas, the facilities there, so that way when the guys arrive, they hit the ground and can get their weight down and get fueled up and ready to compete. They’ll be fully acclimated. There is no time zone change from Fryburg to Macon. It’s just a two and half hour drive in a van and we’ll be ready to go.
5PM: Okay, to sum this all up, any final thoughts?
ML: It took us Americans until 1984 before we got our first gold medal in Greco Roman wrestling and there were a lot of Eastern Block countries that weren’t even there. That was even before Title IX disseminated college pipelines and for whatever that’s worth, we did get a lot of our tougher wrestlers out of those pipelines. Although nowadays, we’re seeing a lot of guys who are 20, 22 years old who would still be wrestling the wrong system at the college level competing for world medals. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen guys like (Abdulrashid) Sadulaev, 19, 20 year-old Olympic champions. I think we’ve got to embrace that this is not the 80’s, this is not the ‘90s, and it’s not even the 2000’s. It is a completely different era and we have to do things completely differently.
We took some lumps here in Rio and we had some missteps like I talked about earlier. But sometimes those are necessary to get out from the bottom. You kind of a get a wake-up call. And I know the American fans are still proud of these guys, they are inspired by these athletes. There were only four guys on this Olympic Team and it’s only every four years. These guys are still the best of the best in our country. They’ve medaled in World events, Andy has two World medals. All of our athletes have beaten really good international opponents. They just have to put it all together on the right day, and that’s why this sport is so great. When you step out there, loss is inherent. One of the guys who steps on that mat is not going to go off a winner. Wrestlers need to learn how to lose as well as win. And the winning is coming. I can feel it with these guys, I can feel it with the next generation.
I’m excited to get out there to the Juniors because I’m really hoping some of these guys are going to be on our Senior team. I mean, we’ve already seen an 18-year old like Tracy Hancock make our Senior National Team. We’re starting to get this youth movement going. It’s going slow, the wheels are turning slowly, but once we get some momentum behind it, Tim, we can really make a big push. Because like I’ve said over and over, there are so many great wrestlers in this country. And unfortunately, so many of them are wrestling the wrong style. We’re just looking for 3%. If there is somebody out there who is reading this that was inspired by the Olympics and thinks, Man, that is where I want to be, I want to be on that stage, I want to wrestle at the Olympic Games for the United States and carry that flag around the mat, reach out to me and we can talk about how to get you into the wrestling program wrestling the same style everybody else in the world does.
5PM: There are many who seem to agree with you, at least coming out of the woodwork more recently, that our country has been doing this as backwards as we can manage to by growing up wrestling a completely different style than what is competed internationally. But what do you say to the former wrestlers and coaches who aren’t convinced folkstyle is detrimental? That you can wrestle folkstyle and still be successful internationally? They always come back with, We’ve already had guys in college who have done well after with Greco. What do you say to these coaches who go the other way?
Coach Matt Lindland: Well Tim, we used to ride horse and buggies and plow fields with horse-drawn carriages. You can still do that today, I just saw a great documentary called Horsepower, it was fascinating (laughs). But to tell you the truth, it’s not the most efficient and effective way. There are more efficient ways. We have to get out of our comfort zone. We have to be willing to take risks and try things differently. Or I think we are going to continue to see the same results. But I have some guys who have already made the commitment and I have more guys who are going to make it next year. The sooner they make it, the sooner they can start preparing for 2020. I have a couple wrestlers, like Nick Boykin, who wanted to finish up his senior football season. Okay, I get it, man. You’re in high school, it’s your last year of football, so I’m fully supportive of that. But as soon as that season is over I’m hoping he gets out here. I’ve got another guy, he’s going to wrestle junior college in his hometown and he’s going to get out here next year. But it’s also, Why can’t you get out here now? That only gives you three years to prepare instead of four. I think we have to take the chance. In my day, that opportunity didn’t exist at all. At this moment, it’s not an opportunity for everybody, but we need some guys who, if that is their goal, to be World and Olympic medalists, and they think they are going to get there by wrestling college folkstyle, I think they are going to get passed up by others who make that decision.