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Peak is trying to avoid distractions before Greco-Roman Worlds
Photo: Benji Peak qualified for his first Senior Worlds when he defeated 2021 World Team member Pat Smith in three bouts at Final X Stillwater. (Justin Hoch photo)
By Pat McDonald
Heading into the 2022 Senior World Championships, Benji Peak has been told more than once that he’s young and should just “wrestle hard” when he represents the U.S. Greco-Roman national team at 72 kilos.
However, for the 22-year-old Elkhorn, Wisc., native, the trip to Belgrade, Serbia, is a business trip … and the goal of Peak, Inc. is to win.
“I just want to win. I just want to win every match. I’m the most competitive human on earth, I swear. I want to win,” Peak said. “I know I’m young and everyone keeps telling me, ‘you’re young,’ and just to go out there and wrestle hard, but I’m going out there to win. I have to win. I have to.”
Winning is something Peak has done a lot of over the years, including capturing a U23 national championship in 2021, one year after he won the 2020 Senior Nationals.
The winning continued when he knocked off 2021 World Team member Patrick Smith, two matches to one, at Final X Stillwater on June 3 to earn his spot on the U.S. Greco squad.
But once the Final X competitions were over, the road to Serbia got a little bumpy for the U.S. Greco-Roman national team. Long-time coach Matt Lindland resigned in July, and in recent weeks 2021 World bronze medalist G’Angelo Hancock announced his retirement and joined the WWE. Then on Sept 6, USA Wrestling confirmed that Final X champs Jesse Thielke and Ben Provisor also were not competing at the Worlds.
“It’s been actually a little weird because we had a big coaching change a month ago, but it’s going good,” said Peak
Despite the changes and distractions, Peak said his focus has never wavered.
“My training is going really well,” he said. “I’m getting in shape. My technique is coming. My body is a little beat up but that’s just part of the process. I’m going to get a little break here in a couple days and get my body and my mind right going into (the World Championships).”
“We’ve just got to adapt,” he said. “That’s a big thing in wrestling in general, just adapting to every situation. You know what I mean? Like injuries happen, stuff like that, so it’s just been adapting to the situation.”
Hancock was a big voice in promoting Greco-Roman wrestling in recent years, and now that he’s left the sport, Peak will continue to speak about the lack of support the style receives.
“I just don’t think it gets the recognition it deserves, ever,” Peak said. “It’s results oriented, which it should be, I don’t blame that, but at the same time in order for us to get those results, we need the support,” Peak said. “We need people to see what we’re doing so people draw towards the sport and come over (to Greco).”
Peak understands one way to draw more interest to the sport is to really put on a good show when people do sit down and watch Greco-Roman wrestling.
“The only way to do that is to be entertaining and to win big matches. I think that’s what I’m going to do and we’ve got a bunch of guys on the team who are going to do that, and I think this is going to be a big change this year for the Greco program,” he said.
Peak, a Wisconsin high school state champ at Elkhorn, said he was “a beast” in folkstyle and added Greco-Roman fit his length and style more than freestyle.
“I just enjoyed going to Greco practice more than folkstyle and freestyle,” he said. “I also was just better at Greco all around. I was a very good leg grabber, but I always felt I was leaps and bounds better at Greco.”
Peak earned an opportunity to compete for Northern Michigan University’s Greco-Roman team and is thrilled to represent the Wildcats on the World stage.
“I think it’s really important,” he said. “We’re a college program and when you look at the guys that make these Senior World teams, they are usually out of college and usually 25-plus and wrestling for the Army or these other big programs.
“I think me making this team is really big for the Northern program. Just so these guys see that they can do it, and just so they have a little more belief in themselves and they trust the process. I really think it’s big for guys like me and (Final X runner-up) Alston Nutter to go out there and win these big matches and make these teams at young ages. It’s important.”
Peak also credits Sunkist Kids with helping him get to this level.
“They do a great job supporting us. I can’t even put it into words how grateful I am to them. I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” he said.
While he’s proud to represent Northern Michigan and Sunkist Kids, Peak is also happy to make the people — and especially the young wrestlers — in his hometown proud.
“I always try and go back every time I’m home. Get in the high school room, wrestle with some of the younger guys and show technique,” said Peak. “I mean when you get to a certain point (in your career), you’ve got to make sure you give back.”
Now, Peak will head to Serbia looking to finish the job so he can bring some pretty special hardware into that Elkhorn wrestling room next time he’s home.