Thought Provoking Analysis
From Stan Dziedzic
As I read the 'Embarrassing Performance' message board, I feel compelled to weigh-in (pun intended) on the subject, mostly to provide a historical perspective and -- if successful -- to channel the collective intellect to focus on 'How the US wrestlers can improve their performance.'
First, let me say there seems to be one thing everyone agrees upon: The performance of the U.S. men's Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestlers in Moscow was awful. That said, dwelling on the fact is counterproductive. Instead, let's harness our experience and intellect to help remedy the problem.
Perhaps some history -- from an insider's point of view -- would be an instructive point of departure.
In 1972, the US freestyle team won 6 medals (3 gold, 2 silver, and a bronze). Arguably the best performance since the USSR first entered international wrestling competition with a vagabond team in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.
As National coach in 1984 and manager of the Olympic team, I would like to claim that the 9 medals (7 gold and 2 silver) in the Los Angeles Olympics was superior, but that would be disingenuous. There is just no way to compare the '72 Olympics with the boycotted '84 Games.
In the ensuing 3 World Championships after the Munich games, U.S. freestyle wrestlers earned just 1 gold medal and 1 bronze medal. In '73, Lloyd Keaser became the first black wrestler in history of the world to win a gold medal defeating Nasuraleav (USSR) in front of tens of thousands of Iranians urging him to victory and Ben Peterson followed his Olympic gold with a bronze medal. Then the drought -- in 1974, I was the highest US place finisher with an embarrassing 5th. In 1975, again no US wrestler medaled.
Reasons that impacted performance but not excuses:
1. Tehran, Istanbul, and Minsk were unfriendly environments for US athletes.
2. Limited foreign competition opportunities--Tblisi tournament followed by 3 dual in the USSR and the Toledo World Cup followed by 3 duals in the USA were the extent of international competition.
3. The team selection was just weeks before the competition, followed by a short training camp mostly with few workout partners.
4. The team traveled just days before competition with little time to acclimate to the time zone or living conditions.
Yet in 1976, the same U.S. wrestlers and coaches matched the '72 team with 6 medals (though the make-up was less impressive: 1 gold, 3 silver, and 2 bronze).
Reasons that impacted performance:
1. The trials were early in the spring; followed by a pre-wrestle-off training camp where all of the top 6 finishers--who had any hope of making the team--attended. A typical practice for me would be: 1st workout partner, Lloyd Keaser, next John Peterson, next Lee Kemp and when practice finished a scrawny high school wrestler--hired to clean the mats--would tap me on the shoulder and meekly ask me if I would go a few takedowns with him (Dave Schultz).
2. After a short break to return home and regroup, the final wrestle-offs were in Brockport--just an hour or so bus ride from Montreal--followed by a four week training camp. Well attended I would add. Why? -- because the aspiring future US wrestlers were offered the opportunity to go to Montreal as workout partners and stay at a McGill University fraternity house rented by the organization and experience the Olympic movement.
3. Aside from the USA boxers partying into the wee hours the night before our round robin matches, the conditions were generally friendly in Montreal (no time zone change or food adjustments).
Similarly, next year, Istanbul will be unfriendly for US wrestlers but London in 2012 will be a friendly environment. I challenge the coaches to organize the appropriate try-out and training schedule, but more importantly, to devise a set of skills, tactics, and strategies for all of our wrestlers that will provide each of them a plausible path to victory no matter who the opponent. This is no easy task. Before the USSR dismantled, I only had to prepare for Karlsson of Sweden--silver in both freestyle & Greco-Roman in Munich; Date, Japan --Olympic Champ; Barzegar, Iran --World Champ; and just one Soviet--two-time World Champ Ashuraleav. Today the depth may not be greater but the breadth of competition is certainly much wider, i.e. Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, Armenia, Belarus. to name a few -- in lieu of the one Soviet.
