World Wrestling Games Special Section
Sunday, September 9 - WOW!!!
That is the reaction to the U.S. performance today at the Grappling World Championships. Although I expected that the USA might be the best team in the field, I did not expect our team to win every one of the gold medals today, and most of the total medals awarded. In addition, most of the victories by American athletes against foreign opponents were by submission or a lopsided margin. Domination may not be a strong enough word for this effort.
The Grappling field was the largest and strongest of all of the events in Antalya this weekend. There were over 90 participants, representing 16 different nations. It was a competitive international event, and the champions had to be at their best to win. All of the men's champions had to win at least three matches, and most had four matches. The women's team also had to win tough matches to capture their titles. The U.S. got on a roll early, and just kept steamrolling.
It was an early morning, with breakfast at 6:30 a.m. and the bus leaving shortly after 7:00 a.m. The athletes and coaches were mostly quiet on the drive up the mountains, reflecting the serious nature of the day. These athletes were very excited to be in their first World Championships, and they came to win.
The best matches of the tournament were usually the USA versus USA matches, most which occurred either in the semifinals or the finals. One of the most intense matches came at the 80 kg finals , when Don Ortega defeated Bill the Grill Cooper in a hard-fought 3-2 match. Cooper won his three previous bouts by submission, but Ortega was a bit superior in his wrestling skills and did not let Cooper use his magic and get another submission.
Another finals worth remembering came at 63 kg in the women's finals, when Tara LaRosa needed to go overtime to defeat Llovdmilla Soundovkova of Russia in overtime, 7-5. After a tough battle in regulation which tied at 5-5, Soundovkova had the choice of position in the extra period and took the neutral period on their feet. After a tense minute or more of trying to get into position, LaRosa scored a takedown for the win and celebrated with joy.
The USA swept all four medals at 96 kg, including a bronze medal from one of the Sombo athletes, Doug Fournet. In fact, there was another Sombo athlete who took a bronze, Bethany Harris, and a Beach athlete who won a bronze, Rawle Shewprashad. All the Americans had a good day, even those who had limited training in Grappling.
There were nine medal ceremonies, and each and every time, they raised the U.S. flag and played our national anthem. It was a new experience for the athletes on this trip. I have always gotten emotional when the U.S. flag is raised and our athletes, going back to my first Olympics in Korea in 1988. When Tara LaRosa was crying on the podium during our anthem, I lost it too, and there were tears running down my face as I was taking photos of the ceremony.
Needless to say, everybody was very excited after the tournament ended. We took a ton of photos after the event, first with the gold medalists, then with all the medalists, then with the entire team. There was not a lot of time to celebrate in the arena, as the bus was ready to go back to the hotel. Some of our delegation had to get on planes tonight, so we couldn't dawdle on the way back.
While the Grappling was going on, there was a Pankration event being held on one of the mats. It was quite a strange event, and I wish I had a little time to watch it, but the USA was so successful in Grappling, I never had much time to do anything except follow our athletes. I found it interesting that the referees in Pankration had a stick in their hands while the athletes were punching and kicking each other. Anyway, I have no more understanding of Pankration as I had before I got here.
Apparently, they had the traditional wrestling festival here today, somewhere near our hotel. Last year, they held the festival on the day after the tournament ended, when we all had time to enjoy the day and watch the action. The Turks have a style of wrestling where the men put on leather pants, then cover themselves with oil and wrestle in the grass. There were billboards with pictures of these Turkish oil wrestlers all over this town, and I am sure the festival was a great success. But by the time we were done with the competition, people wanted to relax, grab a meal, spend some social time with their new friends, and get packed for their flights.
This was a challenging week, trying to keep everything organized for three full teams of athletes and also do all of the action pictures and write articles on the action during the week. There were not a lot of hours of sleep, for sure. However, I got to spend a lot of time with a bunch of neat people, saw some great competition and had a chance to see some history with the first Grappling World event. After such a great day on the mats, people are in a very good move as we leave Turkey for home.
