USA Wrestling

Jul 07 UPDATED July 23: The Official Rusty Davidson Blog: Rusty's Final Tour

By Rusty Davidson | July 07, 2014, 2 p.m. (ET)
 Read the Official Rusty Davidson blog about his final
international tour this month! John Sachs Photo.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

I promised you the story of me and Lazar. Buckle up.

Ovidiu Lazar is a Romanian referee who lives in Bucharest. We met in 1993 at the European Junior Championship in Gotzis, Austria. Both of us were “on the way up”.

If you’re associated with wrestling, in any capacity, you’ll know this: T-Shirts and Lapel Pins are the equivalent of currency. Every tournament, every country, every year… the big deal is handing out T-Shirts and Pins to friends you work with.

Most people, it’s fair to say, kinda’ hang and wait, confident that the real friends won’t forget them. There are others that, for their own reasons, push and pester and beg for a knick-knack. My friend Lazar is one of those.

The other Europeans say (and I believe) Ovidiu comes from Gypsy heritage. This, they say, makes coveting and hoarding an innate component of his being. I guess choosing to believe this makes it easier for me to look past it. I have learned to tolerate what many Americans cannot, in Lazar’s social deportment.

I’ve also learned that, in most countries, it is natural, polite and acceptable for one referee to “put in a good word” for the athletes of his/her country with the other referees. I can’t tell you how often it actually pays off. I can tell you it happens quite often. I can tell you the notion simply does not fit the American way of thinking.

In 1997, I paid my own way to work the African Juniors in Durban, South Africa. I managed my travel so that I could go directly to the World Cadets in Maribor, Slovenia. Being the ‘extra’ referee, I got permission to stay with a family, just outside Maribor. This saved me a bunch of money. (Eva and I will stay with the same family, next week!)

The two assigned Americans were Tom Clark and Tom Siar. We were all growing into success, along with guys like Lazar. That generation of referees remain close, to this day.

During a medal session, one afternoon, I was just getting focused to go on the mat for a match between Romania and somebody. Seconds before I went up on the platform, Lazar approached me, gave me the wink-wink, and suggested the Romanian kid could ‘use a little help’. I was torched!

It was a pretty good match. The Romanian won. It was not close. Still, I felt tarnished because everyone had seen the request. The last thing any of us need, especially when we’re just getting close to promotion, is for others to think we might be on the take.

Right after the session, I stopped by Tom and Tom’s room for a soda pop and some story telling (OK… maybe it wasn’t soda-pop). A knock on the door, and it’s Lazar and the President of the Romanian Federation. They came by to “Thank Me”.

That’s when I lost it! I jumped up, screaming obscenities, poking fingers in chests (both of these were BIG guys). I made it abundantly clear that, “I do not cheat! Americans do not cheat! And, if you ever approach me again, alone or in public, I will $&*@#ing %#*& you!!!

I know he rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but Ovidiu Lazar has respected my integrity. He has never even come close to putting either of us in a rough situation. WE had a drink that night in Slovenia and have been friends ever since.


Tuesday, 22 July 2014

I always hate the three o’clock in the morning starts. There are a lot of them in this lifestyle. This alarm went off in a hotel room near the airport in Kosice, Slovakia. One eye open, I mumbled enough to wake my roommate, Mark Hall.

Our ticketing had come through, last night, and I was successful checking us in online. We went out to eat. The lady at the desk recommended a place called Jazz Klub… she was right.

The restaurant was half a block off Hlavna Ulica, the Old Town of Kosice. From what our best friend, Google, had to say, it’s a great place to sightsee, pick up some history, and take a few pictures wearing something besides a singlet.

Our dinner was great, but our walk was brief. Kosice got more rain, last night, than Grants, New Mexico has had this decade! Mark and I toughed it out, for at least the first few blocks, and did get a couple of pics. Make sure you get Mark to tell you the story of me and my brand new umbrella. You’ll get a chuckle.

Rain and all, our flights were on time. We had a nap, and then coffee, in Vienna. Mark’s now safely on a flight to Chicago O’Hare. He knows exactly where his passport and boarding pass are. He’s got a handwritten script of what to do to catch his Lansing flight. His phone is charged, so he can call his parents, text me, and set his alarm for four o’clock!

I’m off to another gate, for another nap. I, too, will set an alarm. My flight to Bucharest leaves at 3:20. I’m staying a few days with Ovidiu Lazar. Many of the older guys in Fargo will recognize Lazar’s name. No doubt, stories will be told.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell my version.


Monday, 21 July 2014

Things are good. Life’s working. And one very tired Slovakian goat tinkled through the night. Mark Hall’s passport arrived at Hotel Alibaba just before noon. The timing allowed us to catch the last team bus from Hummene to the airport in Kosice.

We found the hotel Mitch Hull has suggested, which is right across the street from a huge, new mall. Mark and I could not resist a Mickey D’s run.

We’re gonna’ hang for a while, so I can work on getting airline confirmation. Cody Bickley is working on that, first thing this morning. Looks like things are getting easier.

Mark and I are planning to Kosice’s Hlavna Ulica this evening. This Main Street is a renovated walking street on the original medieval town center. We both agree that, if we’re gonna’ be stuck here an extra day, we should see something extraordinary.

Mark Hall is a cool kid. He’s pretty much a beast, on the mat… very slick hips! Off the mat, he’s a little reserved… doesn’t make a lot of noise. He’s a very deep person. I have enjoyed building conversation with a young man that can think deeply, and does. We have shared some travel stories and laughed a lot.

Mark Hall is a cool kid!


