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Photo: Amit Elor (top) won both of her women’s freestyle matches at 72 kilos over Skyler Grote in Madison Square Garden’s Hulu Theater on June 8. (Justin Hoch photo)
By Pat McDonald
Valentin Kalika is one of the more respected coaches in all of wrestling. In the past decade, the Ukraine native has worked with the likes of Junior World runner-up and rising MMA star Aaron Pico and Helen Maroulis, who became the first American woman to win Olympic gold in 2016.
So, when Kalika points to a young wrestler and says she can do big things — he will probably be proven right.
That’s been the case with 18-year-old Amit Elor, who continued a stellar run by sweeping her best-of-three series with Skyler Grote at Final X NYC and earning a spot on the USA senior women’s freestyle national team.
Elor credits Kalika with helping her get to this level — and still remembers some of those early days of training with the renown freestyle coach, including when Kalika coached Maroulis for the 2016 Olympics.
“I feel like all of my development throughout the years is thanks to him. He’s such an amazing coach. I’m so glad to have met him when I was 12,” said Elor, who won both the U17 and U20 World titles last summer.
“He has always believed in me since day one. He told me a week after I met him, ‘I think you can win Cadet Worlds.’ I was like ‘There’s no way. No way.’ But I was able to win.”
The faith that Kalika has in Elor has been huge for the young wrestler.
“The fact that he believes in me and I was able to do some of what he said is amazing and I feel a lot of support,” Elor said.
While it’s a privilege to work with one of the preeminent freestyle wrestling coaches in the U.S., for Elor it was a bit intimidating early on.
“At first I was really scared, like every practice I just wanted to do my best … to have this Olympic coach, the coach of an Olympic champion in my room, was just scary,” she recalled.
Those nerves would eventually go away and the pair just got down to work.
“It’s really nice to see the way my relationship with him has grown throughout the years, like how more professional it’s gotten and I feel like it’s a team. I can’t go out there without him and when I win, I feel like he wins too, so it’s pretty cool,” Elor said.
While working with a coach like Kalika has been huge for Elor, so has the growth of women’s wrestling in general over the past decade. That growth and increased support has certainly been seen at the NYC Regional Training Center, where Kalika is also a coach.
“It’s really changed over the years,” Elor said. “Growing up, I was the only girl on the mat and I kind of got used to it, but to be wrestling in a room with so much female empowerment and so much support for women’s wrestling is amazing. I never thought as a little girl it would be like this today and it has just continued to grow. It’s just so fun to see.”
Elor has taken advantage of the opportunities in front of her and all her hard work has paid off as she is heading to her first World Championships as part of the U.S. Senior National squad.
Her path to the national team ended with a pair of technical falls over Grote at the Hulu Theater in Madison Square Garden.
“This is like a dream. It’s unreal. It’s exactly what I’ve been planning for and to have that accomplishment feels great,” Elor said after her Final X victory.
The California native has been happy with her transition from the junior level to the highest level in the sport.
“It’s gone pretty smooth so far. All my goals have come true so far and the next stop is the World Championships. It’s almost hard to believe that this is where I am but I’m really excited and I’ll just keep going out there and wrestling,” she said.
Elor knew that stepping up to the Senior level would bring some tougher challenges her way.
“I feel like all of (Skyler’s) positions are more disciplined, stronger, more developed. The Senior level definitely feels different,” she said. “These girls have put in more time I think, generally, than the age-group divisions and they are just more disciplined at their technique. It felt great to go out there and wrestle.”
Elor will have a busy summer ahead as she trains not only for the Senior World Championships, but also the U20 and U23 Worlds. While it may seem overwhelming to some, the 18-year-old is just happy to have the opportunity to compete.
“I’m just going to take it one step at a time, one camp at a time, one competition at a time,” she said.
“Coming from COVID, when there was no wrestling and everything was shut down, I’m just so grateful to have all these back-to-back training camps and competitions. I’m glad I have such a busy summer ahead of me.”
Pat McDonald has covered wrestling for more than 20 years in Pennsylvania, New York and Maine. In that time, he has won awards from the Pennsylvania News Media Association, New York News Publishers Association and the Maine Press Association. He is currently the executive sports editor of the Morning Times and Daily Review newspapers in Bradford County, Pa and also serves on the board of directors for the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance.
The following wrestlers will represent the United States at the 2022 United World Wrestling World Championships this September in Belgrade, Serbia. This includes their wrestling clubs, age, hometown and current residence … as well as any past World/Olympic/NCAA experience.
50k/110.5lb — Sarah Hildebrandt (NYAC), 28, Granger, Ind./Colorado Springs, Colo.
53k/116.5 — Dominique Parrish (Sunkist Kids), 25, Scotts Valley, Calif./
55k/121lb — Jacarra Winchester (TMWC), 29, San Lorenzo, Calif./Colorado Springs, Colo.
57k/125.5lb — Helen Maroulis (Sunkist Kids), 31, Rockville, Md./Rockville, Md.
59k/130lb — Abigail Nette (U.S. Army WCAP), 25, St. Rose, La./Colorado Springs, Colo.
62k/136.5lb — Kayla Miracle (Sunkist Kids) or Jennifer Rogers (Nittany Lion WC)
65k/143.5lb — Mallory Velte (Beaver Dam RTC), 27, Sacramento, Calif./
68k/149lb — Tamyra Mensah Stock (TMWC), 29, Katy, Texas/Colorado Springs, Colo.
72k/158.5lb — Amit Elor (TMWC), 18, Walnut Creek, Calif./New York City, N.Y.
76k/167.5lb — Dymond Guilford (TMWC), 22, Lancaster, Calif./Colo. Springs