Five Point Move is proud to host USA Greco-Roman National Team head coach Matt Lindland each week for Coach Lindland’s Report. Here is where you will find detailed perspectives from Coach Lindland pertaining to recent results, upcoming events, training plans, and other Greco-related news that isn’t available anywhere else. ALSO — if you would like to donate directly to the US Greco-Roman program, just click here. Your support is appreciated!
It has been just over a week since the conclusion of the 2020 US Nationals in Coralville, Iowa, that altogether unique Senior tournament that saw a collection of age-groupers run wild, a savvy vet experience yet another career highlight, and a fearsome upper-weight from another country make his impressive domestic debut. The event itself was also notable due to a variety of other particulars — such as the absence of the military athletes, officials not raising the hands of victors, and a striking new arena that was mostly empty in the bleachers.
Because the lead-up to the Senior Nationals served as the main topic in the previous Report, the results from the tournament play a significant role in this one. US National Team head coach Matt Lindland therefore discusses several of the performances that made an impression in his mind and the presence of the rash of younger competitors; and to close out, Lindland is asked about the recent news regarding United World Wrestling’s announcement that the Senior Worlds are still on schedule, even if that seems to be tentative.
5PM: You weren’t there in person but you saw the setup. Did the venue for the Nationals look as form-fitting for an event like this to you as it did to others?
Coach Matt Lindland: I thought it was a beautiful venue and it was presented well. I thought USA Wrestling did an outstanding job of presenting our sport. Switching us to a one-day format allowed Greco to be highlighted along with two of the women’s finals. I thought it was exciting to have six finals matches in one day, and eight matches total with the two women’s. It was a perfect event. A lot of people weren’t there due to the COVID thing — and a lot of us were home watching what was a televised event, a streamed event. And, I thought it was presented very well. I thought it was a great venue on top of that.
5PM: Out of whom we will refer to as full-time Seniors, whose performances surprised you the most, for better or worse?
ML: (Laughs) Full-time Seniors, yeah, well, because there were some surprises, for sure. Taylor (LaMont) lost that one match and came back to take the bronze medal, which was great. I’d have to go with our OW (Outstanding Wrestler), Benji Peak. He is a full-time Greco-Roman wrestler who did not get mentioned in all of the articles about college athletes, which he was also a college athlete. There seems to be some huge disconnect between the Greco-Roman community and the rest of the wrestling community. They don’t refer to our college athletes who are currently enrolled in college programs and wrestling Greco-Roman. I thought Benji was outstanding, of course.
Do we count Cohlton (Schultz) or (Nick) Boykin as full-time Greco athletes? They’re both full-time Greco guys but they are also in a college system. Alan Vera is a full-time Greco who had a great tournament along with Kendrick (Sanders), who also had a great tournament.
I don’t know. That’s a good question, Who out of the full-time Greco athletes put on a great performance? I thought there were a lot, but I was also very encouraged to see a lot of these young college wrestlers who have really great Greco-Roman skills. Like Peyton Robb, who looked great at 77 (kilograms), by the way. That’s a great weight class for him. When I saw seven Nebraska wrestlers registered, I was checking with Bryan (Snyder) to make sure he didn’t click the wrong button on the registrations. I was pleasantly surprised. It was really nice to see all of those Nebraska guys. And there were two others, like Anthony Abidin and Tanner Farmer, who were both former Nebraska wrestlers. And it is surprising to see because Nebraska wrestling, which has more World and Olympic medalists historically than any other college wrestling program, hasn’t really been engaged in putting Greco-Roman athletes out in major competitions. So that was really exciting for me to see happen. Plus, it wasn’t just Nebraska. There were a lot of other programs involved, as well.
There were a lot of surprises out there. Guys looked really good. I want to continue to see that kind of wrestling. There were very exciting finals matches across the board.
5PM: Now that these college folkstyle athletes went, showed up, and performed well, I’m sure the hope is that this tournament will be a catalyst for them to come back to Greco again. Is there now follow-up on the part of the National program? Do you start keeping in contact more, asking if they’re interested in going to this event, that event, this camp, so on and so forth? Or was their presence seen more as a temporary thing, a series of one-offs because folkstyle isn’t in bloom as normal?
ML: Unfortunately, I think that might be the case with some of these athletes. But certainly when I saw some guys registered, I reached out, whether it was a text and some athletes I called. You know, I recognized all of these guys because when you are seeing them come up through Cadet and the earlier part of Junior before they reach college age, you’re hoping that those guys will become part of your program. We don’t have a lot of college programs where they can wrestle. We still have Northern (Michigan) and a strong footprint there, and we have seven athletes who are enrolled at UCCS (University of Colorado-Colorado Springs) here in Colorado Springs and are training full-time Greco. But it’s not the system folkstyle has established as a tradition in the United States for so long. It’s a little different.
But certainly, I follow up with these guys. Not only do I have relationships with a lot of these athletes, but also their coaches. Like Alex Thomsen, his coach was a teammate of mine at Nebraska, Joe Stephens. It was great to see them not just enter the tournament but be serious performers. They had really great performances. It was fun. I think when athletes start having success in a particular style, they start to build the confidence that they can do it.
