Chris Saba, Mark Halvorson named as Greco-Roman coaches for 2016 U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | July 21, 2016, 10:34 a.m. (ET)
Olympic Greco-Roman Coaches Chris Saba and Mark Halvorson will help lead the Greco-Roman team in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Jennifer Gutches.

Chris Saba of Colorado Springs, Colo. and Mark Halvorson of Brentwood, Calif. have been named as the volunteer Greco-Roman coaches for the U.S. Olympic Wrestling Team in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Greco-Roman wrestling competition will be held August 14-16 at the Carioca 2 Arena in Rio.

They will work with National Greco-Roman Coach Matt Lindland and Assistant National Greco-Roman Coach Momir Petkovic in the preparation of the team and the coaching of the athletes at the Olympic Games. These assignments are subject to approval by the United States Olympic Committee.

Saba coached the 2016 U.S. Greco-Roman Team at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in Frisco, Texas, and was a member of the coaching staff at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. He coached the 2015 Pan American Championships team which won the Greco-Roman team title, and has coached a number of other U.S. teams on international tours. He is a former Greco-Roman Coach with the New York Athletic Club. As an athlete, Saba competed on two U.S. World Teams, and placed second at the 1996 and the 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. He was a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete for many years.

“It is flattering, that I was selected to coach our Olympic Team. Without winning a medal myself, I was around elite international Greco-Roman for a decade. I went to two Olympic Games as an alternate. I was a helper there for the Olympic athletes. I have seen the guys who win at the highest level and those who do not. I think I have a sense of what it takes to win. There is a common denominator for those who are successful. I am thankful and very appreciative that I can help this team,” said Saba.

Halvorson has coached U.S. World Teams on the Senior, UWW Cadet, UWW Junior and University levels, as well as at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games. He was a Senior World Team coach in 2014 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Halvorson is head coach of the Community Youth Center (CYC) of Concord, Calif., and is a personal coach for 2016 Olympian Robby Smith. He is a leader within California USA Wrestling, and is also head coach for a strong program at De La Salle High School.

“I am very humbled with the opportunity. I really enjoy working with the staff and the wrestlers. I have had quite a journey, coaching at Cadet Worlds, Junior Worlds, Youth Olympic Games, Pan American Games and Senior World Championships. Now getting to work at the Olympic Games is icing on the cake. At this level, you are working with grown men who are professionals. They are at a different place than younger athletes in the way you approach them. They have different challenges and the dynamics of it are different,” said Halvorson.

Both Olympic coaches have confidence in the U.S. Greco-Roman Olympic athletes in their quest to win medals for Team USA.

“I think we have a great team. If you look at all the teams who qualified wrestlers for Rio, we are one of the top programs. All of our guys have a shot. Jesse Thielke comes off a great performance at the final Olympic Qualifier. Andy Bisek has won World medals. Robby Smith handled the Russian at the 2015 Worlds. Ben Provisor has a tough weight class but he has been at the Olympics before. Their confidence level is high. Success is addictive. When the other guys do it, you believe you can do it,” said Saba.

“The goal is four medals. Gold medals is the ultimate goal. That is what we are striving for. They guys have good attitudes. Everybody is looking to have a great tournament in Rio and succeed. There has been a lot of improvement. We did a lot of good work in Concord, Calif. at our first training camp, a lot of foundation-based training. We continued in Azerbaijan, where they had good training. They have had a great start here in Colorado Springs. There is great progress, mentally and physically. We are fine-tuning and targeting the individual needs of each guy on the team,” said Halvorson.

Saba and Halvorson have coached the U.S. Greco-Roman Olympians during Olympic training camps in Colorado Springs, Colo., Concord, Calif. and Baku, Azerbaijan.

“I couldn’t ask for a better support staff than Chris Saba and Mark Halvorson. I couldn’t ask for more solid guys to help us leading up to the Olympic Games and on the ground in Rio,” said National Greco-Roman Coach Matt Lindland.

Lindland, a 2000 Olympic silver medalist and 2001 World silver medalist, has worked closely with Saba going back to their days as training partners and friends on Greco-Roman Team USA.

“I met Chris Saba when I moved to Colorado Springs in 1994 when the Greco-Roman resident program started. Chris and I were daily training partners and have remained best friends since. He never left Colorado Springs after our resident athlete days, where he was the team caption. Chris works a full-time job as a medical device rep and still makes time to come into training multiple days during the week. He works with the guys on the mat and off the mat as a mentor. He and his wife Hillary, a two-time judo Olympian, have hosted many team functions and always open up their home to the athletes.

“Chris and I both attended the 1996 Olympic Games as training partners for the USA team. We did whatever we could to help contribute to the team, and I know that Chris will do everything in his power to help this team win their medals. Chris and I were on so many teams together I lost count. He was always the best teammate. I will never forget how much he did to help me win my medal in the Sydney Games. Chris came up short making the 2000 Olympic Team. Although Chris was not wrestling in the Olympics, he did everything in his power to help his friends prepare and compete. We won three medals that year and it was selfless teammates like Chris Saba that helped us do that,” said Lindland.

Lindland has also worked closely with Halvorson since becoming USA Wrestling’s National Greco-Roman Coach.

“I have blessed over the past two years to work with Mark. He has also taken many Junior teams overseas including leading the team at the World Championship. Mark is well organized and detailed; I refer to Mark as ‘The Scientist.’ When it comes to wrestling, Mark really understands the sports physiology, the demands on the body and how an athlete’s body responds to specific training. I have had the opportunity to learn so much from Mark. I trust Mark and so do the athletes, which is important at this elite level. We have tested Mark’s theories and principles for the last couple of years in training and competition. Mark knows his stuff and brings a wealth of his knowledge to the team.”

