USA Wrestling Abbott Blog: I would...

Abbott Blog: I would come back to Estonia again with my family (in the summer)

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Aug. 11, 2019, 7:32 a.m. (ET)

August 18 - Many of us who have made a career in international sport have travelled to all kinds of places on the globe for competitions. Although I don’t travel nearly as much as many of our coaches, I have been blessed to have been to every continent except Africa and Antartica. Some of the places we have been are amazing; others, not so much.

One of my problems is that when I go to all these countries, I often spend most of my time in gymnasiums and hotels. Wrestling tournaments take a long time, plus we try to do as much coverage as possible of the athletes and teams, and that also takes a lot of time. I don’t get to do much sightseeing, because, honestly, we are here on business.

I had a chance to steal a few moments during the Junior Worlds to check out some of Tallinn. Most people may not consider Estonia as a tourist destination, but from my small sampling, this is a place I would consider spending a little time on vacation with my family.

Thursday morning before weigh-ins at the Hestia Europa Hotel, I went a little early and walked along the docks in the harbor. It wasn’t a long walk, but was very good for the soul. I shot some pictures of the various boats in the marina, and walked down far enough to get a good photo of a massive cruise ship docked nearby. I got a neat shot of an old man fishing off the pier. Those are the kind of scenes you can find in cities on an ocean or a major sea.

Because the two-day tournament format, the last day is much shorter. There is only repechage and medal matches in the final five weight classes in Greco-Roman on Sunday. The hosts were smart enough to put those sessions in the late afternoon and in the evening, giving everybody the morning off. Some people may have chosen to sleep in. Instead I got up around the normal time, had some breakfast, and set off on a short adventure.

Judi Tekautz, the team trainer who hails from Minnesota, agreed to bring me around Tallinn Old Town, which she had visited a few times already. She needed to do some shopping for her kids. It was literally only two blocks away from our hotel and we were there in no time. Judi and I went very early, before the stores were open and the tourists started showing up. We had the place pretty much all to ourselves for at least the first hour.

Basically, Old Town is the ancient part of town, going back centuries in time. There is part of the wall which surrounded these buildings in medieval times. This is like a little community inside a big castle, with great old-school architecture, and tight cobblestone streets that are all crooked and snaked through the community. I loved the old churches (most which are no longer used as churches but as museums and businesses). It was great for taking pictures, many which will be waiting in my wife’s inbox when she awakes this morning in Colorado.

We walked all over the place, and still realized that it would take all day to actually see everything. Most of Old Town is now either bars/restaurants or shopping stores of many varieties. However, there are some residences there, and I am sure it costs a ton to live inside Old Town. Once the restaurants and stores opened (some at 9 a.m. and some at 10 a.m.), Judi and I were able to buy a few gifts to bring home with us.

One of the Estonian wrestling leaders is Vello Leitham, who runs the biggest wrestling tournament in Europe for kids of all ages, the Tallinn Open. I had communicated with him before coming over, and had a chance to meet him at the arena. Vello, who hails from the States, owns a restaurant right in the Main Square in Old Town. He said it would be easy to find, because it had the Junior World Championships blue flag in front. Judi and I easily found his place and poked around. It was really neat, with a stylish indoor portion and a big outdoor café/restaurant in the square. I plan to try to get there tonight after the final matches, and try out the cuisine. Vello is good people, and if I ever come back here again, I will go to his restaurant first thing.

If you look at Estonia on the map, it is pretty far north. Because of that, it has longer days during the summer. I saw on a tourist video in the hotel that there can be as much as 18 hours of sunlight here. With all the things to do and with sunlight all the time, Tallinn would be a great place to bring a family on a European vacation. Most people here speak good English, which is helpful since I don’t speak any other languages. Another reason I would come in the summer is that it is very far north. You can bet it gets very cold here in the winter, so I would not probably visit then.

I am writing the blog a little early today. We have one athlete competing on Sunday, as Peyton Omania battles for a Greco-Roman bronze medal tonight. I hope to be able to report on another USA medal from these Games. When that is over, I will need to post the wrap up story and finish packing. My flight leaves Tallinn at 6:00 a.m., so my bus to the airport will be at 4:00 a.m. I may decide to stay up all night to be sure I don’t miss the shuttle. Better to post the blog early, than try to do it on the last night in town.