Sunday, 20 July 2014

Sometimes, plans change. This is one of those times. Our most recent World Champion, Mark Hall, is not getting on the bus with the team at one o’clock tomorrow morning. Mark has no passport.

The good news is that the passport is found. The bad is that it was found in the locker room of a sauna in Vienna, Austria. Our freestyle guys had an extended layover, on the way in, so they found a hotel with a sauna. Mark’s passport fell out of his bag.

Upon arrival in Hummene, all athletes were asked for passports to complete hotel registration. You can picture the exponential growth of panic, as Mark searched. Fortunately, someone has turned it in to the desk in Austria.

Team Leader Mitch Hull had hard copies of everyone’s inside page. The FILA leadership was gracious and trusting, in letting Mark weigh in with the copy. So, the last remaining problem was getting the passport from Vienna to Hummene.

Kosice, Slovakia’s second largest city is about a two-hour drive. FedEx was able to get the passport that far. From there to Hummene, seems like, is going to involve bicycles, ox carts, and maybe a small goat with a bell around its neck. FedEx doesn’t do Hummene.

Everyone in the American delegation is scheduled on a five o’clock plane to Vienna, tomorrow morning. The bus, as I mentioned, leaves at one. Mark is staying behind, waiting to hear the bell on the goat. Somebody, over 18 if not mature, has to stay with him. Any ideas?

Mitch knew, when he got here, that I would not go home with the team. I was supposed to drive, with a Romanian referee, from here to Bucharest. He left immediately after the finals. I didn’t.

We are told that, if it doesn’t stop to eat, the goat with the bell, may deliver Mark’s passport by six o’clock tomorrow night. If that’s true we can hitch a ride into Kosice in time to catch Tuesday’s 5:00am to Vienna. After I watch Mark walk down the jet-way, passport in hand, I’ll go catch a flight into Bucharest. I have a friend there that will pick me up.

I have the luxury of not being in a hurry. Yes, I’m anxious to spend a couple of days exploring Romania. But, I’ve got plenty of time to get someone else’s kid safely on a plane. Others have done the same for me. Another chance to say, ”Thank You”.


Saturday, 19 July 2014

Fargo starts today, and I want to wish everybody well. I’m not gonna’ make it this year, and I hope you’ll understand.

It’s funny. We all wonder, sometimes, if we’re the only one who has this crazy addiction. Not by a long shot!

My roommate, here in Hummene, is Jerry Kuntz. He paid his own way to get in a clinic to maintain his category. Jerry will leave here Monday morning at one o’clock. He’ll fly out of Kosice at 5:00, change planes in Vienna and Chicago, and get to Fargo Monday night around 6:00. He packed two bags last week and sent one, with the Oklahoma guys, to Fargo.

Cody Hesser might hold the record, though. Cody left Louisiana in early June. He did the Schoolboy/girl Duals in Indiana and visited family. From there, Cody went directly to Florida for the Cadet Duals. After a quick stop at home, to unpack and pack, he was off to Oklahoma for the Junior Duals.

Next, for Cody, were the University Worlds, then from Hungary directly to Mexico City for the Pan American Championship. He left Mexico City Friday to be in the clinic in Fargo today. Road Warrior!!!

There are so many folks in our organization that put in that kind of mileage. With me being on the road to thank so many foreigners, it seems only fair that I should extend my heartfelt gratitude to all the American coaches and referees that have made my life so rich.

Thank You!


Friday, 18 July 2014

I first worked with Gregorz Brudzinski at the Rockford International Tournament, in Illinois, in 1987. Gregory is an Instructor for FILA and is one of the delegates here in Hummene.

At the time, Gregory was in the U.S. on a temporary work visa. He was driving a truck in Chicago. He brought his refereeing hobby with him to the States, but left a young wife and two kids in Poland.

After two years of paperwork, he got word that he would, in fact be able to gain American citizenship, and then bring his family over. Problem was, it would take another three years. Greg thanked his sponsor, quit his job and went home to his family. Good choice!

Gregory was always a prankster… still is. I’ve been fortunate to be around him in several tournament climates, in several countries. He takes care of business, but always keeps the mood light hearted.

One of my favorite memories was a tour of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Gregory and his wife walked along with Eva and me. He wore one of the traditional Mongolian hats… the one with the spire on top… through the whole tour. I can only imagine what the Chinese must have thought.

Gregory’s been messing with me, pretty hard, here. I’m getting a lot of “Old Guy” grief. He told some of those Rockford stories, one morning, in our clinic. “Thirty years we’ve been together,” he said. Gregorz Brudzinski is my friend.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

I am fortunate to find myself in a lot of situations to speak with, counsel, and guide some very talented, up-and-coming referees. Some continue the dialogue forever. Some drift away as they become successful. I encourage all to choose and maintain a handful of mentors.

Some of those guys are here, at the Cadet Worlds. They have reached the top category in FILA and are being evaluated for Olympic consideration. Most handle their success very humbly, and they just keep getting better. A few start believing they’re bulletproof and become real jerks. They not only stop getting better, they get instantly worse. Ironically, they fade from the scene pretty quickly.

I worked, the last few days, with a couple of guys that fall into that category. One good thing about being the old guy is that I’ve learned to kinda’ lay back and be entertained. Mama always said, “Don’t wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it”.

I work hard at trying to keep the younger guys from getting rattled by the intimidation. As an assistant mat leader, I get the freedom to spend a few extra minutes patting backs, squeezing shoulders, making eye contact, nodding and saying thank you.

It has given me another opportunity to be thankful for my teachers. Beyond mechanics and positioning, the guys that mentored me really pushed the ego management. Don’t get me wrong; you have to have an ego to wrestle, coach or referee. But our sport has a way of dealing with those that get their priorities out of whack.