My plan is to stay up all night, catch the bus at 1:30 a.m. to the airport, and begin my trip home at 5:05 a.m. this morning.
Saturday, September 8 - It was a very late night last night, posting photos and stories. I had a good time talking with some of the athletes, including a few of the women Grapplers and some of the Sombo guys. We had some fun with Tara LaRosa, who is also an MMA fighter with Bodog. She showed some of her highlight videos that were posted on the internet and talked a bit about her business. Big wrestler Carlos Dolmo was joking with her, saying he would pay her $100 to see her knock out his buddy Rawle Shewprashad. These athletes are very interesting and fun to chat with. I didn't get to bed until 2:00 a.m.
Another early morning, with the Beach Wrestling Championships right off the bat. I took a quick run down the beach to see if the competition venue had been set up better, and saw some flags and a few wrestling rings in the dirt. The surface had not been prepared, but at least we know where the tournament will be hosted.
After a quick breakfast, we brought the U.S. Beach team together for a short meeting at 8:00 a.m.. We have a good sized team, a mix of the Beach team with some athletes from Sombo, and even a few from Grappling. Jeff Monson, the MMA fighter who is our heavyweight in Grappling, showed up late last night, around 2 am, but got up in time to participate in the Beach Championships. Coach Winter gave the team some tips about how the competition would go, and we prepared them to be ready for the speed in which the tournament goes by once it gets started.
Unlike last year, the sun was out and there was summer-time heat for the Beach Championships. While they were conducting weighins and setting up the tournament, loudspeakers were blasting upbeat Turkish music and people began drifting over to the little stadium off the beaches and from the nearby hotels. Many were wearing their bathing suits, so it was truly a beach party atmosphere.
All of a sudden, it was starting. The first matches on each of the circles included U.S. wrestlers, and I had to try to watch the bouts and take pictures at the same time. I have to go quickly, because the matches often end in just a few seconds. Quickly, a number of the American wrestlers were being called to the two rings, and the craziness had begun.
There were a few things that stick out on my mind. One of them happened in one of Jeff Funicello's matches (I think) when the ref stopped the action to pull a large chunk of concrete out of the wrestling ring. Then there was the first-round match between our Beach Nationals champion, Carlos Dolmo, and Monson, which went to Dolmo on two pushouts. That match got a lot of people's attention.
Dolmo's semifinal loss was quite frustrating, as it seemed he had won the bout, but the score was changed to a 1-1 tie and he lost on the next takedown. There is really nothing to do under Beach Wrestling rules, because the mat official can not be overruled and there is no protest procedure. For the second straight year, the USA did not win a Beach World title, but had a bunch of medals.
Perhaps the most impressive performance was the Japanese wrestler Kataura Noriyuki, who won the Under 85 kg title. He beat three tough U.S. wrestlers in a row then won his title in the finals against a wrestler from Pakistan. The Japanese media that were there were all excited, meaning this guy will be a big deal when he goes home.
After the Beach tournament ended, we turned our focus on the final event, the World Grappling Championships. The U.S. team got together in the late afternoon for weigh ins, which were at the other hotel. It took two buses to take all the athletes and coaches over to Champion Hotel for the process.
The turnout for Grappling was pretty good, the largest of the tournaments here so far. One of the things that struck me was how many people there wanted their picture taken with Monson, who is popular worldwide because of his MMA fighting. I asked Jeff if this was normal, and he indicated it happened a lot when he got around Grapplers and wrestlers and sometimes in other locations. The Grapplers have been chomping at the bit to get their competition finished, and with weigh ins over, it is time for business.
I have to admit that I am starting to get quite fatigued. Lisa Ward, our lightweight Grappling star, wondered if I was sad or upset, and I said I was just tired. I figure a good night's sleep will help. I am very excited about seeing how the Grappling Tournament will go.
