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Q&A with U.S. Men’s Freestyle before competition begins
The following are comments from American freestyle wrestlers, who will start competing on Aug. 10.
Jordan Burroughs, 74 kilos • 163 pounds
Q: Do you have a target on your back after winning last year’s World Championships?
A: I don’t think the target is on my back, the target is on the gold medal. I don’t think everyone’s shooting for me. Right now everyone is asking is what have you done on your set-ups, what have you done to try and win the gold. Basically, absolutely nothing. I’m still working hard and I’ve always worked hard. I’m just trying to be the best Jordan Burroughs I can be.
Q: Who are the biggest threats to yourself?
A: I say the biggest threat is myself. If I go out there and wrestle like I’m capable of, I know I’ll be unbeatable. Obviously there’s a lot of tough guys there from Russia, Azerbaijan and Georgia which were the top finishers from last year. It’s going to be a tough day, you’ve got to put four or five of your toughest matches together in one day. It’s nothing that’s changed from last year. I did it last year, and I’m looking to do it again. I’m like wine, I’m just getting better with time.
We’re still looking to win gold medals. We’ve got the best team that we’ve probably had in years. We’ve got a chance at multiple gold medals. We’re excited. We only got one medal in ’08, we’re definitely looking to improve on that.
I was a rookie last year when I won the World Championship. I love high expectations. We step out there and we want to win, and we know we can win. We’ve all proved we can be the best and made the Olympic Team. We’re just trying to stay focused.
The whole country is behind me. Everyone expects me to win. I don’t want to let anyone down. It’s easy to let yourself down. I don’t want to let my country down.
From Zeke Jones, United States’ men’s freestyle coach
Q: What are your goals for this year’s Olympics?
A: This is our chance for us to do our part for America and the Olympic Team. And right now at this point, to pass China (in the medal count). Our goal is pretty simple, we want to the best team in the world. To do that, we need Jordan to perform up to his ability.
Q: How do you make sure the wrestlers enjoy the Olympic experience while training them for actual competition?
A: We wanted the guys to have the Olympic experience. That’s why we came into London, went through the Opening Ceremony, the press conferences, got to do a lot of fun things. Then it was time to get out of the circus and get in a place where it was quiet and we could train to stay focused on the goal.
When we were here (London), they didn’t want to go. Then when we got to Belarus, they said, ‘Ok, this makes sense. I had a great week of training.’ Now we’re coming over from the Olympic Village to the UEL (University of East London.) where we can put our team together. We have all our Caels, and Michael Lightners and Sean Bormets (individual coaches for American wrestlers) here where we can all be one unit and head into the tournament this weekend.
Q: How important is Olympic success to USA wrestling?
A: It’s important for our guys to achieve their individual goals more than anything else. We need to be consistent as a country. Dan Gable said that and that stuck with me. ‘Ok, you have a good year. That’s great.’ We want to be consistently competing for team championship. We haven’t won a team championship in 17 years and we were right on the cusp last year. We know that the Russians are obviously the favorites. But they won by 23 points two years ago, they won by five points last year. The gap has closed.
Right now there’s about five countries who are kind of converging on each other. This Olympic Games will define that.
Q: How to you manage high expectations considering all seven of your wrestlers are Olympic rookies?
A: First off, it’s American history and tradition. When you come through our program, you’re prepared. The champions standing around our mat during practice symbolize that. You know and I know in the previous time we’ve not lived up to that expectation. But there’s a new plan in place.
There’s a new way that we’re attacking the techniques and tactics of our wrestling program and how we’re competing against the world. We’re doing it differently than it was done before. And we know that those differences are the right differences. It was a little bit of a learning curve for all of us. We’re all folkstyle guys trying to learn freestyle. Now we know for sure what we’re teaching is accurate. In ’09 and ’10 it was a little bit of guess, there’s no guessing now. The techniques and tactics that we’re using we know win. If you look at the body of work from the last 12 to 18 months, they’ve really been wrestling quite well.
From Tervel Dlagnev, 120 kilos • 264.5 pounds
Q: What are your goals?
A: We all have a dream to be the best in the world and we get to do that in a couple days we get to do that.
Q: How strange was it to walk in the opening ceremonies then spend a week in Belarus (training)?
A: I thought it was going to be more strange than it was. It was actually a blessing. Spending those four first days in the (Olympic) village was hectic and where you couldn’t sleep with the noise outside.
It was good to get away because it was quiet and (the Olympics) becomes more like a regular tournament and kind of takes the glamour off it. (Going to Belarus) kind of brought it back to reality.
Coming intothe Olympics, you want to experience everything. The opening ceremonies were great, especially the first day when you hang out in the village. But after those first four days, I was glad to get back into wrestling.
From Jake Herbert, 84 kilos • 185 pounds
Q: Are you where you want to be?
A: Everything is good. The weight is down. I’m just pumped to get my (training partners) in her like Pritzlaff and Bormet in here.
It’s not just about this week. It’s about the last six years.
Q: You are able to watch a lot more film on possible opponents. How much does that help?
A: I’m still watching film. I just want to know which leg my leads, his main attacks, his main ties and what he does on top.
Different guys mean different weaknesses. You have to decide what they are.
Everyone is going to be tough. It’s who shows up.
A draw is a draw.