I’ve learned to think of performance and work ethic in the analogy of an eighteen-wheeler truck and trailer. Your ability is the tractor that pulls the load, while your ego is the trailer. If your trailer gets out in front of your truck, there’s gonna’ be a wreck.

Keep your truck in front of your trailer!


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Day sixteen, and I gotta’ get to forty-two. Now, wait, I’m not whining. I planned this trip for two years and I’m exactly where I want to be. That still doesn’t prevent me from getting a little homesick.

I had my first big walk-about in 1995, when I spent forty-five days back-packing my way from tournament to tournament, all over Europe. The guys I consider my teachers had been pushing me, real hard, to pay my own way and work some key European events.

I had been pretty successful, climbing my way up the American ladder. In those days, it was a lot more ‘pay to play’. The organization was not going to spend money, assigning someone to a lot of trips, until they saw that individual invest in their own future.

I had gotten a really cool assignment in January of 1995. I got to do the Ivan Podubny tournament, arguably the finest Greco championship on the planet. So, it was time for me to show a commitment to my own success.

I was fortunate enough to be assigned as a Coach / Team Leader for a Juniors tour to Slovenia, in June. Upon sending that group home with Coach Todd Rosenthal, I stayed behind.

After a brief stay in Austria, I spent the Fourth of July in Zurich. From Switzerland I caught a series of trains to end up in Witten, Germany. This was the site of the 1995 European Junior Men’s Championship.

After Witten, I spent some days in Paris and went on to Lyon. Then, after a quick stop in Geneva, I caught a night train to Gothenburg, Sweden. I made my way, by bus, down the coast to Klippan for the first ever European Junior Women’s Championship.

Another night train got me back to Vienna to catch my flight to the States. I got home Monday night, after forty-five days, unpacked, packed and left Wednesday to teach a session in the Silver Coaches’ College in Atlanta.

Thanks for that walk down memory lane. The reason I told you all that stuff, from almost 20 years ago, was to help you understand why my 2014 Walkabout is so important to me. In many ways, I’m simply returning to the scene.


Tuesday, 15 July 2014

I’m feeling bad for our Greco kids. But, truth be known, I’m tired of feeling bad for our Greco kids.

Know, first, I am a Greco “guy”. I’ve always been a Greco “guy”. That’s the source of my frustration. As individuals, none of our kids deserve the beating they so often take, overseas. As a program, unfortunately, we do deserve it, but it’s those great kids that have to take the beating for us.

I don’t blame any individual or group for this. I blame us all. With all the efforts Coach Fraser poured into developing a 21st century program, we had some success. I’m hoping Coach Lindland can take this to an even higher level. Without us committing, though… and I mean from brand new little kids through graduating college kids, no National Coach can be expected to produce much more than what we have.

Here we are with our Cadets, some wonderful kids. They’re all self-funded, which makes the choice between Slovakia and Fargo a tough one. The one athlete that chose not to attend the team camp came in and missed weight. Some of our most successful, in domestic competition, got absolutely schooled. Again, I’m not knocking the kids. I’m knocking the system that’s short-changing them.

Fast forward to High School and College athletes. Many of our “finest” coaches insist that only freestyle can help a kid in the folkstyle environment. Nonsense!

I realize there’s a sensitive and complicated formula in developing and maintain our overall National Teams program. I don’t pretend to know the details of budget and planning.

But I do know this: Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Sport focuses on youth and our youth are doing their part. I hope we invest as heavily in our Greco Roman Olympians, on the 2024 and 2028 teams as we ask them to invest of themselves.


Monday, 14 July 2014

“Why do we do this?” If I had a nickel for every time I’ve been asked that question…

And, I phrased it WE, rather than YOU, intentionally. Many of the conversations I’ve had over the last two weeks… with some of the best friends in the world… who all ‘Do This’… have asked that same question.

It’s one thing when someone outside wrestling asks. We all give some version of the standard, smart-alec answer, “If you’re a wrestler, you get it without asking. If you’re not a wrestler, there’s no answer that you’ll understand”.

But, when a peer, a colleague, a fellow ‘addict’ brings it up, whoa! We’re in for a conversation, now! It invariably gets into some deep philosophical exploration. My perspective always leans toward the eastern thinking… Zen.

In the end, we all agree that we do this because we GET to, because we WANT to, and yeas, because we HAVE to. We agree that all civilized men and women, for all time, have felt the need to validate themselves through some activity outside of hunting for food.

In a word, we recreate. And, like all forms of recreation, we include both competitive and cooperative domains. In wrestling, it is the competition that catches the bulk of our attention. Whether referee or coach or competitor, we re-tell the stories of the great matches time and time again.

But we also have the great stories of cooperation, of teammates, sometimes soul mates. I love the stories that start with, “We were in such-n-such”. Or, “So-n-so and I were together in such-n-such”. Or, “At such-n-such, I got to referee the bout between so-n-so and what’s-his-name. The list goes on.

OK… I’ll lighten up. Suffice it to say that this beautiful sport DOES recreate us. We get to look up to great heroes. We get to sit, for a few minutes, with honest to goodness, down home GOOD people. As the poet Whitman would say, “We get to suck the sweet marrow out of life”. Thanks Wrestling!

Tomorrow: Cadet Worlds.


Sunday, 13 July 2014

As I leave Pecs, it’s another one of those collectible moments. You already know that I’ve put a great deal of planning into this sojourn. Still, things change. This one was a good change.

The original plan, worked out back in March, was that I would leave Pecs with Peter Bacsa. He would hand me off to the Hungarian team and I would ride their bus from Budapest to Hummene / Snina.

