USA Wrestling Abbott Blog: Ragan’s...

Abbott Blog: Ragan’s strong morning run through field nets a World silver medal

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Dec. 08, 2016, 2:15 p.m. (ET)

Sunday, December 11 - Ever since United World Wrestling changed the format of the sport to one-day tournaments, athletes who seek to be champions or medalists must string together a number of victories in a single morning session. All of the matches except the medal round is held in that first session.

Basically, the athlete needs to get hot, and make a big-time run through the brackets to win that medal. Often, a wrestler will have four or five tough matches at a World-level event. There is often very little rest time between these battles. Because there is no seeding, the most difficult match could be early in the day, rather than in the later matches. It takes a special skill set, which includes great conditioning, determination and mental toughness, in addition to physical and technical abilities.

Today, Alli Ragan went on her first serious run of her World Championships career. She blasted through four opponents in the morning session today in Budapest to make the finals. Some of the matches were closer than the others, but in all of them, it was Alli Ragan who set the pace, took control of the scoring and came out on top.
Her previous best performance was a fifth-place finish at the 2014 World Championships in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. In that tournament, she lost to superstar Kaori Icho of Japan in the second round, and needed to go the repechage route to the medal round, where she lost a criteria decision in the bronze-medal match. This time around, she stayed on the winner’s side of the bracket and seemed to get stronger as she went.

In the semifinals, she poured it on with a technical fall over Ayaulym Kassymova of Kazakhstan. The most important match of her morning, the one that determined her spot in the finals, was her best match.

Remember that Ragan is coming off a disappointing 2016 Olympic run, where she lost in the finals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials to Kelsey Campbell after making three straight World Teams. National Coach Terry Steiner said before the tournament that Ragan had been making some positive changes in her wrestling and that we should expect to see a different Ali Ragan at this tournament. Her strong run in the morning session showed us that she really had stepped it up and found an edge to her wrestling.

Her finals match was frustrating for her, as she kept up her activity but couldn’t convert her attacks. The young Chinese opponent was for sure a counter wrestler. She stopped a very early Ragan low single by forcing a stalemate. It got to the point that she was able to get points off Alli’s attacks. As Alli and Coach Steiner said after the finals, if she finished a few of those attacks and established her game plan, the result may have been different.

I continue to explain to non-wrestlers that nobody enjoys winning a silver medal in our sport. Make the finals, and you expect to win. It is what makes our sport so unique. Take a look at any medal ceremony and you rarely see a smiling silver medalist. Alli, like all true competitors, was not pleased with second, and we would expect nothing less from her or any of our American stars.

USA Wrestling’s Executive Director Rich Bender was one of the awards presenters for Alli’s medal ceremony. It is always good when one of our American wrestling leaders can present a medal to an American wrestler. It is an honor in both directions. Alli did have a nice smile when she posed with the other medalists, which is captured in the photo here.

The say that UWW may switch to a two-day format sometime in this Olympic cycle. I like that because it allows you time to promote the finals matches to the general public and the media, something which is next to impossible with the one-day format. Athletes will get on a run in two-day tourneys also, but it will be a little different than what we have dealt in recent years.

I wanted to give a shout out to some people who have helped me bring the coverage to you this weekend. A young German photographer and wrestling enthusiast Kadir Calistan offered to take photos of our American wrestlers both days, which made a huge difference in our stories and postings. Another bigtime wrestling friend of the USA, Ikuo Higuchi from the Japanese Wrestling Federation, also shot pictures of our wrestlers and provided them for our use. He has done this many times for us which makes a difference. UWW Photographer Martin Gabor of Hungary also has sent us photos this week and in the past. For these people, I am truly thankful. We have many USA wrestling photographers who travel the nation and the world to promote our sport, but they can’t get to all of the international events. We are blessed to have friends around the world willing to share their work for our American fans. A big thank you from me and from USA Wrestling for all of the photographers who make such a difference.

Saturday, December 10 – First World titles for Stieber on mat, and Zadick as National Coach

Two great guys walked off with their first World title today in their first World Championships in their new role.

