By Mike Finn
Las Vegas is the show capital of the world … and no one knows that more than American wrestlers who hope to put on a show in the 2015 United World Wrestling World Championships this week at the Orleans Arena in this part of Nevada.
But the success of America’s 24 athletes who will be competing Sept. 7-12 in this year’s Worlds won’t be based on the number of people in the stands, but the number of hours each spent in their wrestling rooms.
“There are individualistic aspirations that are greater than putting on a show,” said Jordan Burroughs the two-time World champion (2011 and ’13) and 2012 Olympic gold medalist in men’s freestyle. “Each individual wants to win and we want to show how hard we work as opposed to entertaining.
“The excess of points that we score comes from the hours we train, not from the number of people in the stands. It’s always been getting the most out of our potential and maximizing what’s in our tanks. If we can do that and wrestle our highest level, the rest will come.”
And for the first time since 2003 — when the World Championships were held in New York City — and for just the sixth time since the first Worlds were held in 1951, the 2015 Worlds will be held on the home soil of these American wrestlers.
“Outside of the logistics and amenities that are provided for us, there will be a boost of energy from the electricity from the crowd,” said Burroughs, whose weight class (163 pounds) won’t compete until Sept. 12. “It’s an amazing experience. This is what we’ve always dreamed of.”
Burroughs whose three World/Olympic titles came in Istanbul, Turkey in 2011, London, England, in 2012 and Budapest, Hungary, in 2013, said this will be the first time his father will have seen him wrestle and the first time his son, Beacon, will have been at a World Championships.
“As individuals, we’ve always wanted to have the crowd on our side,” said Burroughs, a former NCAA champion and Hodge Trophy winner from Nebraska. “Once you get out of the college realm, you don’t have that tangible piece of a team once you get on the international level and there is only your family there to cheer for you. This will really change that dynamic and give us that extra push late in the period. The electricity from the crowd can be felt in your heart.”
“It’s not just knowing that you can drink the tap water and eat the food,” said Adeline Gray, the two-time World champion who will compete on Sept. 10. “When you step in the arena, you do feel the crowd cheering for you. I felt that with just my father in the stands.”
“Everyone of our wrestlers have (fans) coming in,” said Greco-Roman heavyweight Robby Smith. “It’s fun. It’s wrestling. You are not going to die. I felt the electricity once and that was in Iran where the entire crowd was cheering for me. I said if I can do this in Iran, this can happen at the World Championships in our back yard.”
HOME SWEET HOME
The five other times that the World Championships were held in the United States were in 1962 and 1966 (both in Toledo, Ohio), 1979 (San Diego, Calif.), 1995 (Atlanta) and 2003 (New York City) and two of the three current National Team coaches were part of those past moments.
Bruce Burnett, the interim men’s freestyle coach, helped lead the United States to the team championship in Atlanta, where four Americans (Terry Brands, Kevin Jackson, Kurt Angle and Bruce Baumgartner) won gold medals and two (Zeke Jones and Melvin Douglas) added bronze medals.
“In 1995, we had a team of veterans and young guys,” recalled Burnett, who will lead the men’s freestyle team through the 2016 Olympics. “We had a good crowd and we won three gold medals the first go-around and we had quite a bit of momentum going in.
“I remember talking to a coach from Germany, who he said you’ve won enough, but I said we have more guys here. We want to win more gold. That’s what the sport is all about; going out and giving it your best effort every time.
“If people don’t think a home crowd doesn’t make a difference, they are out to lunch. Our expectations are that our fans will get behind us and give us some extra gasoline in our tanks.”
Burnett said USA Wrestling was hurt when (FILA, which proceeded UWW) changed the rules where a wrestler had to win two out of three two-minute periods to win a match. That changed in 2013 where matches are now six minutes in length.
“Those eight years of two-minute matches hurt our athletes because you didn’t have to be as good,” said Burnett. “We’ve been playing a little bit of catch-up from the technical aspect of the sport. The rules are such that conditioning counts now and that you have to wrestle hard for six minutes. It was six minutes matches in 1995 and we are back to six-minute matches, where you will see actual wrestling. That excites me.”
Meanwhile, women’s freestyle coach Terry Steiner was in just his second year with USA Wrestling when all seven women’s team members earned medals: gold by Kristie (Davis) Marano, silver by Patricia Miranda, Tina George, Sara McMann and Toccara Montgomery, and bronze by Jenny Wong and Sally Roberts.
“Back then, it was a three-day competition and by Day 3 we were still undefeated,” said Steiner, whose team finished second to Japan, which had more gold medalists. “To have runs like that, nothing was going wrong and you feel like a genius. We were seven-for-seven and for every one of our athletes to leave the championships with a medal in our hands left a pretty special feeling.”
But Steiner said women’s wrestling has changed since the 2003 Worlds.
“I’ve heard it a lot that people say our team is better, so is the rest of the world, which has put a lot more in the development in the sport of women’s wrestling and there are more countries involved,” Steiner said.
HOME STATE PRIDE
The 1995 Worlds begins today (Sept. 7) with three Greco-Roman weight classes, including 165 pounds, where 2014 Worlds bronze medalist Andy Bisek will lead the U.S. (Preliminary matches start at 10 a.m. PST with medal matches beginning at 7 p.m.)
Bisek will open against Luis Eduardo Avendano Rojas of Venezuela, who finished in fifth place at the 2015 Pan American Games losing to Bisek 8-0 in the quarterfinals.
“Andy is another guy that has had an incredible training camp,” said Greco-Roman coach Matt Lindland. “I’m really excited to see him perform. We are putting some pressure on him because we know what he is capable of doing, but Andy is so calm, he’s just going to go out and compete and do what he does.”
The two other Americans competing are Bryce Saddoris at 145.5 pounds and Caylor Williams at 216 pounds.
Saddoris, a two-time U.S. World Team member, will square off against Hugo Miguel Da Silva Passos of Portugal. Saddoris, who represents the U.S. Marines, is also a native of Spring Creek, Nev, which is 450 miles north of Las Vegas.
“That guy is stoked,” said teammate Robby Smith. “He is going to have a huge crown and being a Marine he is so proud.”
Saddoris also competed in college at the U.S. Naval Academy for Bruce Burnett.
“Bryce is exceptionally strong and his heart is bigger,” said Burnett. “His work ethic is huge. He competes as hard as he can for every point in every go, no matter who he competes against in practice.”
Williams, a three-time U.S. World Team member, will begin his World Championships run against 2015 Pan American Games bronze medalist Davi Jose Albino.
“He lost to the Brazilian at the Pan American Championships down in Chile this year. He just didn’t have a great match. This is a very beatable guy. He is a big athletic guy, but so is Caylor,” said Lindland.