Gable: America’s Worlds performance should wake all up

Updated: October 6, 2010

Dan Gable

WIN: What was your opinion on the Worlds Championships?
GABLE: While I have been to many World or Olympics Championships, this year was my first since 2005 and really my first chance to see how countries have adapted to the new rules that were implemented in 2005.
If you know wrestling, you could see that it had changed, including tactics and strategy, and some people had gotten this system down a lot more. As far as how to wrestle under this system, the rest of the world has developed. The United States is lagging behind under these rules. It’s probably a little more difficult for us to adapt to the change because their wrestlers are doing it every day and we’re only doing it part-time.

After watching from the beginning to the end for four straight days, I feel like I could write a set of rules for the future, which would be based on these rules and could make these rules better.

Mostly it would be to help the action without extending the length of the match and not have to fight the time. The spectators and the athletes are always worried about the clock running out. There are things you can do to make it a little more conducive for both athlete and spectator.

I like wrestling holds, wrestling flurries. I like action, reaction that I call wrestling, where there are holds, counter holds, which lead to flurries. I can remember two or three situations where I jumped up off my seat and said, ‘Wow.’

I see this way more in the quarters and semifinals of the NCAA tournament. When I go to a tournament, I expect to see some really good action, reaction. I didn’t see a lot of that (at the Worlds), but I was entertain through tactics and strategies

John Smith was among the unhappy coaches at the World Championships, where the men's freestyle team failed to win a medal since 1975.

WIN: Should a U.S. World team ever be shut out from medals?
GABLE: No, we are a wrestling country and we always pride ourselves in being one of the better wrestling countries. We don’t rate with Russia, but have beaten Russia and were one of Russia’s main competitors for years.
We’ve lost that now. When you are a good team, you don’t have a year like this. You are consistent every year. We have not been consistently at the top of the ladder here. We need to be in contention every year. People should be upset with the Americans’ performance.
John Smith (who served as a coach on the World team) was so upset. When we left (Moscow), he gave me an earful about where (the U.S.) is and where we are heading and what we need to do. He said this was unacceptable. We need more wrestlers who wrestle this style. We need more coaches who get on board with us and will push their wrestlers to get on board with us.
Even though there are differences between freestyle and folkstyle, most of the  the moves in freestyle right now are on the feet. And these moves in freestyle are not bad in the collegiate style. Maybe (young wrestlers) can learn penetration and drive into their opponents, where they also can get stalling. They hand fight way more now and it’s something that people really need to do in folkstyle. There is a lot more motion and movement going on right now.
John said this and I agreed that we need tell college and high school wrestlers and coaches is that we need more help. The reason why coaches should get more involved here is because it will help us at the higher end and it will help your program and its wrestlers. There are skills and tactics that will help you with your high school and college wrestling.
The No. 1 area you need to be good at — no matter what style of wrestling — is on your feet and getting back to your offensively and defensively

WIN: You said the rules are more different than ever. Look back at the 1970s when you wrestled and freestyle also was a lot different than folkstyle was then and you still did well. The same could have been said about the 1980s and ‘90s. Why did the U.S. fall behind on the difference of the rules now? Why did the U.S. not keep up with the rest of the world?
GABLE: We need more Smiths,  Blubaughs, Petersons  Wells, Brands and Jacksons; leaders who are committed to the sport year round. These (current) guys are in that position to be full-time wrestlers. We need more committed wrestlers. We need more competition amongst them.

WIN: You used the word “committed.” What is a committed wrestler?
GABLE: I’m sure these wrestlers now believe they are committed. But like Zeke Jones said, we need to take it up another notch to get better performances out of these guys. In practices, the coaches need to make sure they get the most out of these athletes. From an athlete’s point of view, they need to work on it from a daily basis year round.

WIN: Many of these wrestlers have their own college or club coach. Are these wrestlers hearing too many messages?
GABLE: I do think we have to clean up our act here. There are too many festivities going on beyond the wrestling. If you want it to be a serious business, then you have to go about it in a serious way. Any distractions are a distraction. There need to be some thoughts there and a discussion.