What changed was until I discovered Miro Vojkovic was in Pecs. Miro is a Slovakian official, and another one of my favorite humans. Obviously, he is one of the organizers of the Cadet Championship. Therefore, he needed to drive directly from Pecs to Hummene. I hopped in with Miro.

We left Pecs at 5:00am, stopped for gas in Budapest, crossed the border about 9:00 and arrived in Kosice near 10:00. Miro’s aunt, who’s also his Godmother, lives in Kosice. Her granddaughter is Miro’s Goddaughter. Mischa was celebrating her third birthday.

So, Miro shows up, dragging this old guy along. Obviously, from a three-year-old’s perspective, any old guy with Miro must be “Grandpa”. Mischa grabbed my hand and led me directly to the toys. We played, sang, had coffee and cake and played some more. I know, for sure, the old guy had fun!

Another two hours and we arrived in Hummene (Hoomenay), where the Championship will be held. Literature lists the event in Snina. Snina is a village, right on the Ukrainian and Polish borders, with a very strong wrestling club. Selected to host the World Championship, the Snina leaders will use the sport hall and hotels of Hummene to accommodate.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

The future of our Greco-Roman program has some high-octane fuel. The six young men, and their coaches, that represented us here are proof.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have a lot of work to do… we do. But I hope Coach Lindland and Coach Petkovic, and the staff they organize, can appreciate the depth of our upcoming talent.

Globally, Greco-Roman wrestling is still facing some obstacles. Recent rule adjustments are doing a lot to breathe new life into what was a dying sport. We saw a lot of spectacular scoring in the University Worlds. The system is working.

Unfortunately, change takes longer with some. We have a few dinosaurs out there, still coaching to “Get the Call”, then feel cheated when they don’t. Stop! With the rules back in harmony, offense is king. If we practice both technique and tactic which are offense oriented, all the “Calls” take care of themselves. We must capitalize on the gifts these rules offer.

It’s time for me to thank the Americans that made this a wonderful week for me. Athletes should always come first. What a classy bunch of people we put on the mat this week. Thank you girls and guys!

Our Greco coaches, Rodney Smith and Tommy Owen, give us more to look forward to. Both are keen technicians and powerful motivators. Thanks.

Our women were coached by Melissa Simmons, Emma Randall and Danny Struck. Their results speak for their efforts. Great job… Thanks.

Then there’s our men’s Freestyle group. When I’m together with Mike Hagerty and Doc Bennett, I feel like a member of the cast of Grumpy Old Men. But, I also feel like I’m learning a lot about wrestling and a lot about life. The better news was I go to spend some time with Nebraska’s Bryan Snyder. Thanks, my friends.

Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Snina, Slovakia.


Friday, 11 July 2014

This is my first time at the University Championship. It’s a unique collection of people and a unique event. There are a lot of good kids here.

The event is sanctioned by the International University Sports Federation. FISU goes to FILA for sport specific support. This dual management has caused some paperwork snafus for many delegations.

The Hungarian Wrestling Federation staffs the event. They answer to FILA. Cutting to the chase… there’s some double billing going on. Fortunately, in the digital age, this can get solved with wire transfers.

Back to the “Cool Kids” theme. FISU’s mission is to “Retain the spirit of play and encourage and develop an open and curious mind among university athletes”. I see a lot of success there.

I have learned that many, if not most, of these athletes paid their own way to get here. In itself, that is remarkable. Many plan to stay around for a few days, after the tournament. Awesome! Some of the European groups will drive to other historic areas, on the way home. Thank you!

I had breakfast with young coaches from Finland and Germany. It was the German guy who emphasized, “These guys are still students. Wrestling should do something for them, if they do not become Olympic Champions”. Well said. I have noticed, all week, that it’s the German athletes up early to participate in the cultural and sightseeing tours.

Two of the Canadian girls knocked on my door yesterday, needing to borrow a roll of toilet paper. I was surprised they were still on campus. The rest of the Canadian delegation left earlier. They explained they had discovered that the Hungarian federation was hosting a training camp next week, so they had made their plans to stay. They also were excited to share the list of things they want to see in Budapest. Well done!

American, Amy Fearnside went home. But, she’s on our Juniors team and will be back to Zagreb in three weeks. When Amy found out I’m staying, she bubbled over (Amy Bubbles Over!). It turns out she collects sand, or soil, samples from every place wrestling takes her. She displays her trophies in shot glasses. Cool collection. Amy has asked me to bring a shot glass full of Slovakia, Romania, Austria and Slovenia to her in Zagreb. How can I refuse? Cool kid!

Which brings us to Mervin Orrantia. Mervin is a 48-kilogram guy, from central Mexico, who showed up unannounced, on his own, by himself, to compete in the 59 kilogram Greco tournament.

The FISU representative, Julien Buhajezuk, worked his butt off to connect all the registration dots. The Hungarian staff got him housed. It was Esther, the coordinator of housing, that came to me. Not sure why me… but I’m flattered. “He needs a coach, Rusty. Will you coach him?”

It doesn’t take a Rocket-Surgeon to figure out the right thing to do. “Sure”, I said. I mentioned it to our coaches, Tommy Owen and Rodney Smith. They were cool with it. Then I looked at the brackets. It didn’t happen, but there was a possibility that Mervin could meet Sam Jones along the way. I spoke to Sam about it. He shrugged and said, “Seems like the right thing to do. Why not?” Cool kids!

Mervin had a great first period, then pretty much got roasted. He’s tiny! Sam went on to win a bronze medal, and looked good doin’ it.


Thursday, 10 July 2014

We got our men’s Freestyle contingent on the 1:00am bus to Budapest. Today we will complete the last six women’s weights.

