Olympian Andy Hrovat hopes move to Russia will help him reach his goals

By Craig Sesker USA Wrestling | Oct. 11, 2010, 9:40 p.m. (ET)
Andy Hrovat battles Joe Williams in 2007. Larry Slater photo.

Andy Hrovat doesn't think his best years are behind him.

That is why he's in Russia, training and competing with some of the best freestyle wrestlers on the planet. Hrovat plans to spend seven months in Russia as he continues his quest to be the best in the World.

He is living and training in Vladikavkaz, which is located in southwest Russia and is a hotbed for wrestling in that country.

A member of the 2006 U.S. World Team and 2008 U.S. Olympic Team, Hrovat moved up from 84 kg/185 lbs. to 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in 2009 and 2010. He fell short of making U.S. World Teams in those years. He placed second in the U.S. World Team Trials in 2009.

Hrovat (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC) is back at 84 kg/185 lbs. now, and recently placed seventh at the Dmitry Korkin Memorial on Oct. 2 in Yakutsk, Russia. He went 2-1 in that event.

The 30-year-old Hrovat talked about his training and his experiences in Russia in an e-mail interview with USA Wrestling's Craig Sesker.

How long will you be in Russia? Where are you training, and who will you be working out with?

I am going to stay here until right before the U.S. Open. I arrived in early September and I will leave at the end of March. I can even remember everyone who is here training. Around my weight class they have Zaurbek Sokhiev, the Uzbek who was second in the World the last two years. Also training here is Russia's Soslan Ktsoev, who was third in the World this year at 84 kg, and Ukraine's Ibrahim Aldotov, who was fifth. They have past World champion and Olympic medalist Georgy Ketoev here. The guy who beat me in 2006 at the Worlds, Vadim Laliev of Armenia, is here as well. They have a few past Junior World champs around my weight class. Olympic and World champion heavyweight Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan is here. Past Russian World champions Alan Dudaev and Irbek Farniev are here. Russia's three-time World champion at 60 kg, Besik Kudukhov, is training here. I mean on any given day there can be six World champions in the room working out. This is a great atmosphere, and I am excited to work out every day.

What was the motivation for doing this?

My motivation for doing this is to win a World and Olympic championship. I have done everything I could in the U.S. to prepare myself for the Worlds and Olympics, and when I got there something was missing. I figured when I was going to continue after 2008, I needed to train here in Russia. My goal was three months out of the year, but the coach here wanted me to train longer and I knew it was helping even though I wasn't getting results. I had a rough two years with injuries and two surgeries, but I know this will get me to where I need to be when it is time to win.

How has it gone so far?

I am having a blast so far. The guys are great and they treat me like I am one of their own. I have wrestled a lot of guys throughout the years from here, and I have beaten some of the best they have here, so they respect me. I am just eager to learn more of the language. It is not going to happen overnight, but I am learning a lot from these guys and a few of them speak English pretty well. I just got back from a tournament in Yakutsk and it was super hard. The tournament itself was tough, but the travel got me. It is another six times zones away from where I am staying and the flight time was three hours to Moscow and another six to Yakutsk. Coming home, there was a snowstorm the night before we left. We were delayed, which caused us to miss the connection, so we had to fly to Nalchik and then drive. The way home took 26 hours. Now I have to get ready to wrestle in Grozny, which will be just as tough as the Worlds.

How much Russian can you speak? How do you communicate with the people there?

I can understand some, but speaking it is hard. I know a lot of words and every week I am learning more and more so hopefully by the end of the year I will be able to have a conversation with somebody. At practice, the doctor speaks English so that helps but other than that I am pretty silent most of the day.

What is the coolest part about Russia?

The coolest part about Russia is the wrestlers they have here. They are raised to believe they are the best and it is contagious. After training here, I am going to have the same attitude as these guys.

Anything about Russia that people back home may not know?

I mean there are not any big secrets they have here. I think the biggest thing people don't understand is that under Soviet rule they had a very organized system. When the Soviet Union broke up, the clubs continued the same system. It's not like in the U.S. where each coach may have their own twist on how to run practice and get guys ready for the Worlds or Olympics. If I packed my bags and moved from Vladikavkaz to Khasavyurt or Makhachkala, the training will be the same, the practice structure will be the same, everything is the same. I think when they get together as a team for their training camps they have more continuity then we have.

Favorite food to eat in Russia?

Well, I would have to say the soup. Breakfast is always eggs and yogurt and bread. Lunch is always soup, some kind of meat like chicken or beef and a side like rice or pasta or potatoes. Dinner is some kind of meat and a side. They always have fresh cut tomatoes and cucumbers to eat, as well as honey and walnuts. But the soup is homemade goodness. I look forward to the soup from the second I wake up.

Best place to visit in Russia?

I have only been to a few cities here because of wrestling, but I plan on trying to go to St. Petersburg and Sochi before I leave, so maybe this question will be better answered in March.

How tough has it been for you the past two years, not being on the World Team after making World-level teams in 2006 and 2008?

It has been really tough, but I am not beating myself up over it. I know that I have two more years left to wrestle and I am focused on the next two years. I have been doing everything to put myself in the position to win. I know that, so I am on the right path and my time will come. I plan to have a comeback party this year in Cleveland at the U.S. Open. I was disappointed I couldn't wrestle there last year and I know I will have half the city come out and support me this season. Like I have always said, I am the King of Cleveland - not that clown who lives in Miami.

You have moved back down to 84 kg. Why did you make the move?

I knew mentally I couldn't make the weight for four years. I am getting older and it was taking its toll on me. I am not the biggest 84 kg wrestler out there and I really thought I could contend at 96 kg. Some of the international guys at the weight are not that big. They may look heavy, but really they are not. I couldn't train at 96 kg like I wanted. I was wrestling guys every day that outweighed me and it took a toll on my body and I was injured all the time. I talked to (Coach Sean) Bormet after the Trials this year and together we knew it was the best move for me to go back to 84 kg. I was planning my trip to move here for seven months. If I can make that commitment, then I can commit to getting the weight off. Living here is going to make it easy to make weight at the Open, and last weekend it was not hard at all to make weight.

What do you think it will take for you to make another Olympic Team?

To make the Olympic Team, a lot of things have to fall into place. It is hard to make the Olympic Team and you obviously have to peak at the right time and be healthy. An athlete's health is not always in their control, but I feel if I am healthy and I am training for the next two years at 84 kg, then I am the best wrestler in the World at the weight.

What do you think the U.S. needs to do to turn its fortunes around in freestyle?

I told you after the Olympics when you interviewed me at the Freestyle Summit we had in October that we do not need anything drastic to turn the team around. I think as athletes we need to become tighter as a country and get on the same page and move in that direction. I also believe we need to find a system and stick with it. When a coach has a system and all the athletes are buying into the system there will be success. Right now, I just don't see that throughout the U.S. and I have said that in the past like in the Flo interview after my match on the USS Intrepid. Ryan Churella told me I came off sounding like I was bashing the U.S. coaching staff, but that was not at all what I was doing. I was just stating what I mentioned above. It doesn't matter if I am in Vladikavkaz, Kiev, Minsk, Krasnoyarsk, they have a system and you can go and train anywhere and it is like training at home. You are comfortable and know what you are getting yourself into. Your body and mind know what to expect, so you can get more out of the workouts. You don't have to spend your time worrying if you are going to be sore for tomorrow or worry about getting hurt because your body is run-down.