Tomorrow will be a long day, because we fly out at 5:05 a.m. on Monday morning, so we will have to leave in the middle of the night. Some of the team members from Sombo and Beach have already left, and others will be gone tomorrow.
Friday, September 7 - The first day of competition has arrived. My day started early, as I woke at 4:30 a.m. and could not get back to sleep. I spent some time on the computer in the quiet, empty lobby, then took a walk to see if the Beach venue had been built yet. It had not. Over breakfast, we planned the day with staff member Mark Scott and Sombo Coach Floyd Winter. Mark and Floyd took an early drive over to the Champion Hotel, hoping to get some details worked out with FILA officials about this afternoon's Sombo event.
The Grappling team had a 10:15 meeting in the waiting area near the lobby, for individual photos of the athletes, and then a cross-training workout on the beach. The athletes and coaches milled around for awhile, while their teammates posed in their warm-ups. It was a very relaxed situation.
Gogi Parseghian, a U.S. national champion Greco-Roman star in the late 1980's and one of the Team Leaders for the Grappling team, started showing moves to the young athletes. Gogi had a reputation during his career for his outstanding technical skills and his pinning abilities. He put on a mini-clinic in the hotel lobby for the team, first showing some amazing Greco-Roman upperbody positions and holds, then explaining how they could be used in submission wrestling and Mixed Martial Arts. The sweetest of the moves was an arm spin into an arm lock, where Gogi would step over and basically be in a position to break a guy's arm. The athletes and coaches were mesmerized as Gogi kept showing things they had never seen before. It was a fun time for the team. A little after 10:00 a.m., the athletes laced on the running shoes and hit the beach for a workout with Coach Jason Townsend.
Shortly after lunch, it was time to load up the bus for those going to the arena for the Sombo tournament. There were supposed to be two buses there for the journey, but only one 30 passenger vehicle was there at 1 pm when it was scheduled. The team, including coaches and athletes, jammed into that bus, while the other U.S. athletes and delegation members who were going to support the team waited for another bus. The long drive up the mountain was a bit different today, as the athletes were a bit more quiet, getting mentally prepared for the competition.
When the bus arrive, the gym was mostly empty and extremely hot. Somebody put on the air conditioning unit, which was not super effective, but did take off some of the edge of the humidity. The second bus was almost an hour later, which was good, because it took that long to get some of the heat out of the facility. Teams started drifting in, including some nations who were not there last year. The medical checks and weighins were a bit late, but the actual tournament started only a few minutes after the scheduled 5 pm start time.
The United States had the largest delegation there, and once things got going, the athletes and coaches were very busy right away. From the opening whistle, it was apparent that the tournament was going to be tougher than last year. Russia, a traditional world powerhouse, had athletes. Bulgaria was there with a competitive group. France brought their best athletes this time. Turkey was well prepared as well.
The first U.S. win came from heavyweight Carlos Dolmo, with a solid win over an athlete from Australia. Then, the American team went on tough run, losing about 10 matches in a row, with some ending by either submission or technical superiority. There were a few very close losses, such as a 2-2 tie which ended up as a defeat for Rawle Shewprashad because of a caution, as well as a wild 12-8 loss by Ramon Diaz against a tough Russian in the semifinals, a bout Diaz thought he had won.
A little drama was thrown in with a decision to keep a few U.S. women wrestlers out of the event. FILA cancelled the women's Sombo event, yet four U.S. Sombo women came to compete on the Beach and in Grappling. Coach Winter was certain that the 55 kg class would have just one or two entries, and asked permission for two of the women to wrestle, a way to get experience for the athletes and also pick up more medals. FILA said yes and Tanya Miyasaki and Courtney Martell weighed in. Somehow, the Turkish team, which had the only entry at 55 kg, objected, and after a bit of heated discussion, the women were not entered in the tournament.