Thank you to the Estonian Wrestling Federation for being such great hosts. I have been to a number of Junior World Championships and this one was exceptional.

Photo of entrance to Old Town, taken on my trusty I-Phone.

August 17 – U.S. Junior Greco-Roman team brings energy and a willingness to take risks

For those who were looking for some drama at the Junior Worlds, after watching Japan win eight of the 10 gold medals in the women’s freestyle, the Greco-Roman competition should be entertaining for you.

The good news is that Team USA showed up this weekend in Greco. This group of young men not only brought great personal pride with them, they also displayed something truly appreciated in this style, an ability to take risks and score points.

It did not surprise anybody that heavyweight Cohlton Schultz would be successful at this Junior World event. A 2017 Cadet World champion, Schultz won a bronze medal at the Junior Worlds last year. Since then, Schultz made it all the way to Final X on the Senior level before falling to Adam Coon for the World Team berth.

Schultz overpowered all of his opponents on Friday, getting a pin, two technical falls and a 5-0 decision. Tonight was a different story, as he was edged in the finals by Aliakbar Hossein Yousofiahmadchali of Iran, 2-1. Neither wrestler scored an offensive point, as all three points came on passivity calls.

Schultz was understandably disappointed after this finals match. Nobody likes dropping a match like that, when neither wrestler was able to score. It was for sure frustrating for him. But when asked about his takeaways from this tournament, Schultz did admit that he was satisfied that he had been scoring big points in his previous four matches before the finals.

It is logical that wrestlers will win matches when they score points. That is easier said than done, especially at the highest levels of the sport.

There were a number of other wrestlers on the U.S. Junior Greco-Roman team that opened some eyes with their offensive wrestling. If you talk to the athletes on this team, Greco-Roman is going through a revival in the United States, and this year’s Junior World performance is an example of better things to come in the near future.

Surprise Junior World bronze medalist Alston Nutter was impressive in his aggressive risk-taking spirit for two straight days.

Often, you hear coaches yell at their athletes to “go for it.” Nobody had to yell at Nutter to get him going. From the time he stepped on the mat, through all four of his matches, Nutter let it rip. He wrestled with high energy and spirit. He also was unafraid to take risks, attempting throws and moves that led to big points at times.

No big throw was more important than the one Nutter hit in his bronze medal match. His opponent, Kamil Czarnecki from Poland, came out on fire, taking Nutter down and turning him twice for a 6-0 lead. Nutter could have faded from there, but that is not his nature. Shortly after going back to their feet, Nutter put himself into position for a throw. He didn’t hesitate, launched Czarnecki and scored a stunning fall.

It was one of those “No Risk, No Reward” moments, and Nutter went for it all…

After his bronze medal win, Nutter indicated that taking risks and trying to score has been his style. “Sometimes, that gets me into trouble,” admitted Nutter. However, it was because of his fearless approach and willingness to take risks that Nutter will be wearing that World bronze medal home to the United States.

The leader of the second group of U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers was Peyton Omania, who came into the tournament with two previous age-group World Championships under his belt. Omania came to Tallinn on mission, and his wrestling showed that commitment.

Omania was in the largest weight class in the tournament. Only four athletes were in pigtail matches, and Omania was one of them. He would need to win four straight matches to reach the semifinals. When I chatted with him prior to the morning session about having the pigtail and needing four wins, Omania’s response was a simple “No problem.” And when you watched him wrestle, he was right; it really was no problem.

Omania lit up the scoreboard in his four big wins on the way to the semifinals. He won the first three bouts by technical fall, and outscored his quarterfinals opponent by a 7-3 margin. During those four matches, Omania put 43 points on the scoreboard, while his opponents only scored 12 points. He was constantly attempting attacks, and many of them paid off with big points.

Even in his semifinal loss to past Cadet World champion Giorgi Shotadze, which ended 9-0 in favor of the Georgian, Omania made a number of attempts for throws.

Manager of Greco-Roman Programs Gary Mayabb, who led the coaching delegation in Tallinn, was not only impressed by the amount of points that Omania created, but also how he got them. He was very pleased with how Omania timed some of his big scoring moves, reacting to his opponent and going for the technique at just the right moment.

It was no accident that these three U.S. Junior Greco-Roman wrestlers reached the medal rounds. All three let it all fly, with a focus on scoring as many points as they could.