After bragging BJ Futrell up, yesterday, I guess my awareness became heightened. These are ALL great kids. That’s one of the cool things about being able to make these trips. The adventures and adversities of travel let us see inside people’s souls.

The last three weeks, I’ve gotten close to Matt McDonough, from Iowa. As usual, this all kind of happened by accident. It all started with storms and delayed flights.

Matt’s one of those guys that’s extremely information driven. I call him “Captain Info”. (I call Matt LOTS of things, but I can print “Captain Info”). He, like all the good ones, is also addicted to routine.

Tuesday morning, we got up early for Matt’s pre-competition walk. He needs to get active and take in a lot of visual prompts. He had scouted out the famous Zsolnay Porcelain Factory, and decided to take me there.

We went into the outlet shop, in front of the factory, for a few minutes, and then finished our walk. We had lunch, got on the bus to the competition hall, and Matt spent the rest of the day winning a Bronze Medal.

The organizers put together a series of short sightseeing tours. Pecs really is a beautiful, historic town. The tour for Wednesday was… yep… Zsolnay Porcelain. I signed us both up, Tuesday night.

Besides giving me the excuse to drag McDonough out of bed and get him goin’, the tour served another purpose. Matt’s girlfriend is an artist who specializes in ceramics. So, after seeing the process and the fabulous collection of historic pieces, we returned to the shop. Matt got his girl a magnificent jewelry dish, and a small piece for his Mom. Yes, I snagged a little something for my Eva, too.

Even Matt, himself, pointed out the obvious. It’s kinda’ weird to think that we, known mostly as Referees, get close to some, mostly known as Athletes. But we do. Pretending we don’t would violate most people’s personal ethics, certainly mine. And to choose not to would violate the human condition.

Matt called me on it at dinner, the night of his wrestle-off to make this team. He put it simply, “You’d sit here and have dinner with me and then ref my match tomorrow, and make a tough call against me, wouldn’t you?”

After replying, “Yes, I would… 100 per cent”, I hope I put “Captain Info” at ease. I said (as I have to Matt’s coaches and generations of athletes), “Matthew, it’s pretty simple. I consider you my friend. Friends get to set high expectations. Do you think it’s fair for me to expect you to be excellent?” “Of course!” “Then, it’s fair for you to expect me to be excellent, too”.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

I try not to have too many heroes, but I added a new Hero to my list today: BJ Futrell! Today, at 61kg, BJ wrestled better than well. He ended up with a silver medal and a story to tell.

In the semi-final match, BJ tweaked his right knee. The FILA doctor has full authority to pull him from the competition, and nearly did. The referee insisted he must. I try not to shout too often, but did this time. “Get up, NOW”. The doctor nodded, the referee shook his head, BJ won.

The knee did suffer a moderate strain to its MCL. The doctor was a much better guy than we thought. He explained the possible outcomes to BJ and said those magic words, “It’s your choice to continue”. He did.

BJ’s final ended 11-12, on the scoreboard. Watching it, later, I scored it 13-10. There were several hot calls, both ways. The error that bit us happened as the first period ended. Following an intense flurry, lots of points got entered into the computer. The Mat-Chairman summoned the Judge and Ref. They conferred. Two of BJ’s ‘Blue’ points got entered as ‘Red’. As Doc tossed in the Challenge Block, the Chair refused it, based on having conferred. It bit us!

Down 10-12, with a few seconds, BJ hit a hard shot, driving the Mongolian out of bounds, face down, both ankles captured. Originally scored ‘Two’, BJ wins on ‘Last Point’. After the Mongolian challenge, it was determined that only his hands were down. Two points turned to one and we lost 11-12.

Did I mention there’s a lot to be learned here? As Chair, the guy should have seized the opportunity to watch the video. (I made a bad call, earlier this year, and missed the opportunity to ASK for video review). As Team Leader, maybe this was the right time to at least start across the mat and draw the FILA Delegate’s attention.

BJ Futrell made it clear, instantly, that he had learned something. While it could not be articulated at the moment, it will turn into lots of chances for him to guide other athletes through horrible moments.

BJ Futrell will remain on one old guy’s list of heroes! This kid is a ‘Class Act’. The dignity and poise BJ showed, in and after the ‘Hurry Up’ moments of the award presentation, made us all proud to be Americans.


Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Today, the first four Men’s Freestyle weights of the University World Championship compete. We are in Pecs (pronounced Pech), in southwestern Hungary. From what I can tell, so far, Pecs is a beautiful town nestled in the mountains.

You think I’ve got stories… Doc Bennett dwarfs any ability I might claim. The guys here have given doc a new moniker, “Big Fish”. It doesn’t matter how great the tale, nor who it’s told by… Doc can, and will “Big Fish” ‘em! He took Raquel Welch shopping. (Ask your parents who that is!)

When I wandered into Doc’s and Hags’ room about one o’clock this morning, right off the bus, Doc was pestering Hags, “Where’re my clothes? You lost my clothes!” It seems the two had piled their nasty work out stuff in the anteroom of the dorm suite, intending to do laundry. The clothes somehow escaped. Doc was particularly freaked about his ‘favorite’ pair of warm up pants. Hags had no clue as to the whereabouts of the laundry.

I returned to their room, early this morning, to start on the daily plan. Half way down the hall, I could hear him, “You lost my &%$# clothes!”

After breakfast, I wandered to familiarize myself with the dorm layout. One floor down, on a chair, in a hallway, outside a Canadian athlete’s room, I discovered a pile of dirty workout gear. I have my suspicions, but we’ll never really know.

After reporting my find, I left “Pete and Repeat” (Hags & Doc) with their dirty clothes in the laundry room. They were savagely debating how to program the washer.