Anyway, things got better when Scott Garcia won a tough bronze medal match against a Japanese opponent, with some sweet throws. Carlos Dolmo, who just missed medals when competing last year, was able to win a bronze medal when his final opponent didn't show up to wrestle. Based upon the wrestleback format, the USA ended up with four medals. The award ceremony was a bit labored in length and there were pictures to be taken. The first U.S. bus left right after the finals ended, allowing the extra people to get back to the hotel before dinner had ended. When the bulk of the team loaded on the second bus, it was a race to get back down the mountain so the team could eat. Luckily, the traffic was clear and our driver, who seems to like his assignment and is wearing a USA Wrestling t-shirt, got everybody back in time to rush in before 10:00 p.m., where the dining hall was empty but there was food waiting.
It is 12:30 am and I still have photos to edit and post on the website. Our day starts early, with Beach weighins at 9:00 am and the Beach Worlds at 10:00 a.m.
Thursday, September 6 - Most of the U.S. delegation has arrived, as the Grappling crew all drifted in late last night on various flights. I was able to greet some of the team when they came through the hotel lobby, including Grappling coach Jason Townsend and the Grappling Team Leaders Jim and Karen Santaniello. I went to bed around midnight, but Mark Scott stayed up all night to get the last group of Grapplers settled into their rooms. He said he didn't get to crash until after 4:00 a.m. with all the details and travel delays.
We scheduled another all-delegation meeting this morning, bringing together the Sombo, Beach and Grappling athletes, their coaches and the referees. This was another chance to talk about many of the details of the competition, as well as provide a formal introduction between the people from each wrestling style. I found it very interesting to see that so many of the athletes came from different states and backgrounds, and that this is truly an All-American team, representing many aspects of our nation. The Sombo people got to hear my speech about the pride and responsibility of representing our nation for the second day, but the message is worth repeating, especially for those on their first international trip.
During our morning meeting, we were able to hand out the Clinch Gear Board shorts which were donated to all members of the USA delegation. Clinch Gear is owned by Dan Henderson, the Mixed Martial Arts champion who was a two-time Greco-Roman Olympian, and has stepped up to support the U.S. team in all three styles. In addition, I took individual head shots of the athletes from the Sombo and Beach delegations, with a plan to get pictures of the Grappling athletes at another time.
For this event, FILA allows athletes who compete in one style to enter other tournaments as they wish. Last year, this allowed USA Wrestling to put a few Beach wrestlers on the Sombo team, and visa versa. It worked out well for us, because Jeff Zastrow (from the Beach Team) won a gold medal at the Sombo World Championships. This morning, Coaches Floyd Winter and Bob Anderson encouraged the wrestlers to enter more than one tournament, and after the meeting, we signed up a few more competitors for our Sombo and Beach teams. It will be interesting to see if anybody is able to win a medal in a different style than they qualified for this time around.
After the meeting, everybody headed to the cafeteria for a quick lunch. I find that at this event, it is during meals that much of the planning gets done, as well as the best opportunity for socializing and team bonding. I try to sit with different people each day, just to get to know them better and keep my finger on the pulse of the team. With a delegation so large, it is a little difficult to spend as much time with the athletes and coaches as I did last year, where I was able to sit down and write up people stories for many of them.
This year, I am getting little snippets about team members and those on the delegation. The good part is I know who most of these people are, because they were involved in our National championship events that served as qualifiers for the World Team. I have chatted with Sombo athletes like B.J. Adams, who attended college at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, or Phil Rizzo, who has a real estate business in Florida. I had a chance to chat with Bill "the Grill" Cooper, a Grappler who was telling me and some of the coaches about his recent World-level jiu jitsu tournaments and some of the politics of that sport. Lisa Ward, our lightweight Grappler, was sharing with me her experience in buying some onyx gifts in the local bazaar, and how she haggled for a good price. Rawle Shewprashad, who is doing Sombo and Beach, is in Podiatry School, and will be doing double shifts for awhile after he returns.