Logan Stieber won the gold medal at 61 kg in men’s freestyle on his first U.S. Senior World Team. Bill Zadick won his first individual World title as the USA Wrestling National Freestyle Coach. Both of these guys deserve this, and we should be proud of them both.

Let’s start with Logan. If you were smart enough to get up in the middle of the night to watch the World Championships from Budapest, you were given a true treat. Logan Stieber put on a show to remember. He had four tough opponents and beat them one after the other. He earned the right to stand at the top of the podium, receive a gold medal and a champion belt, and listen to the USA National anthem.

Many of the USA delegation is joking now about the heart attacks they almost got while Stieber worked his way into the finals. His first match was not a challenge, as he scored a technical fall over 2015 World bronze medalist Shuptar from Ukraine. It was the next two matches which were heart stoppers.

In basketball, they call them buzzer beaters. In both his quarterfinals match against Chakaev of Russia and his semifinals against Ehsanpoor of Iran, Logan needed a last-second takedown to advance. His opponents both scored late and thought they had the win. Stieber, who is amazingly cool under pressure, still felt he had time to win.

You shouldn’t call these miracle finishes, because Stieber truly believed he could win and wrestled to the final whistle. It wasn’t a surprise to him. As Coach Zadick said in his interview after the semifinals, there is a reason that Logan has been a winner his entire wrestling life.

The finals was not as dramatic, but at 1-0 at the break, it was certainly not in the bag. Logan just went very hard in the second period, opened things up and scored when he needed to. The final score was 8-4, but once he got rolling, it didn’t matter what the final point totals were. You could tell that he was going to win, and that he was wrestling like a champion.

How about Bill Zadick? Back in 2006, in a weird city called Guangzhou, China, Bill Zadick won a World freestyle gold medal. I was there to witness and enjoy it, as Zadick, who was late in his career, finally reached the top of his profession as an athlete. After many years of knocking at the door, Zadick opened it all the way when given the opportunity.

Since his retirement on the mat, Bill Zadick has been on the USA Wrestling freestyle national coaching staff. I have had the pleasure of working alongside him the entire time. He worked in a number of roles, including a stint as the Developmental Coach working with our elite young wrestlers. Bill Zadick has coached some World champions, both on the Senior and the age-group levels, only not as the top dog in the program.

But this year, after the retirement of Bruce Burnett as our freestyle coach following the Rio Games, Zadick got his chance as the new National Freestyle Coach.

In Rio, Bill was an assistant coach, a key part of the coaching staff. In Budapest, at his first Worlds at the helm, Zadick was responsible for the entire program. The first athlete he put out on the mat as the National Coach was Logan Stieber, and that first athlete didn’t just wrestle well, he wrestled well and won the gold.

Logan Stieber has so many people who have helped him along the road to the World title, from family to youth coaches to college coaches, club coaches and national coaches. All deserve credit for this big win. When Logan Stieber got his chance to be the MAN for Team USA, he cashed it in with a gold medal. When Bill Zadick got his first chance to be the National Coach, his first entry Logan Stieber brought home the gold.

USA Wrestling Executive Director Rich Bender took this great photo of Logan Stieber and Bill Zadick together after the medal ceremonies. I really liked this photo for so many reasons. Instead of just writing about Logan tonight, I also thought that I should write about Bill. This is a big night for them both, and we should all salute them both for a tremendous achievement.

And many people expect that we will see many more great things from both of them.

Friday, December 9 – USA closes out Greco Clubs Cup with young stars on display

Today was the conclusion of the Greco-Roman World Clubs Cup, and the team from the USA, the New York Athletic Club, finished 11th, splitting a pair of matches on the final day. Over the two days, the USA got in five quality dual meets, winning two of them and facing numerous top opponents.

It was fun to watch the two youngest guys on the team, Kamal Bey at 75 kg and G’Angelo Hancock at 98 kg, both still Junior eligible but more than willing to mix it up with the Senior athletes. These two guys are training Greco-Roman fulltime and it is making a difference in their development.

