Going on this week at the US Olympic & Paralympic Training Center in Colorado Springs is that all-important camp for the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. For most of the athletes, practice sessions got underway on Monday, with those who competed in the Armed Forces Championships last weekend arriving on Tuesday.
Two of the principles involved are very familiar names: 2019 World Team members Ildar Hafizov (60 kg, Army/WCAP) and Patrick Smith (77 kg, Minnesota Storm).
It is a back-to-back proposition for most of the Olympic weight US athletes. The Pan Am Championships take place March 6-7 — and the qualifier unfolds one week later (both events are being held at the same venue in Ottawa, Canada). Hafizov — who collected yet another Armed Forces gold a week ago — will be bypassing the Championships in an effort to stay rested and ready for the qualifier. Smith on the other hand is one of the four expected to pull double-duty, keeping in-line with the consistent activity level to which he has grown accustomed.
This impending trip north of the border has been a priority for the US program throughout the season. Each athlete preparing to qualify his respective weight class is being called upon to reach a peak level of performance in order to do so. Be it on their own, with the help of their team/club coaches, or under the direction of the national staff, the objective has remained clear. Hence the need for a massive gathering in Springs this past week.
Both Hafizov and Smith provided insights Friday evening regarding how this last phase of training prior to departure has gone thus far.
On if the camp schedule has met their expectations and how the personal training time in the afternoons has worked to their advantage
Ildar Hafizov: “I talked to Matt (Lindland) before camp and he told me there would be short go’s. We had camp in Denmark right before this one and they were kind of running a lot of live go’s. We did a lot, and that’s why Matt programmed this camp to be shorter, and the second practice we’re doing with our personal coaches. I think it’s great, the way they actually planned the camp. It’s working. Not even in Kazakhstan was camp planned like that. With the short go’s, I still feel like I’m hungry. I want to go more on the mat when practice is done, but we save a lot of energy. I feel like I still want to play, want to do something else. But the coaches are saying, You’re good now. Relax and you will be fine.”
Patrick Smith: “The nice thing about going out to the OTC for me is having another set of eyes on me. Matt has a different perspective, Gary (Mayabb) has a different perspective, and it’s good. They might see something that someone else isn’t seeing. It’s nice to get a little bit of that just to fine-tune a couple of things. Right before, we’re not making any big changes or anything like that, but little adjustments, and I think that’s what I got out of camp. Other than that right now, it is just about getting the body ready and getting ready to go. Small adjustments, but more than that, just making sure the mind and body are right going forward.
“Matt and I were working on some specific stuff, especially par terre, and that was something I addressed specifically with him. It’s good to hone in on certain things because when you have 40 guys in a room, it’s hard to cater a practice to individual needs. I thought it was good in that we got a good blow in the morning, and if we needed extra stuff or wanted to talk through a few things, there was available time. I thought that was good.”
On how to approach live wrestling against South American partners at the camp they may face in Ottawa, and if go-to techniques are kept secret
Hafizov: “Oh yes, like 100%. Even our coaches were saying, Be smart this week; whatever you’re doing, don’t do it a lot. Don’t show a lot. Play it smart. That’s what our coaches were saying before this camp. I talked to Spenser (Mango) and he said, “Whatever you’re doing, try to do something else. Don’t do your main thing, don’t go for your main thing.” He was like, Don’t do your lift, but if you do your lift, go the other way or try something else so people won’t see and they will become confused.
“I’m still pretty sure they see, the foreigners. Because, there are videos they can find on YouTube, and I know because I watch a lot of them. Whatever they’re going to do in competition, they’re not going to do here. They’ll save it for themselves.”
Smith: “I don’t know, I’m not really thinking that way totally. I mean, you know me. I don’t have a lot of tricks. Pretty much what you see is what you get (laughs). I’m more concerned with getting what I need out of practice regardless of who is across from me. We’re still a couple of weeks out and I’m not concerned about peaking in practice. I’m concerned about peaking next weekend and the week after. I guess that’s more my mindset.”
On how they want to feel once they leave for Ottawa and engage in final preparations
Hafizov: “I told Spenser to plan my workouts in Ottawa. He’s going to have a plan for what kind of go’s we’re going to do and what kind of practices we’re going to do. He’s the coach. I want him to be the coach, and I want to do whatever he feels more comfortable with me doing. So, we’ll see. For myself, I think short go’s like we did here and try to stay as healthy as possible. Try to stay with no injuries, and finish the last practices in Ottawa before competition as healthy as possible.”
Smith: “I think it’s more in-the-zone during those times. It’s just being excited. Take a step back and say, It is pretty cool that I get to do this again. I’m on a plane, I’m going somewhere, and someone is paying me to go wrestle again. Focusing in on that and being excited. Keeping it light. When it’s time to go, it will be time to go. One thing Mike Houck always told me was, “You have to bottle it up until it’s time to pop the cork.” And that time to pop the cork will be when you step on the mat.
“Everything else, you just have to let it go. You’re going to experience a rollercoaster of emotions and it is always good to focus on the positive, don’t overthink stuff, and execute when it’s time to execute. All the work has been done. The hay is in the barn. It is about being grateful for the opportunity to go out and do this again, and being excited about it with a clear head. Focus on the positive stuff and take things one at a time. I try to slow things down, too. It is easy to get rushed in those situations. So, slow things down one at a time. Okay, I’m on the flight; now it’s time to check into the hotel. Those little things I take one a time. Each step leads to the next one.”