We set up another practice today in the city, but the Turkish Wrestling Federation only provided one bus to take the U.S. team for training. With both the Sombo and Grappling teams in town, the bus was rather crowded. I stayed behind today at the hotel, although I would have enjoyed attending the workout and writing about it. Mark Scott jumped onto the bus, which dropped him off at the Champion Hotel, where he was making sure that all of the details concerning transportation and official meetings were taken care of with the Turkish hosts and the FILA leaders.
My early afternoon was spent on a mission, trying to find where the Beach Wrestling venue was going to be here in the Camyuva area. Some of the athletes and coaches were talking about wanting to do some practice in the sand before Saturday's Beach event. Jake Bohn went for a morning run today on the beach, and thought he found an area where it looked like a small beach wrestling stadium was being built.
Chris Carlino, the Grappling referee who is doing the FILA clinic at the event here, was available, and we took a walk down the shore looking for the Beach stadium. We found a dirt field down the shore past a few more hotels where there were some metal stadium seating being set up. The field had been dragged and the rocks pulled over to one side, but it was nowhere near properly prepared for competition yet. Unless there was more work done there, this would not be suitable for practice yet. We can't do any Beach Wrestling practice on the small beaches alongside the water, because the dirt is hard and full of tons of rocks. After walking in both directions on the beach, we did not find anywhere suitable for Beach practice.
After returning to the hotel, I spent some time with some of the Grappling people here. Jason Townsend, one of the U.S. Grappling Coaches, is a member of the FILA World Grappling Committee. He had spent time with the FILA staff this morning working on details of this year's tournament. I sat with him, along with referees Art Barker and Chris Carlino, and went through some of the details of the tournament this weekend, as well as discussing ideas about the USA Wrestling Grappling program moving forward. It was a productive discussion.
The team returned from training, which went very well according to the coaches and athletes who took the journey up the mountain to the city. Shortly after, a few of the Grappling people went with me down the street to do some shopping. With the Sombo starting tomorrow, this would be the last chance to get into some of the stores. We squeezed in about an hour of going in and out of shops, haggling over a number of items of interest. Everybody bought something, although there really weren't the kind of bargains I was able to find in the other part of Antalya where we stayed last year. I got three souvenirs, nothing too much. However, when I returned to the hotel, the one breakable item I purchased slipped through my hands and smashed on the floor, now a useless pile of slivers. Ouch…
We noticed in the hotel lobby that one of the U.S. athletes, Carlos Dolmo, was featured on the poster for the event this year. The poster had an image of Beach Wrestling, and showed Dolmo in a head-and-collar tieup with an opponent (Dolmo was fifth last year in the Beach event). We picked on Dolmo a little bit, and one of the wrestlers asked him for his autograph on the poster which hung on the wall.
I am in the lobby, at the wireless hotspot, putting up tonight's story. The computer has changed some of the ways that people spend their free time at these events. Because of free wireless internet, many of the athletes like to get online, not only to check their emails, but also to go to My Space and other websites where they spend their time. Some people also want to check on the sports scores, and in some cases, see the results from some Mixed Martial Arts fights back home. Also, the rooms have television sets, with CNN as one of the stations, giving the news in English. Floyd and I were able to get reports from around the world, including the death of Luciano Pavarotti and the terrorist plot in Germany. The world has become a smaller place because of technology. Some of the athletes and coaches on the trip have visited TheMat.com and commented to me about this blog.
Almost everybody is here. J.P. Reese, who is a Beach wrestler in the under 85 kg division, showed up around dinner time. He had a long flight, and the transportation people took him to the wrong hotel initially. There are just a few more Grappling people showing up tomorrow, then we don't have to be concerned with arrivals anymore.
The preparation time is over. Tomorrow in the early afternoon is the weigh in for Sombo, with the Sombo competition in the afternoon. Beach is on Saturday, with Grappling on Sunday. My next report will have results from the action, hopefully with medals won by our American team.