“Mark also has great relationships with the athletes. He has coached Robby Smith since his youth days in wrestling. I have not seen a heavy weight wrestler that is as technically skilled as Robby and that his also a testament to Mark’s coaching skills and knowledge of our sport. Mark has attended every camp and major competition the team has had over the past couple of years and he was an obvious choice to work with the athletes as Olympic Coach,” said Lindland.

CHRIS SABA BIOGRAPHY

Saba was a coach for the 2016 U.S. team which competed at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in Frisco, Texas which was led by champion Jordan Holm (85 kg). He coached the 2015 Pan American Championships team which won the Greco-Roman team title. Saba has coached a number of USA Senior teams on international tours, including two trips to Cuba, plus events in Bulgaria and other locations. Saba served with the coaching staff at the 2015 U.S. World Championships, which were held in Las Vegas, Nev.

Saba regularly helps coach top Greco-Roman athletes who train at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. He attends workouts often, training with the athletes and providing coaching support to the Greco-Roman program.

For many years, he served as a Greco-Roman coach for the national power New York Athletic Club and coached top athletes at the U.S. Open and the World Team Trials.

As an athlete, Saba was one of the best in the nation in Greco-Roman wrestling. He competed on the 1997 and 1998 U.S. World Team, and was the U.S. Open champion in 1997 and 1998. He was second in both the 1996 and 2000 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Saba won silver and bronze medals at the Pan American Championships. He won international medals at the Granma Cup in Cuba, the Dave Schultz Memorial International, the Concord Cup and the Sunkist Kids International in the United States. He was one of the first Greco-Roman athletes to train full-time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center when he joined the resident program back in 1993.

Saba was third in the 1996 U.S. Open, and was the 1994 U.S. Olympic Festival champion. He also claimed a silver medal at the 1999 New York AC International. Saba was second in the 1993 and 1994 University Nationals, third at the 1990 Espoir Nationals and third at the 1989 Junior Nationals.

He was a starter on Syracuse University’s varsity wrestling team and placed fourth in the 1988 New York State High School Championships for Bethlehem Central High School.

Saba works as a sales territory manager for Depuysynthes, the medical device division of Johnson & Johnson. He is married to Hillary Wolf Saba, a two-time Olympian (1996 and 2000) and a Junior World champion in judo, and they are raising sons Michael and Dylan in Colorado Springs, Colo.

MARK HALVORSON BIOGRAPHY

Halvorson served as 2014 U.S. Greco-Roman World Team Coach in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The United States placed 12th in the World, with Andy Bisek (75 kg) winning a bronze medal and Spenser Mango (59 kg) placing fifth.

He was also on the coaching staff at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, Nev. and the 2013 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Halvorson also led the 2014 Pan American Championships team in Mexico City, Mexico. He is a personal coach for Olympian and three-time U.S. World Team member Robby Smith, who first started wrestling for Halvorson at age 9.

In 2013, he was the Head Coach of the Junior Greco-Roman World Team in Bulgaria. In 2012, he coached at the Cadet World Championships in Azerbaijan, and the Junior World Championships in Thailand. Halvorson was a 2006 UWW Junior World Team coach. He was an assistant coach for the 2003 University World Team at the Olympic Hopes Tournament in Hungary. Halvorson was Team Leader for the 2001 UWW Junior World Team, and Head Coach of the 2000 UWW Cadet World Team.

He served as the U.S. coach in all three styles at the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, which was the first time that the International Olympic Committee hosted this prestigious event. Halvorson also coached a 2004 UWW Junior tour team.

He is the head wrestling coach for the Community Youth Center of Concord, Calif. (CYC). Since he took over the CYC wrestling program in 1998, CYC has produced 210 State champions, 45 Regional Champions, 40 California Triple Crown winners, 141 USA All-Americans, 21 National Champions, 17 international tournament medalists, one Junior Pan American Champion, three Junior World Team members, one Youth Olympian, and two Senior national team members. In addition, CYC has won 65 age group team state championships since he joined the organization. His CYC teams have competed in France, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

Halvorson served as the California Greco Roman Head Wrestling coach from 1996 to 2008, and the California Greco Roman Coach for the Junior National Duals in 2000. Team California won five unofficial national team championships while he was the head coach. Halvorson also served on the California USA Wrestling Executive Committee for two years. In 1998, he was named the Western States Developmental Coach of the Year by USA Wrestling. In 2006, he earned his National Coaches Education Program Gold Coaching level certification from USA Wrestling, the highest level of achievement in coaching.

Halvorson is tournament director for the successful Junior Greco-Roman World Duals, which has been hosted for 17 years in Concord, Calif. Over the years, teams from Germany, Estonia, Norway, Sweden, Hungary, Mexico and Honduras and others have all participated in this event.

He also works as the varsity wrestling coach at De La Salle High School. His team has won 16 North Coast Section (NCS) Championships, seven individual tournament team titles, nine NCS Dual Team titles. In 2011 and 2012 the team finished in the top four at the California state meet, and has been a top-10 team in the state five times. He also has produced 28 CIF State medalists, 49 North Coast Section Champions, and 89 CIF State Qualifiers. Halvorson was named the Contra Costa Times Coach of the Year seven times. He has also received De La Salle Coach of the Year honors in 2004 and 2009.

Halvorson graduated cum laude with a Bachelor’s Degree from San Francisco State University with a Social Science emphasis, and received a California Single Subject Teaching Credential from Chapman University.