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2016 Rio Olympics proved champs must attack

Editor’s Note: This is the first of two parts of Steve Fraser’s thoughts on the 2016 Olympic Games. The second part will be printed in WIN’s 2016-17 College/High School Preview, which will be available in November.

By Steve Fraser

There was some outstanding wrestling throughout the entire eight days of wrestling at the 2016 Olympics. There was excitement. There were upsets. There was the” thrill of victory” and the “agony of defeat.” There were spectacular clashes and thrilling battles. It was awesome to witness the best wrestlers on the planet going toe-to-toe each and every day.

Steve Fraser

Steve Fraser

And the emotion displayed on that awards podium, where the gold, silver and bronze medals are being given, was truly a sight to experience. The years and years of dedication, hard work, sacrifice and focus put in by these tremendous athletes makes the awards ceremony such an amazing moment. Many national anthems played as Olympic medals were draped around necks, bringing almost every champion to tears.

Lessons learned: From a technical point of view, I walked away with two main things that I saw. The first one is, for the most part, the athletes winning the medals are all tenacious fighters. They are in outstanding cardiovascular conditioning. They are strong. They are smart. And they will do whatever it takes to put points on the board. If you go back and look at photos or video of the wrestlers receiving their medals, you will see one thing very clearly. You will see banged up, battered and bruised faces.

Helen Maroulis scored two takedowns in her gold-medal upset of Japan's Saori Yoshida in Rio.

Helen Maroulis scored two takedowns in her gold-medal upset of Japan’s Saori Yoshida in Rio.

I believe to be the best in the world you must be willing to fight to the death! And when I say fight to the death I mean always moving forward, attacking with relentless resolve, never backing down. All three of our Olympic medalists displayed that tenfold. Take Helen Maroulis’ match against Japan’s superstar, Yoshida, who was trying to win her fourth Olympic gold medal. Helen did not take one step backward the entire bout. She persued Yoshida with a relentless forward movement, always in her face, always attacking forward. This is why she beat this extraordinary opponent.

To wrestle like this, it takes extreme mental, physical and emotional conditioning. Physically you have to train in a way that allows you to push your body to limits that the average person or average athlete is not willing to go. You can be very skilled, very smart, very agile, and very tough mentally. But if physical fatigue breaks you, all the other toughening and strength goes right out the window.

To get to this level, one must train like a madman or madwoman. One must do things that would seem crazy to the average Joe/Jill. Things like two-hour grind matches, running roadwork almost every morning, running up mountains, strength training that would make many cry, stretching, yoga, swimming, biking and anything else that taxes your body to the limit. Of course a good periodization plan and proper recovery is critical. But the point I want to make here is one MUST have the killer mentality when it comes to training and conditioning.

The second thing I left Rio wondering was how come so many wrestlers at the Olympic level seem to not understand how to secure the victory in a close match? I have written about this in the past, but it remains vitally important to discuss.  Way too many times I saw a wrestler leading in the bout by 1 or 2 points, with 30 or fewer seconds on the clock, and he or she began to back up a bit, or avoid contact, or peak at the clock (to see how many tics were left), trying to slow things down. This kills me!

There is a definite skill, tactic, technique and strategy to use when you are winning a tough match in the final seconds: do not stall!

Stalling, backing up, avoiding contact, even if just a little bit is the worst thing one can do to secure the victory. The wrestlers who use this tactic are only setting themselves up for disaster. I witnessed it many times throughout the Games. And I just don’t get why there is a lack of understanding in this regard.

(Steve Fraser is the former U.S. National Greco-Roman coach and current USAW Chief of Donor & Alumni Relations.) 

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