Wednesday, September 5 - First day on the ground in Turkey, and a large group of the American delegation is already in the house. I took a stroll this morning after breakfast. The Asden Beach Hotel is a resort, with a number of buildings for the guests. There is a big swimming pool that seems to be open 24 hours a day. The property goes down to a beach on the Mediteranean, with what seems like hundreds of beach umbrellas. There is a concrete boardwalk going alongside the sea, linking a number of waterfront hotels. The hotel is packed with tourists from Russia and Germany, all decked out in their beach garb. Everything is inclusive at this hotel, which means the food is good and there always seems to be something going on.
We held our first team meeting today, getting the U.S. delegation organized and making sure everybody knows each other. Mostly, the people here are involved with the Sombo team. Head Coach Floyd Winter told the athletes his expectations for the week, as well as his training instructions for the next few days. Mark Scott gave details on all the schedules and organization details. I focused on the group coming together as a team, and helping each other to succeed on the mat as well as representing our nation with pride and dignity. The task at hand for the Sombo athletes is getting their weight down, working out their kinks from the travel, and focusing on the task at hand.
We have a practice scheduled for 1 pm, and we are taking the entire delegation up the mountain into the city for the workout. Included in the training session will be our women's Sombo team, four athletes and their coaches. FILA cancelled the women's Sombo event, so these athletes came to wrestle in the Beach event and in Grappling. Today, we will help the women learn a bit more about the rules of Beach wrestling, as well as a tutorial on Grappling techniques and strategies.
After lunch, we all boarded a bus for the 1 hour 15 minute ride into the city. We rode over to the Champion Hotel, to see if Eric Albarracin's bag had arrived so he could get his workout gear, but the bag was still not to be found. The bus ride went alongside the sea, with some breathtaking views of the mountains and the sea. Much of this was familiar for me, as it was the same route we took each day to the venue for the Sombo World meet last year. Our bus driver knew no English, but was able to get us to the competition site, the Dilek Sabanci Antalya Spor Salanu (aka Sports Salon).
One door was open, and the competition venue was completely empty, except for a man and his small child. The man at the arena helped us to turn the lights on, and the athletes went into a number of unmarked rooms to get changed into their gear. It was extremely hot in the arena, which is not air conditioned, so it was not hard for everybody to break a sweat and get into the workout.
Coach Winter started practice with a short indoor soccer game on the mats, as there were Team Handball nets at both ends of the gym. There are three mats on the floor there, one which was an international wrestling mat and two which appeared to be judo mats. For 15 minutes the teams got themselves loosened up and had a little fun kicking around a soccer ball. The score of the soccer match was 1-0, won by the team which Coach Winter called "the good looking team."
The women were given some basic strategy tips in Beach Wrestling from Coach Winter, who asked the Sombo athletes to drill some of their favorite moves while he worked with the women athletes. When Winter went back to the Sombo mats, coaches Rob Redman and Tarique Monier supervised the Beach Wrestling drills, asking the women to practice staying in the center and circling to hold their position. set up a few "rings" on the mat, to give them an idea about the size of the Beach Wrestling surface. After that, the women did a series of live matches on the mat, using Beach wrestling scoring and procedures.
The men Sombo athletes finished their drilling, then started going live matches. Coach Winter wanted to make sure that the team got a brisk workout today. Meanwhile, the women athletes changed their workout from Beach skills to learning basic positions in Grappling.
Towards the end of the workout time, a group of Turkish men wrestlers showed up and starting doing some light drilling with Sombo jackets on the far mat. They worked out for less than an hour, and were finished with their training about the same time as the U.S. athletes.
Coach Winter made friends with one of the Turkish wrestlers, who apparently was the World Sombo champion last year in the heavyweight division. When the bus drove up to pick up the U.S. athletes, the Turkish wrestlers also jumped on the bus, and hitched themselves a ride. We did not know where they were going, as their English skills were a bit lacking. We stopped at a roadside store to get more water, then started the long drive back to the hotel.