Hancock finished the event with a 3-1 record. He went 2-0 on the first day, and had to be told afterwards that the Turk that he beat, Cenk Ildem, was an Olympic bronze medalist in Rio. This morning, he was beaten by technical fall by a tough Ukrainian, but came back strong against Kyrgyzstan, scoring a pin.

Bey lost his matches on the first day, but had a wild 12-10 loss against the Hungarian in his first bout. Today, he won both of his matches, scoring a technical fall in his opener against Ukraine, then hitting two four-point moves in his decision over the wrestler from Kyrgyzstan. Bey is at his best when he is opening it up and getting into throwing contests.

It’s not just the U.S. fans who are noticing these young bucks. Today, Hancock and Bey were interviewed live on the new Olympic Channel, a new worldwide network which is here covering the events. You can watch this interview which has been posted on USA Wrestling’s social media networks.

The two young stars weren’t the only guys who were winning bouts. Pat Smith went 3-0 on Thursday, but dropped a pair of close battles today. Cheney Haight had a victory each day. But for sure watching those two young guys going hard in Greco builds excitement for the future.

We got the USA guys together for a team picture prior to their matches. This is the third year of the Greco World Clubs Cup but the first time a USA club has entered. Titan Mercury WC has been in the freestyle event all three years and came back with a World club title a few weeks ago. It was a high quality event, with numerous World and Olympic medalists on the mat, and something the USA should enter in the future if it can.

There was a great semifinal match between the two teams from Iran, both who beat up their opponents yesterday in pool action. They wrestled very aggressively, even though it was against their fellow countrymen. For example, the score was tied at 9-9 in the heavyweight match at the break. If the new Greco-Roman rules are going to make it, wrestlers need to go for it like the Iranian athletes have during the Greco World Clubs Cup.

It was also weigh-in day for the Non-Olympic Weight Class Worlds. This is a bit different than normal because there will be competition in all three styles each day, one weight in each style. The USA participants on Saturday are all competing in their first World Championships as Seniors, Sarah Hildebrandt, Logan Stieber and Christopher Gonzalez.

Just in case you weren’t sure, this is a legit World Championships stocked full of talent. There really is no such thing as a good draw if you came here to win it. America’s finest will have to wrestle very well, right off the bat. Stieber drew a World bronze medalist Shuptar from Ukraine and Hildebrandt has a young Japan star, Junior World champion Mukaida. Gonzalez opens with somebody without many achievements, but because he drew on the bottom of the bracket, he has an extra match. It will be tough going, right off the bat. But all three USA coaches feel confident that our wrestlers are ready and fully capable of a great day tomorrow.

In case you care, I did make it in time for dinner on Thursday night, and grabbed some pork, French fries and salad. I got there with a few minutes to spare. Going to the cafeteria is one of the places to socialize at wrestling tournaments like this. Although I ate alone at dinner, this morning’s breakfast included a table full of Americans.

Amy Murry, the trainer sat with me first and we visited, and soon we were joined by National Teams High Performance Manager Cody Bickley. Soon we had coaches Dennis Ragan, Matt Lindland and Herb House there. Patrick Martinez, who is going 80 kg in the World Championships, also joined us. Cody and Dennis had gotten downtown with a group of Americans for a nice meal last night in a small restaurant off the beaten path, where the food was reportedly outstanding.

Almost 30 years ago, one of my mentors, Bob Condron, gave me some of the best advice for my career in the Olympic movement. Eat a big breakfast, because you may never get a chance to get another meal that day. This is a must for anybody in Communications for sure. I had some eggs, French fries (which are at every meal) and some mini-hotdogs, orange juice and a number of cups of English Breakfast tea. My wife, who studied nutrition, added the concept of drinking as much water as you can to stay hydrated and sharp. I try to follow that advice every time I travel.

I was a bit disappointed this morning. There is a neat small park next to the arena with many Communist-era statues in it. Real throwback stuff, a place I have visited in previous trips here. They have this great wrestling statue where a guy makes a throw with a referee there. The entire section was fenced off so I could not get in there. I will investigate a bit during a break to see if there is a gate somewhere because I would like to get a photo of that statue again before we leave.

