Kamal Bey celebrates winning a gold medal at the Junior World Wrestling Championships during August 2017 in Tampere, Finland.
It wasn’t the type of performance that coach Matt Lindland envisioned.
Lindland’s U.S. Greco-Roman team entered the 2017 UWW World Wrestling Championships with high expectations but left without winning a medal. And not really even coming close.
For the second straight year, the American Greco squad was shut out in the medal department at its biggest tournament of the season. The U.S. squad went a combined 5-9 in the tournament with no American winning more than one match in Paris. None of the eight U.S. wrestlers reached the quarterfinals, and the U.S. finished in a tie for 30th place in the team standings with one point.
“It was frustrating — real frustrating,” Lindland said. “It’s tough to see what happened. It was tough to have to go through that.”
It’s only been 11 years since the U.S. won the world team title in Greco-Roman.
But that seems longer ago now.
Lindland feels like he has the type of team to change his program’s fortunes this year. The 10-man American Greco-Roman world team features a number of gifted young stars as it prepares to compete at the world championships in Budapest, Hungary. Six of those wrestlers are new to the U.S. world team.
“I’m super thrilled with the talent we have,” Lindland said. “We have some younger athletes who have stepped up and proven themselves at the junior level. Now they are hungry to go prove it at the senior level. They know they can perform at the top level and hopefully win a medal.”
That roster starts with junior world champion Kamal Bey, an explosive 20-year-old with an electrifying, high-octane style. Bey is a throwing machine who can light up the scoreboard in a hurry at 77 kg.
“Kamal continues to move in the right direction,” Lindland said. “He’s learning from his mistakes and he’s making big strides for us.”
The team also features past junior world medalists in Jesse Thielke (63 kg.), Ellis Coleman (67 kg.), G’Angelo Hancock (97 kg.) and Adam Coon (130 kg.). Thielke and Coleman also have competed at the Olympic Games.
The burly 6-foot-6, 280-pound Coon is a newcomer to the Greco world team with big potential in the heavyweight class. He’s won world medals at the cadet and junior levels, and he swept Olympian Robby Smith to make his first senior world team this year.
“Adam has really progressed and made improvements,” Lindland said. “He has a great body lock, and he has worked hard at improving his positioning. He’s made some really good adjustments. We’re happy to have him on our team and prepare him to win a medal.”
Hancock scored arguably the biggest upset of 2018 when he threw and pinned 2016 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion Artur Aleksanyan of Armenia in 27 seconds at the Pytlasinski Memorial last month in Poland. Hancock had lost to Aleksanyan 10-1 by technical superiority at the 2017 worlds before body-locking him and pinning him in the early seconds of their recent bout in Poland.
Hancock is another powerful and dangerous wrestler who has shown potential to be a factor at 97 kg.
“We know Hancock is capable of doing some big things,” Lindland said. “He’s definitely a guy who can win a medal.”
The U.S. also has a veteran on the Greco-Roman squad in Sam Hazewinkel, 34, who came out of retirement to make his first world team in Greco at 55 kg. Hazewinkel was a 2012 Olympian in men’s freestyle.
The U.S. has won only four total medals at the world and Olympic level in Greco-Roman since it won the world team title in 2007. The Americans have been shut out in medals the last two years.
“I believe we’re very, very close to a breakthrough,” said Coleman, who has been sidelined by injuries in recent years. “We all have to look at ourselves in the mirror and look at what we’re missing. Each individual needs to figure out how to get it done.”
The 2018 American team also includes Dalton Roberts (60 kg.), RaVaughn Perkins (72 kg.), Geordan Speiller (82 kg.) and Patrick Martinez (87 kg.).
“We’re building and we’re getting better,” Lindland said. “There’s no doubt the program is moving in the right direction. I’m excited about this team.”
Lindland is in his fourth full season as U.S. head coach. He won Olympic and world silver medals in Greco-Roman during his career as an athlete.
“We just have to keep working hard and keep getting better,” he said. “Our young guys are gaining more experience and now we need it to pay off in competition. I know what it takes to win at this level, and I know our guys are capable of doing the same thing.”