On the way, we asked the bus to stop at the host hotel, Champion, to get some more information from the Turkish Federation. The official schedule had been changed, with the location of the Grappling weighins moved to the hotel rather than all the way in the city at the venue. The Beach Wrestling weighin will be down here in Camyuva, where the Beach Tournament is being hosted. Albarracin's luggage had still not yet arrived.
All of a sudden, the Turkish women's team got onto the bus as well. It had the same coach as last year, when Turkey won the team title in both Sombo and Beach Wrestling in the women's division. Some of the athletes with the Turkish team also competed last year. The coach told us that the women would be competing in the Beach wrestling this year, but not in Grappling, as the athletes did not know the rules of the new style. Coach Monier, who does not speak any Turkish but knows a number of languages, had some fun joking with the young Turkish athletes during the ride back.
The bus did not arrive at the hotel until after 6:30 p.m,, basically taking the entire afternoon to get the workout done. The Turkish athletes stayed on the bus, apparently going to a different hotel here near the beach. Everybody dispersed into the hotel, with dinner scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The coaches gave the team the night off. There is going to be a Miss Camyuva beauty contest here at the hotel later tonight, and the joke on the bus was whether or not the U.S. wrestlers were going to enter. For me, it may be a chance to get my body clock back on schedule, as I am not yet acclimated to the local time zone.
Grappling athletes begin to arrive tonight, with a majority of the team scheduled to be here before the evening ends. Christina Coats was the first of Grapplers to appear at the hotel this evening, after some delays with her transportation from the airport. We will all be on watch for the other U.S. Grapplers, coaches and team leaders as they arrive, with their own travel tales to tell.
Starting tomorrow, I will try to give a few life stories of the athletes here. With a larger group, it will be a little more challenging to spend time with people, but each of these athletes have their own stories to tell,
Monday, September 3 - It is Labor Day in the USA, but for me, it is travel day to the World Wrestling Games in Antalya, Turkey. My flight is late in the day. I packed during the day and did all the last minute work at the office before leaving.
I am taking a night flight to Antalya out of Denver. Traffic was pretty bad going to the airport, but I tend to be very early, so it did not cause too much hassle. My Lufthansa flight will take me to Frankfort, Germany, where I then have an eight-hour layover before flying on Turkish Airlines to Antalya. My arrival in Turkey is 11:20 p.m. on Tuesday night.
This is my second year going to the World Wrestling Games in Turkey. Last year, I was the team leader for the historic first World Beach Team, as well as the first U.S. Sombo World Team since FILA reinstated the sport as a style of international wrestling. This year, we add on another new style to the World Games, Grappling, which is a very exciting and popular sport in the United States.
We are no longer a small delegation. When you combine all three styles, with coaches and team leaders and family members on the trip, Team USA is 60 people. All of them are coming on different schedules, a logistical nightmare. I worked hard on organizing things in early August, but had to attend the Junior World Championships in China for over a week. Mark Scott, our State Services Director, took over the organization of the project in mid August, and has pulled everything together for us. Mark and his wife Beth are already in Turkey, the first on the ground, making sure all the details are handled to allow for a smooth arrival for the U.S. team when they get to Turkey.
I am not alone on my flights. Grappling and Sombo coach Bob Anderson is on this flight, as is Art Barker, the Grappling referee in our delegation. We all met up in Denver, and will take the trip together. Bob Anderson is kind of a legend within USA Wrestling. We know him as a Greco-Roman coach, the hard-driving person who helped make Dan Henderson, Heath Sims, Jason Gleasman and others tough enough to make Olympic teams. All the way back, Bob also had involvement in other disciplines of Mixed Martial Arts. He was a Sombo competitor and coach way back in the 1970s and was a personal friend and mentor with one of the Gracies, the famous jiu jitsu family.