Thursday, December 8 – Jumping right into Greco action on our arrival in Budapest

Just went through a full travel day to Budapest, Hungary, for the Non-Olympic Weight Class World Championships, which will be held this weekend. I left a cold and snowy Colorado Springs on Wednesday morning, driving up to the Denver airport with USA Wrestling’s Executive Director Rich Bender.

The connection went Denver to Washington DC to Brussels to Budapest, and there were some glitches on each of the flights including some delays. Going to Budapest is not a new experience. I believe that I have been in Hungary four previous times, including two Senior World Championships, a Junior World Championships and the Hungarian Greco-Roman Grand Prix over in the small city of Szombethely.

I no longer can sleep on planes, which makes that first day on the ground a difficult one. I watched a good movie, Jason Bourne, then spent a few hours going back and forth between the 70’s and the 80’s music mix. I was also able to get through a good portion of the new book “Wrestle Like A Girl” by Craig Sesker and Jamie Moffat (a very good read). I finally nodded off during the last leg from Belgium to Hungary, not really sleep but more like a dead thud.

When we arrived in Budapest, there was a young man with the organizing committee waiting for us at the airport, and he drove us with a few people from other countries. I went straight to the accreditation area, but our High Performance Manager Cody Bickley had already gotten the credential for me. I ran into him after I left, and he gave me the meal coupons for the week and gave me some other pointers. I was able to check into the Danubius Arena hotel, grab a bite to eat, get a quick shower and change of clothes.

Everything is very familiar. I stayed at this hotel before. I knew exactly where the accreditation area and the workout areas were from previous events. The competition is not in the big arena which housed the past Senior World Championships. It is in a smaller arena right next door, which housed the Junior World Championships in the past.

Today is the first day of the Greco-Roman World Clubs Cup, and the USA is represented by the New York Athletic Club, a group from a mix of USA Greco-Roman programs. I missed the first dual, a 6-2 loss to a Hungarian team, and was able to go over there for half of the second dual, which was also a 6-2 loss to a Turkish club team. The team from Turkey was a national-level team, with at two or three World champions and Olympic medalists in just the five bouts I saw. G’Angelo Hancock beat an Olympic medalist 2-1 in his match at 98 kg, the highlight of the dual I was able to catch.

I am running into different groups of Americans all over the place. In the cafeteria, I saw Freestyle Coach Bill Zadick and a group of coaches and team staff members. At the arena, Women’s Coach Terry Steiner was there to watch some Greco. Ivan Ivanov, who runs Suples which is now a UWW sponsor, was there supporting the USA Greco team. Later in the hotel, I saw women’s 55 kg wrestler Sarah Hildebrandt in the hallway on her cellphone. And of course I saw everybody affiliated with the Greco team.

While at the arena, I was able to establish the internet connection for media and scout out where I may be working during the tournament. I sat with the UWW staff guys on the floor and started writing up the story for the Greco-Roman Clubs Cup. The media area is way at the top of the arena, so I may try to get a different location to work from if I can get that established.

I am trying to stay awake long enough to go to bed at a reasonable time tonight and get acclimated on the time zone. Covering the last dual, NYAC vs. Greece, will help with that. I left a bit early because I was starting to get tired, so I caught the end of the Opening Ceremonies, which featured some young women dancers on the center mat with rock music and spotlights. Also watched a round of wrestling, including an interesting dual with Iran beating up on Russia. (There is a loud crowd of Iranian fans, which you tend to find anywhere they wrestle in the world).

NYAC won its final dual meet with a 4-4 criteria decision over a club from Greece. It really wasn’t that close, as the USA had three technical falls and a forfeit, while Greece won four matches, all by decision. The classification points finished off at 21-12. Team USA also put in three athletes who had not competed in the first two dual meets to allow them to get some competition.

I had the chance to do video interviews with Coach Matt Lindland, two undefeated wrestlers in Pat Smith and G’Angelo Hancock, plus Sammie Jones, who had a nice technical fall against Greece. Now, in a very quiet gym, I am posting stories and videos, with a goal of being done before dinner closes down at the hotel at 9 p.m.