We spent the afternoon and evening competing on two mats in one of those good, old-fashioned, European sweatboxes. The Stars and Stripes had a pretty good day.

Tyler Caldwell is World Champion! The young man with the Zia tattoo on his ribs (Tyler spent his first 13 years in New Mexico) wrestled nearly perfectly all day.

Dustin Kilgore and Matt McDonough wrestled well. Dustin leaves with a silver medal, Matt with bronze. Anthony Ashnault wrestled well and did not place.

It’s important, to me, to preface each sentence with the words, “Wrestled Well”. Everyone who came here, did so to go home World Champion. Only 24 will.

Everyone who came here is a University “Student”. There’s a lot to be learned, if you call yourself “Student”. Most will learn, just a little more, about what’s between them and their goals. The 24, Tyler is one, will learn how to carry the title, “World Champion” and push the reset button on their “Goals APP”.


Monday, 7 July 2014

This was another one of those days that justifies the insanity! But, it’s always good to start with a little panic. As hard as they tried, the organizers of the Beach Worlds never really connected the dots.

The good news is that the bus finally DID show up. I dragged my six weeks worth of stuff, in a big red bag, the half mile to “the bus stop near the big church” at 5:45 this morning. I had been advised that a bus would meet me there at 6:15, and then go pick up the Turks, the Russians and the Estonians.

I walked around the corner, two blocks away, at 6:45, going into the nearest hotel to figure out who to call. As the hotel guy was handing me the phone, I somehow heard the diesel engine of the bus as it turned the corner. Everything I was told had been correct, but in reverse order. And… I had a guardian angel!

There’s a guy on the Turkish team that, for some reason, has decided it’s his mission to take care of me. I am flattered. This gentle giant wears a scar from his left ear to the corner of his mouth. I don’t know the story, but I remember him from my 2005 trip to Antalya (his home and site of the First Beach Championship). He remembers me.

Throughout the weekend, my friend made it clear that, in any situation that involved waiting in line, I would go first. The bus driver shared with me that my friend made it clear to him, the bus was not leaving Katerini without the American referee. I am blessed.

I must admit, I was a little conflicted when I got to Istanbul. We arrived at 11:00am and my flight to Budapest left at 6:15. To stay or to go… that was the question.
I knew that, if I stayed, I could catch up on the writing I need to get done. I knew I could pound some Gloria Jean’s coffee. I knew I could get a solid four-hour nap. I went.

You know… there’s talkin’ the talk and there’s walkin’ the walk. If I were one of those guys with a bank account to support an annual sojourn, I might have opted for the nap. I’m that sixty-year-old guy wrestling has blessed with global awareness, on a school teacher’s salary. I ‘plan’ to be back in Istanbul, but I can’t guarantee it. I kept walking.

On a side note, I HAVE been in Istanbul before. I spent a month in Istanbul one day. That was 2003 (long story). In 2010, I found out (the hard way) how long it can take to clear customs (another long story).

With a flight boarding at 5:15, I had six hours. I took the hour to clear customs and passport control, buying a Turkish visa for 30 U.S. dollars. I found a place where I could check one carry-on, all day, for 18 Turkish Lira. Not draggin’ bags today!
I learned the difference between taking the shuttle and combining the Metro and Tram rides, opting for the latter. I took the hour to ride those beasts. I left myself an extra half hour to return, making my total four and a half hours.

The hour and a half in between, though, I got to celebrate the echo of mid-day prayer dead center between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia. I had 100 grams of freshly roasted chestnuts for lunch and took advantage of the ‘only consistently free toilets on the planet’… McDonalds!

I got back to the airport with time to spare… actually time to write. I got stuff ready to send to Richard, Craig and Gary, so they can get you the real news.

My plane to Budapest was on time, there was a guy with a sign waiting for me and our freestyle guys are in good shape, ready to rock. Two quick parting notes:

Wrestling always makes the world small. I spent the last four days, in Hotel Dion, Katerini, Greece, next door to an Estonia female athlete named Mae. We left on different busses, early this morning. I went to Istanbul. Mae went to Belgrade. We arrived within minutes of each other, in Budapest and shared the same bus to Pecs.

As I get ready to sleep, it occurs to me that I watched the sunrise on the Greek Mediterranean, was on hand for mid-day prayer at the Blue Mosque, and watched the sunset just outside Budapest. Life’s good.


Sunday, 6 July 2014

I often think I have some wonderful adventures. Then, I talk with Jeff Funicello! Jeff, Ike Okoli and Scott Wendel got caught in the travel glut that resulted from Hurricane Arthur.

I pick on Jeff because I’ve known him a long, long time. All the Americans that find it normal to pay their own ways to any kind of wrestling opportunity share a certain karma. Funicello is pretty much the model.

Jeff was a pretty good Greco guy. He knocked on the door several times, during his prime. His interest in the history of the Art of War, and his willingness to sacrifice to explore that art, makes him unique.

Jeff’s true love (besides wife and child) is traditional Pankration… the kind where there are REALLY no holds barred. I’ve watched Jeff take on Modern Pankration, Sombo, Grappling (both Gi and No-Gi) and Beach Wrestling… in addition to the scholastic and Olympic styles. Most aficionados of combat sports, around the world, will ask for Jeff by name.

I’m blowing a little sunshine towards Jeff and Ike and Scott. What they went through, this week, in the pure interest of competing, is something we should all brag about when we recruit kids into our sport.

All of us put together our own travel arrangements to get to Katerini for the World Championship. Some came early. Some planned to stay late. Three planned to be on time. Those three got caught by Hurricane Arthur.