WIN: The last time the U.S. men’s freestyle team got shut out was in the mid-1970s, about the same time the sport’s governing body was going through a change, from the AAU to the eventual USA Wrestling. What changes can be made to prepare us for the London Olympics?
GABLE: What kind of initiatives and plan is going to be put together here? I don’t think you change in the middle of the stream. These were some drastic losses and the U.S. did poorly but we also didn’t get hammered each match. We lost a lot of close matches. So now it’s what we do to win those close matches.
Once again, getting cooperation from the major bodies within the sport would provide more efficiency on a day-to-day work basis over time so we consistently have more chances to do well every year.

WIN: With that in mind, is the sport in the U.S. at a state of needing to put concerted effort into turning things around by London?
GABLE: The sooner the better for the changes that will take place. Even though the U.S. was 22nd in men’s freestyle, can’t we still medal the next year? We can in all three styles. The key is consistency. We have to get our act together and make sure we never have a bad year. We need to be more steady.

WIN: Should this Worlds’ result be an alarm to USA Wrestling?
GABLE: Yes, but I think the alarm has been going off for a while. But I also think we are starting to wake up more and the U.S. won’t settle for good results over one year. We should never be shut out.

WIN: Our national teams seem to have great coaches on the three staffs.
GABLE: We just put in a new freestyle staff. We’ve had the Greco-Roman staff and women’s freestyle staff. Time will tell. I think if you have someone who will take constructive criticism and you stick with him and its implemented an we can move forward.
I like (USA Wrestling’s Executive Director) Rich Bender and he knows exactly what I’m talking about … and that’s consistency every year. We haven’t been happy every year. In 1975, we didn’t have any World medals in freestyle, but in 1976, we won six Olympic medals. I’m sure that’s what he’s banking on. I just don’t think we should have to go from zero to six.

WIN: Do you buy into the thought that since the Soviet Union broke up, there is a lot more good wrestlers to spread around to other countries of that area of the world?
GABLE: You are going to have tough matches every round. But there are also a lot of other countries, like Turkey and Iran that are very good. It’s not just the Russian wrestlers. I won’t buy into a lot of excuses. The bottom line is that we have to get more technically prepared, work them harder and get them tougher, like coach  Zeke Jones said.

WIN: You excelled as both a wrestler and coach on the World level, but there are some who believe the greatest wrestlers don’t make the greatest coaches. Is that true when it comes to wrestling?
GABLE: Absolutely. If you are going to coach just like you wrestled, you are going to have some issues because no two wrestlers compete exactly alike. Knowing how to bring out the best of individuals is the key.

WIN: What recommendations would you make to a great wrestler, looking to become a great coach?
GABLE: You need to push the button of the constituent that you are dealing with and find out how he best operates.

WIN: Are those coaches able to do the little things to succeed, much like they did as athletes?
GABLE: If they understand what the little things are. That’s the question. You have to use tactics in coaching like you do on the mat to win. The best tactics is getting a wrestler to tell the truth or speak out without you asking him questions. Then you usually get the truth. The more things you have built inside you, which create a question mark, there is a greater chance that you are not going to be able to perform. You need to get rid of all that stuff ahead of time before you compete.

WIN: Let’s change the subject to college wrestling, where Iowa coach Tom Brands is taking a lot of heat from some people in wrestling for not sending his Hawkeye wrestling team to this year’s NWCA National Duals. Should Iowa be in the National Duals?
GABLE: Of course, they should be and it should be mandatory, but it should be an NCAA event. Until then, it’s up to each team and coach to decide what’s best for their team.
Is it the best thing for his Iowa athletes to compete at the National Duals? He has that choice and right now he believes he is making the best choice for his team to help them be champions at the end of the season.
The tough thing is that Iowa affects the sport and if Iowa becomes lesser of a team, it will falter and that will affect the sport. If he’s doing the things to help Iowa be the best team this year and the future, then he’s making the right choice, including for the sport in the long run. n