In addition, all three have made a serious commitment to Greco-Roman at a young age and are doing what it takes to make the next steps in their career.

In the case of Schultz and Omania, that did not mean giving up folkstyle wrestling. Omania is going into his second season with the Michigan State Spartans, and Schultz is starting up his college career for the Arizona State Sun Devils. In both cases, the coaching staffs at those universities are supportive of their goals in Greco-Roman, and helping provide a strong environment for them to succeed. Arizona State assistant coach Chris Pendleton and Michigan State assistant coach Chris Williams are here in Estonia to support and coach their athletes.

Going into the final day of the Junior Worlds, the U.S. Greco-Roman team has secured two medals, and sit in fifth place in the standings after five weights. The USA has a chance to win a third medal if Omania can win tomorrow. Any way you look at that, it is a good performance for the USA Greco-Roman program

It is impressive that U.S. Greco-Roman Junior wrestlers are winning bouts and scoring points, What is more impressive is the attitude they have taken about risk-taking. Coach Mayabb says that scoring points is a focus of the U.S. National Team at all levels. He is hoping that these three wrestlers, along with some of their peers, will be a catalyst for the U.S. Greco-Roman program turning the corner at the Senior level. It will be fun to see them continue to “go for it” as they move on in their careers.

Photo: Peyton Omania of the USA celebrates after his quarterfinals victory at the Junior Worlds. UWW photo by Martin Gabor

October 16 – Consistency puts Kilty on World podium again and again and again and again

The twitter handle for Macey Kilty is very fitting. It is @_macethegreat_

Anyone who has seen her wrestle, or has researched her achievements, will agree that Macey is great.

Macey Kilty has been to four age-group World Championships for Team USA. She has won four World medals. That a 100% medal percentage. You could say that Macey Kilty is a money wrestler. When she shows up at the biggest events, Macey Kilty performs.

The trophy case at the Kilty home back in Wisconsin would have a 2016 Cadet World bronze, a 2018 Cadet World gold, a 2018 Junior World silver and a 2019 Junior World silver. And that’s just the World level awards.

You might remember that early in her career, Macey was a smaller girl. She won her 2016 Cadet World medal in the 108-pound weight class. She was also a 2016 Cadet Nationals champion at 108. When she placed second in the Wisconsin high school state championships, competing against the boys, she wrestled at 106 pounds.

Macey grew quickly, not only is size and weight but also in wrestling skill and experience. When some athletes move up in weight as they grow, they don’t always match their performances from the lighter weights. With Macey, it was the opposite. As she grew, she got better and better at wrestling, moving up to a higher and higher level.

Kilty just graduated from high school this year. She is already competing successfully at the Senior level. When asked about the Olympic year ahead, she reminded me that first she has to compete at the U23 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary this fall. Another World Championships. Another higher level of competition.

So, ask Macey about her consistency, and she doesn’t talk about herself. She talks about how others have impacted her life and her wrestling.

“I have a huge support system that helps a ton. It is just having a consistent training schedule and structure, great training partners. There are so many people I can thank. There are so many people who have brought me to this point, I can’t even name them all. It is being able to wrestle free, wrestle for God, and just having no fear. I can just go out there and wrestle, do what I love and have fun,” she said.

I wish I could tell you that Macey Kilty won the gold medal tonight in Tallinn, but that was not the case. She lost a grueling 2-1 finals match to Japan’s Miwa Morikawa. Nobody could score a takedown. Morikawa’s two points came on a step out, and a caution and one when Kilty was trying to break free from Morikawa on the edge. This World tournament, Kilty got a silver.

It was a close loss, which is often the toughest to take for somebody who is so competitive. Yet after her medal ceremony, Kilty was composed and relaxed and comfortable talking about her match, even though it did not go her way.

When asked by Trackwrestling’s Andy Hamilton what was her take-away from the Junior Worlds, Kilty did not dwell on the finals loss. Her self-confidence and self-worth is not based upon the results. She is already focused on the next challenge.

“Believing I am the best in the world. I believe I can hand-fight wrestle with anyone in the world. It is just believing that. There aren’t any big changes I believe I have to make. It is just going back and training hard,” she said.

Photo of Macey Kilty's introduction for the 2019 Junior World finals by Daniel Mitchell. Special thanks to Daniel Mitchell for volunteering this time all week to shoot our USA Wrestlers. A professional photographers, he was here on vacation and generously shared his images and his skills with the wrestling community.