Scott got in OK… Saturday afternoon for a Sunday morning weigh in. Ike got to Katerini just after midnight, Saturday-Sunday. Like others, before him, he went to the hotel listed in the FILA website as the “Athletes‘ Hotel”. As it turns out, that was about the only hotel in Katerini that housed no athletes.

Funicello hit delay after delay after delay, and kept on coming. He arrived in Katerini about 20 minutes before his weight class competed. Kudos to FILA here… the ‘Big Bosses’ showed off the ‘New’, athlete friendly mentality. They did everything they could to help Jeff compete.

Ike was victim to, what I think, was a bad call. Still, he ended up with our only medal… Bronze. And, you know what, this kid’s got some class!

All six Americans wrestled well. Our program is gaining credibility. Beach Wrestling is gaining credibility. Congratulations and Thanks to these American athletes: 70kg Alex Stanley, NC and Jason Joyce, VA; 80kg Jarrett Payne, NC and Scott Wendel, NC; 90kg Jeff Funicello, AZ; +90kg Ike Okoli, GA.


Saturday, 5 July 2014

When we got to dinner, last night, I thought I was getting close to sleeping… Nope! Had to stay at the restaurant and watch the end of the World Cup (Soccer) match between Brazil and Colombia.

This is truly a European resort area. The several hotels we are scattered in are all right on “The Strip”, 50 meters from the water. The Norwegians and I are in Hotel Dion. Guess whose room is on the street side of the building, just above the bar… yep!

The cool part is the neon sign. I have a sliding door to my balcony, covered by those see-through, veil-like curtains. Every time a group of drunken singers walk by, I open one eye and get the bright red letters H…O… of hotel. Sweet! By the way, trash pick-up and street sweeping take place at exactly 3:20am. Rockin!

The Juniors competition went well. There are some really talented athletes here. Interestingly (at least to me), Beach Wrestling is beginning to develop technique and tactic specific to the demands of the sand. I know that was one of those giant, vague Rusty-isms, but I’ll explain it over time.

Greece, the home team, won both the men’s and women’s events again today. In case you’re wondering, competition rules heavily favor the host. Each team is allowed a maximum of THREE entries per weight. Makes sense?

Norway was second in both divisions. The Norwegians brought 25 athletes. They are bidding to host the World Championship in 2016. Romania was third in the men’s division. There was no third place team for the women.

One of the big treats, today, was the arrival of FILA President, Nenad Lalovic. I had not had the pleasure of meeting the President before, but pleasure it was. Judging from what Lalovic has accomplished in the last 18 months, it seemed like he must be a pretty decent guy. It’s beyond that. Two minutes with the man proves he is a down-home, deep-thinking, in-it-for-the-right-reasons man!

One thing he said, to me, validated the risk I have been willing to pour into the “Developing” styles. “Beach Wrestling is a gold mine for us”, he said. You know my bias, but I have to agree.

This is the right time to thank Gary Abbott, of USA Wrestling. Developing Styles is one of Gary’s assignments, on top of managing our Communication efforts. Gary comes off a little inhibited but, I assure you, he’s a guy that works his butt off and a true advocate for every part of wrestling.

So, it’s Saturday night in Katerini, and we’re watching futbol again. “We” means the Norwegians, the Swedes, and a ton of Greeks, sitting downstairs in the hotel. As a Pan-American, I root for any team from our hemisphere. But, I have to admit, last week I was pulling for Greece to beat Costa Rica. Imagine the party, here, if Greece was just coming up. Imagine!


Friday, 4 July 2014

Happy Independence Day, America! My day actually started with a little more independence than I wanted. When the Greek organizers planned this, they scheduled one hotel for teams and another for officials. Oops! It’s the peak of tourist season in the beach resort town of Katerini.

I mentioned yesterday, we’re scattered all over town. Make that ‘all over the planet. In what little news I can get, there’s a hurricane along the U.S. east coast. Lots of flights have been cancelled. We have three guys still in the States.

I found two more, this morning, in two different hotels. Another one drove in from Athens tonight. We’re getting there.

With the variety of hotels comes a vacuum of information. The only thing our hotel knows is that we’re sleeping here. There’s no information about where meetings… even the competition was to be held. And, nobody knows who knows, or which hotel they’re in.

We finally found he competition site. It’s really quite nice. Good bleachers around a well designed competition area. There’s a little bar there, so spectators can get a drink and some shade.

We held our officiating clinic at 10:45 (scheduled at 9:00). We weighed in Cadets from seven countries at about 11:30 (scheduled at 11:00). We started the Cadet tournament at 1:40 (scheduled at 1:00). We finished up, took a break, and the bus for the opening ceremony left at 8:15 (scheduled at 7:30).

The ceremony was worth every minute of delay, though. We were transported to “The Institute of Alexander the Great”, near his birthplace and at the foot of Mount Olympus. There, in an outdoor amphitheater setting, the athletes were featured as part of a concert that included traditional Greek music, singing and dance. Very cool!

On the Beach, today, we saw Cadets from Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Norway, Russia and Sweden. The hosts, Greece, won both the women’s and men’s trophies. Norway finished second in the men’s and third in the women’s. Sweden was runner-up in the women’s division. Estonia took third in the men’s.

We just got back from the ceremony. It’s shortly after midnight and they have brought us to the restaurant for dinner. Better go…


Thursday, 3 July 2014

After a pretty sound sleep, I had breakfast in Budapest… good coffee! I caught the shuttle back to Ferihegy International Airport thinking I was off to Istanbul. That was before I tried to check in, and found out my friends at Priceline only completed half of a schedule change. I had been cancelled, in the Turkish Air computer!

Thanks to some thoughtful guys in the Turkish Air office, I got back into the system. I managed to make the flight to Istanbul.