Currently, Bob is a wrestling and Sombo coach at No Limits, our national sponsor in Irvine, Calif. Bob was selected as one of the coaches for the first historic Grappling World Team (along with Jason Townsend). He is going to coach athletes in both Sombo and Grappling in Antalya. He was just involved with the historic first Grappling World Team Training Camp in California, where the No. 1 athletes on the USA team were brought together for a week of intense preparation. Bob tells me that camp went very well and the U.S. team is pumped up for a great performance.
Art is one of the people who were active with the International Submission Wrestling Association (which ran Grappling programs) before FILA recognized Grappling. The ISWA folded and joined up with USA Wrestling, and Art is one of our most respected Grappling referees. He attended our Grappling Summit in Colorado Springs in March 2007, and helped get USA Wrestling's fledgling Grappling program on track this year. I find that Art is a pleasant person with a true commitment to Grappling, and one of the new people within USA Wrestling who are going to help us build this Grappling program to success.
Things will be different this year in Antalya. The U.S team is in a different hotel than the host hotel, which is called Champion (owned by Olympic champion Ahmet Ayik from Turkey). Our hotel is somewhere else, but Mark Scott has sent an email saying that it is very nice. There are very few people on the trip this year who were on our historic first journey with the new wrestling styles. USA Wrestling brought back our Sombo Coach, veteran leader Floyd Winter. Sombo referee David Bonner is on the trip as well. One of our star athletes from last year, Beach and Sombo competitor Carlos Dolmo of New York, has returned for another chance at winning a medal. Josh Henson, a member of our Sombo ad-hoc committee, who also serves on the FILA Sombo committee, is also coming back. Pretty much everybody else is brand new to this event. I am very excited about getting things going, and seeing how the USA will do on this tour. We were successful last year - I would love to see Team USA win a bunch of medals again in 2007.
We had an eight hour layover in Frankfort. I was able to get into the United lounge because of my Premier Executive status, but they would only allow me one guest. Art and I visited for an hour there, while Bob went out into the lobby and found a nice set of lounge chairs to take a nap. We spent the time in Frankfort either checking out the airport or taking a nap. About two hours before our flight, we started trying to find our flight to Antalya, but it was not on any of the schedules. We were pointed in a number of directions, going in and out of passport control twice, until we were able to determine that we were not on Turkish Airlines, but actually on Sun Airlines. We got the boarding passes OK and were able to get on our last flight.
We slept a little on the flight down to Antalya, arriving a half an hour late, at about 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday night. We got through customs with no problems. A young Turkish man was waiting for us with a sign, and loaded us into a very nice van for the trip to the hotel. As I explained to Art and Bob, the host hotel is a long way from the airport. They put the U.S. team in a different hotel this year, and the ride to our hotel is even farther, maybe 20 minutes farther down the Mediterranean. The winding roads that take us to the beach village are interesting, and will be more fun to see in the sunlight.
When we got to the hotel, there were a ton of Americans there in the lobby. The desk attendant had some troubles making up our room keys, so I had a chance to visit a little. Carlos Dolmo and his coach Viktor Krupchynskyy. who were on the team last year, were there. Mark Scott, our staff member, was on his computer, and showed me that the schedule for the tournament had already changed. A number of the Sombo athletes were around, some who I know and others I do not. Eric Albarracin, the experienced freestyle and Greco wrestler, is on the Sombo team. Rawle Shewprashad, who I got to meet at the U.S. Beach Nationals, was on his laptop, using the wireless internet. I went into my room to put away my bags and woke up my roommate, Sombo coach Floyd Winter. I am not tired, so I came down to the lobby to do my blog and then go back to sleep. We have a big team meeting at 10 am, so I have to get up in time. They tell me the hotel we are in is nicer than we had last year, but we are very much farther away from everything. This will be a logistical challenge for sure.