October 15 - Riding the emotional rollercoaster at the World Championships again

If you watched the interviews with USA Wrestling’s National Freestyle Developmental Coach Kevin Jackson over the first three days of the Junior World Championships here in Estonia, you probably heard the word “rollercoaster” a ton of times.

A direct quote would be something like, “the World Championships is a rollercoaster.”

No word has been more appropriate concerning the emotional ride that the Junior World Championships has been like for Team USA. On a rollercoaster, everything goes very fast, and there are lots of different highs and lows during the experience. When you are done, you can feel exhilarated and sick at the same time, and it sure takes a lot out of you.

It isn’t just this event. It seems to be at all major wrestling events at the Olympic and World level. There is a lot at stake, and unexpected things happen so often that you lose your equilibrium.

I remember some of the biggest highs from my wrestling past. Rulon Gardner beating the unbeatable Karelin. Helen Maroulis handling the three-time Olympic champion Yoshida to become our first woman to win the Olympics. Kyle Snyder beating Sadulaev in the last match of the Worlds, to give the USA a one-point win over Russia in the team race.

The lows, well you try to forget those. Yet there are so many of them as well. I remember one of the lowest lows going back to my first Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea in 1988. American Jim Scherr was in the pool finals and winning his match, well on his way to the finals, when he was suddenly caught and pinned by his Japanese opponent Ota. (The best Scherr could now get was fifth,). After that session, I had basketball tickets, but got to the arena late, only to see the USA fans coming out all bummed out after the U.S. men had suffered an unexpected loss. I was about as down out as you could imagine, overwhelmed with sadness.

We went past the halfway point of these Junior World Championships today, and are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So far, it has been just as Coach Jackson says, a rollercoaster of ups and downs

Monday started in a bad way for the U.S. freestyle men. Of the five guys in the first group, four were beaten and knocked out of the tournament entirely that day. One of the toughest ones to take was when Aaron Brooks, the most accomplished guy on the team, got a tough draw, lost his first match to a stud from Azerbaijan, then having to watch the Azeri who beat him lose to the Russian the next bout. Vito Arujau’s run to the finals on day one was great, a beacon of light on a tough day.

Tuesday started with a big high, when the second group of freestyle men got on a run in the morning session, winning all 12 matches and putting the entire group into the semifinals. That night, the group continued wrestling well, pushing three into the finals with the other two wrestling very well in their losses. The night ended a bit down, as Arujau lost a close finals match to a Japanese wrestler and settled for silver. The USA stood in 10th place after the first five weight classes, not the expectation of this team.

Wednesday was the start of the women’s tournament, and it started with a crash, as four of the five U.S. women got beaten in the first session. It got even tougher that night during the semifinals, when our only wrestler left, Jayden Laurent, was beaten and did not make the finals. Immediately following was the men’s medal round, which was about as high of a high as you could get. The USA won four of the five medal matches, with a pair of champions (David Carr and Mason Parris). Even better, the pin by Parris gave the USA second place, one point ahead of Iran in third. It was a great comeback, and we all got to hear the national anthem and stand as a team on the podium for pictures. It was a great time for everybody.
Thursday reminded us that often, the highs and lows can come in the same session. This morning, our second group of U.S. women raced to a great start, winning all of their preliminary matches. The quarterfinals proved to be a downer, with three of the five women losing matches while Macey Kilty and Alyvia Fiske qualified for the semifinals.

The Thursday evening session was a bit uneven, as well. Kilty looked great on the way to making the Junior finals for a second straight year. Fiske got caught in a cradle and pinned, and will be going for a bronze tomorrow. Cameron Guerin got pulled back into repechage, and will compete on Friday in the first repechage match all week for Team USA. (We have had no luck getting pulled back in after a loss). In the medal rounds that followed from group one, our lone survivor Jayden Laurent did not get her offense going and lost in the bronze-medal match to place fifth.

Tomorrow is the start of the Greco-Roman and the finish of the women’s freestyle. Three of our women still have a chance to fight for a medal, which could help raise the spirits once again. We have a returning medalist in Greco, Cohlton Schultz, competing tomorrow as well. For sure we can expect some more highs and lows the next three days, hopefully with more highs than lows. But ultimately, it will be what it will be.