My transfer time was really short, but the incoming flight was delayed one hour. I used that hour to make time to stop for another “special” cup of coffee. Istanbul’s airport does not have a Starbucks, but they do have a Gloria Jean’s!

What’s special about Gloria Jean’s is that there’s also one in Fargo and we go there, every morning, during the National Cadets and Juniors. When I say we, I mean a select few. Bill Stecklein, Casey Brennan-Goessl and I are regulars.

We often include others. We’re open to anyone who wants to get up early. We generally meet up with the entire Coaching staff from New York. A lot of guys give us grief, but our morning coffee outings have become quite a tradition. Rick Tucci calls them our “Walks of Wisdom”. I can’t vouch for the wisdom but, with three generations present, we’ve managed to work each other through some of life’s problems, both inside and outside of wrestling.

Fortunately, I was on the same flight as the large Turkish delegation. Thessaloniki is an hour and a half bus ride from the beach in Katerini. Lots of people got stranded, with no ground transport.

I learned more, as we got to the registration site. This is a resort town and, despite reasonable efforts, the organizers were not able to come through with the hotels they had promised. We are scattered all over town. I couldn’t find any of the six American athletes that are supposed to be here.

About 3:00am, I faded. The Cadet competition starts tomorrow and I have a meeting, SOMEWHERE, at 9:00.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Paris! I did not schedule an eight-hour layover intentionally. But, I did take full advantage of it. Dragging my carry-on, I cleared passport control, found the Air France bus into town, bought the ticket and hopped on.

An hour and fifteen minutes of killer traffic later, we arrived at the stop. It sits on one of the streets that wheel-spoke out from the Arc de Triomph. One of the bus porters tried to help me figure a metro route to my destination. The best we could put together was that it was “complicated”. So I walked.

Paris is not scorching hot, but dragging the roller-board and carrying the backpack, 45 minutes up Champs Elysees, I broke a pretty good sweat. Crossing the Seine, I hiked another few blocks, and I was there.

My destination was Musee d’Orsay. Perhaps one of Paris’ less famous museums, it has been my favorite, since I stumbled onto it in 1995. Orsay is home to the Impressionists, those nature-loving painters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Situated in a beautifully renovated train station, Orsay holds work by Van Gogh, Renoirs, Cezanne, and others. My favorites, though, are the notorious Frenchman, Claude Monet, and a Brit, Alfred Sisley. Orsay holds magnificent collection of both men’s work.

With a little help, I did discover a metro route back to my bus stop. I got back to Charles de Gaulle airport with time for a cappuccino.

I got into Budapest around 10:30 but, of course, still had to do the passport control, baggage claim and customs. I checked into a small hostel, not far from the airport.

Tomorrow, it’s back to the airport around noon. My flight leaves Budapest at 2:15pm. After a quick turnaround in Istanbul, I’ll arrive in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Today was one of those that makes it all worth it. I find so much tranquility just sitting in a room full of Impressionist art. What a treat!

I’ll leave you with a chuckle. AFTER I dragged the roller-board carry-on and my back pack all over Paris, I got back to the airport to have “Chachi”, the airport security guru tell me I could only have one carry-on. He made me check the bag I had just pulled all day. You gotta’ keep a sense of humor!


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

So… here’s how this story ends: FILA, the International Governing Body for Olympic Wrestling, have a mandatory retirement age for referees and I’ve reached it. I’m making my last tour, overseas, this summer. As has become custom and, with the help of USA Wrestling’s Communication Department and, I’ll be sharing my journey via blog.

The retirement age was put into effect after the Games of Athens, 2004. The rule has a good purpose. It’s no surprise. It is something I have looked forward to and planned for a decade. Showtime!

The way the international calendar was built, 2014 turned out to be the perfect summer for what I’m calling, Rusty’s “Last Walkabout”. I have a lot planned. A lot, that I don’t have planned, will surely find me.

I fly out of Albuquerque today and get home near midnight, August 11th. That’s exactly six weeks on the road. Eva will join me July 28th. (Sunday, we celebrated our First Anniversary.)

Before we get going, there are a couple of key disclaimers you deserve. You can boil them down to what I Think… and what I Don’t Think.

I think wrestling… all wrestling holds the power to enrich the lives of average men and women. I think I’m proof. I don’t think my life is more cool or enriched than yours. I offer to share my wandering, simply as entertainment for people immersed, or interested in the sport.

I think I’ve earned my way. Nothing about wrestling, coaching, refereeing is a gimme’. We all pay dues. I don’t think I’ve paid any dues that countless great ones, before me and after me, have or will pay.

I think I’m a decent student and active observer. I see what I see, hear what I hear, evaluate with care, and arrive at what I hope to be educated conclusions. I do not hesitate to share those. I don’t think my conclusions are better than any other. Nor do I claim that mine are always right. They are offered with a clean heart and corrected when warranted.

I think that the events I plan to share with you are significant. I don’t think they diminish what’s going on in The States, especially Fargo. Pay attention to that first. If Kolbe, Gary and Craig and Richard work my blog in, around the edges, take me with a grain of salt. Smile and be entertained.

My son, Sterling (who many of you know is the “Parent” in our relationship) gave me a bit of advice, and I plan to hinge my journey around it. We met, back in March and I told him about the plan. I said, “I’m gonna’ go look for one last adventure”. With his unshakeable wisdom, Sterling answered, “Dad, go look for peace. The adventure will find you.” Thanks, Sterling!

OK… here we go! A quick turnaround in Minneapolis where, I’m confident, either my luggage or I will make the connection… not both. Minneapolis in July? Just sayin’.

Tomorrow… Paris.