I was aware, as were most, that a lot of our top guys weren’t there. We didn’t have representation from any of our military programs, which the military athletes are one of our biggest strengths for our Greco-Roman program. But I did see some athletes making ridiculous comments like, The big guys weren’t there, or This wasn’t the real deal. Well, for the guys who went, it was real. For the guys who trained and prepared and participated and competed… You don’t need to say anything as a top-level National Team athlete because our program is getting better. These guys entering our program adds more depth, which is what we had been struggling with.
We talk a lot about dual-paths and bringing guys up through Greco-Roman when they become Cadets. That is when we like to see our best Greco-Roman prospects solely focus on Greco, go overseas, get to competitions, and get to camps. But we also have the other side of that path, which are these incredibly athletic wrestlers competing in the college system, and we’re trying to bring them over like we did Adam Coon. Because, they have a background in Greco, experience in Greco, and a lot of skills for our style. So for them to get an opportunity to compete and see where they are, even though a few top guys weren’t there, some of those weight classes did have a lot of top guys in them. I just wish that some wrestlers were a little more excited for the program and less worried about their egos and the fact they weren’t there. I feel awful COVID happened and that some guys didn’t get the opportunity to compete. I can totally empathize with the frustration they’re experiencing. But again, we have to focus on what we are control of as athletes, which is being prepared for when the moment comes.
The 2020 US Open was not of major significance, but it was still an incredible event to watch. And for athletes who participated, it was great to see that Greco-Roman is getting back on the mats in the United States and we had a major United States National event. It was a great event. I was very happy with what transpired last weekend.
5PM: What made Vera effective against Joe Rau for six minutes?
ML: I just think he stayed in the fight the whole time. He stayed in there. Alan has done a great job of being a part of the United States Greco-Roman program ever since he defected in 2016. He has helped at camps and has been a part of our training system by helping prepare American athletes for the biggest competitions — the Worlds, the Pan-Am Qualifier, the Pan-Am Championships and Games. Alan is a pretty unselfish guy when it comes to serving the US program. Just as an individual, as a person, he is very grateful for the opportunities, because in Cuba, you don’t always get those opportunities.
In 2016 when Alan decided to defect, he looked at the brackets for the (Pan-Am) Qualifier and was on the opposite side of Jordan Holm, who was our representative at that time. When he decided to defect, he did not qualify that weight class. He chose to leave before the qualifying event. He left Cuba knowing what the opportunities were there — and knowing what the potential opportunities were in the United States. He made that choice knowing full well he could have an opportunity to qualify the weight, but he also didn’t know if they (Cuba) would send him as the representative had he even qualified the weight class. Cuba doesn’t have a Trials system the way the United States does. It’s a different system. He understands what our system is, he understands that he has to acquire a United States passport before he will have the opportunity to compete an Olympic Trials. He is willing to take those steps.
But more importantly, Alan is always generous with his time and helping our athletes around that weight class. I mean, he works with the 87 kilo guys, the 77’s, the 97’s. He was even working with Cohlton, Coon, and some of the bigger guys when they have been short on partners. He will jump in and help out everyone.
As far as his performance, I think he was just excited about the opportunity to compete and took advantage of that situation, and had a great performance throughout the tournament. He didn’t have a ton of matches but he definitely had a great performance against Joe, and that is going to make our program better, as well. Joe is going to have to really make a couple of adjustments and change his training to beat a guy like Alan. All of that raises our program and our ability. The more depth we have, the more quality athletes, the better our program gets. That is what we are looking to do, raise the level of Greco-Roman in the United States and get those World and Olympic medals, which I know we are capable of doing in a lot of weight classes.
5PM: In the last report, you were non-committal over the idea of the Senior Worlds being confirmed after the then-proceeding UWW Bureau Members’ meeting, and sure enough, even though they say it’s still on they also put a caveat in there that suggests a wait-and-see approach. Do you think that this seeming back-and-forth hurts the sport? Or do you think it doesn’t matter?
Coach Matt Lindland: I don’t know what that answer is, to tell you the truth. I think the thought from UWW is that, We’ve got to get events going again, and they see taking the Juniors off and focusing on the Seniors as more prestigious. Maybe that’s why they made that decision. But if you noticed on their release, it was basically, This event is going on and we’re moving forward… But — buy refundable airline tickets (laughs).
I don’t know where they are at with this, and I don’t where USA Wrestling is, either, because ultimately that decision will be left with the executive board if it’s safe to travel to a World Championships. Of course, we’re going to look out for the health and safety of our athletes, first and foremost. As a coach, along with my coaching staff, we are going to have to defer that decision to the executive board because that is who runs our organization.
I see a lot of positives and very few negatives in terms of going over there and competing. The athletes are being surveyed, and the athlete voice is the most important voice to be heard in that situation. I can’t imagine anyone taking that survey and not clicking, Yes, yes, yes, I am very likely to attend the World Championships in Serbia if the travel is allowed and the event is going to happen. The answer from every athlete should be, Absolutely, yes, I want to go compete. Because, we are seeing guys in that age range get very low, if any symptoms at all, if they contract the virus. So even though if they get it, the survival rate is something like 99.9, and I’m reading those from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) website.
But it’s a political environment, too, right now. We have to do a little wait-and-see. Even though that announcement was made pretty affirmatively, I still think there is a chance that event could not happen. As I mentioned, buy refundable airline tickets. That statement alone says a lot about the status of that event.