To the wrestlers: you face the biggest challenge. Only you can implement the plan. You know your weaknesses and must correct them or learn how to mask them. For example, no matter how much time I spent lifting weights, I knew I was never going to become the strongest or fastest, so I made certain strength and speed were not going to be the deciding attributes in my matches. Likewise, the wrestler knows his strengths -- learn how to impose them on each of your opponents. For example, my kinesthetic awareness in a scramble and my ability to master exhaustion were superior to my opponents, so I devised the tactics and strategies so that these attributes would decide the winner.
This leads me to another misnomer: Dan Gable won because of his conditioning--NOTHING COULD BE FURTHER FROM THE TRUTH (and the Russians knew that).
Several bloggers mention that Dan Gable stated, "our guys were not doing a good enough job wearing down their opponents." And they then go on to interpret that to mean that Dan is suggesting our U.S. wrestler need to be in better shape. Dan is not suggesting better conditioning. He is suggesting that our wrestlers must master a very subtle skill of imposing their 'will' on their opponents, something he did extremely well and what the Russians feared most.
The Russians combed the countryside to find that elusive wrestler with the 'will' to stand-up to Dan Gable. They thought it was Ashuraleav from Mahachkala, not so -- Dan prevailed. As the Soviet National Coach once said to me, "When conditioning becomes the deciding factor, we will change our training habits. Until then, we will stay with our current strategy: better technique."
Dan Gable won the Munich Olympics without any his opponents scoring a single point. And if my memory serves me well, he scored at least 3 points in every match. Conditioning was not the determining factor in his victories that most think--3x3 minutes, 2x3 minutes, 5 minutes plus overtime, it didn't matter Dan would have won.
The Russians have a similar view towards the rules: As long a wrestler gets 1 pt for a takedown, 2 or 3 if he takes his opponent to his back in the process and his opponent must stay in the center of the mat and wrestle, guess what? The better wrestler wins. And all us who were privileged to be in Moscow, saw it masterfully displayed. Easy enough!
Which brings us to the difference in rules between folkstyle and freestyle. If it were not for the experience of our collegiate wrestlers and the impact on the US Olympic effort, I would not enter this arena. But I will take the risk.
Some have used the soccer-football debate, which is often used as a comparison. I often bring it up for amusement among my international friends, which elicits an immediate response.
"They are different sports and beyond comparison," they demand. "The only similarity is that they are both played on a large field and use a ball--a very different balls I may add. In soccer we are in constant motion with virtually no rest or time-outs. In football the players are draped with equipment, hug each other for 30 seconds and then run a play for 5 seconds. Completely different sports," they argue. I agree, the world is better having both distinctly different sports.
I am not of the opinion that we should necessarily change our folkstyle rules to the international rules. I do feel, however, that the folkstyle rules need improving. Our folkstyle has morphed into a discipline that more closely resembles grappling than wrestling.
Allowing wrestlers to crawl out-of-bounds or use the out-of-bounds as a strategy to avoid wrestling with impunity does not comport with either sportsmanship or American ethics. And interpreting the situation to be a stalemate when one wrestler purposely rolls to his back, grabs the ankles or feet of his opponent, just astounds me. At the least the culprit is stalling.
The officials should immediately start counting, when he reaches 5, if the countering wrestler is unable to get off his back, guess what? The attacking wrestler has control and a takedown and back points should be awarded. But I will let you sort that out.
I am more concerned with the effect folkstyle wrestling currently has on the aspiring U S international wrestlers. When I was a collegiate wrestlers there were significant crossover skills. In fact, to the befuddlement of many of our Russian opponents, several of us -- Ben Peterson in particular -- deployed a switch as an effective counter. Today, wrestling folkstyle seems to instill negative habits and little crossover skills. Given the current folk style rules, our international wrestlers are faced with some difficult decisions.
I am tempted to make some recommendations, but the NCAA coaches would not look kindly on my suggestions.
The thread that follows is here.
"Boys freestyle. Real men Greco."