When I am at a World Championships or Olympics, and people tell me “good luck,” I respond that “I am not wrestling today.” Really, all of this pressure falls on the athletes who are representing our great nation, not me. But we can’t help but get caught up emotionally with how our athletes and teams are doing. We are all part of the team, in the different roles that we play with the delegation. When things are going well for Team USA, we are right there enjoying the high. When things go badly for our athletes, we bottom out right alongside the wrestlers and coaches, the fans and the families.

Coach Jackson was right about the rollercoaster. In his honor, I am using a photo tonight that shows one of the highs this week, after his Junior men’s freestyle team earned that second place trophy. Pretty much everything had to go right for that to happen, and the USA got it done. I was given this picture by a nice Estonian photographer named Maria Kilk who captured the moment. You can be sure that I was standing a few feet away, smiling right along with KJ and the guys.

October 14 - The gang is all here, with the Greco team now in town

The unique thing about World Championships at any age level is the mixing of the three different “disciplines” of the sport in one setting. Although we all know that Wrestling is Wrestling, there are entirely different groups of people at the events, the men’s freestylers, the women’s freestylers and the Greco-Roman athletes.

At the Junior World Championships this year, Wednesday is the one day in which you encounter all three of these sub-groups of people. Men’s freestyle is in its last day of competition. Women’s freestyle is in its first day of competition. Greco-Roman teams have already arrived, in anticipation for their first day of action on Friday.

I saw a few of the U.S. Greco-Roman athletes last night at dinner. They had arrived, had a short workout, and were getting settled in our hotel, which is the Tallink City Hotel.

Today is the day when all three groups within Team USA are truly together. It is the day that you can spend time with athletes, coaches and supporters from every style. While there are unique things about each of these groups, there is one thing that binds them together when they travel overseas; they are all from The United States of America. Everyone who is here in Tallinn is wearing the red-white-and-blue, literally and spiritually.

One of the best places to hang around with Team USA is at breakfast and in the lobby. They have a breakfast buffet for the accredited folks, and that is where all of the three teams tend to congregate. Sometimes they sit with the people from their style, but often you have a few tables where a mix of the disciplines spend time together.

If you want to know what is going on with the delegation, you learn it over breakfast. There is also a time each morning, before the buses head off to weigh-in at another hotel, or off to the competition venue, where people are congregating in the lobby. The people you don’t see at breakfast you often visit with by hanging in the lobby.

I have set up a routine for this year’s event. I get up early and have breakfast when it opens at 7:00 a.m. Then, I am in the lobby after that. Each morning, the team doctor Mike Baria of Ohio and team trainer Judi Tekautz of Minnesota take the short walk with me over to the weigh-in location, the Hestia Europa Hotel, which is about two blocks away. (They send a bus over there too, but who wants to be jammed in for that??) After weigh-ins, we get the 9:00 a.m. bus to the venue, arriving at about 9:30 a.m., to get set up for the 10:30 a.m. start. The bus ride over is usually jammed, standing-room only, so we get on a little early and try to save some seats for the USA athletes.

The medical staff (Mike and Judi) and I are the only from the USA delegation who are here all week. We work with the teams in all three styles. We also get to know everybody on each team, which is really good stuff.

After the men’s freestyle team finished up tonight, they will have to head to the airport in the middle of the night, even before we all get up in the morning. Likewise, when the women finish on Friday, they depart early on Saturday. This weekend, it will just be Mike, Judi and I with the Greco-Roman team, which finishes Sunday. We all leave Monday.

Being around the athletes, coaches, referees, doctors and trainers, fans and others with the U.S. delegation is part of the fun of being involved in wrestling at the international events. I want to thank all of them for being great teammates and doing what they do for USA Wrestling and the sport.

Editor’s Note: I was going to scrap this story and write about the amazing story of how the USA climbed from 10th in the standing after the first five weights, to finish in second place, edging third place Iran by one point. It is a great story. But after posting stories and videos until late in the night, I decided to go with this story which I wrote before the freestyle finals. Maybe I will tell that story another time.

Photo: U.S. Greco-Roman Junior World Team pose together in the Old Town section of Tallinn, Estonia today after their arrival for Junior Worlds. Photo courtesy of Gary Mayabb.

October 13 – An unbeaten session by our men’s freestylers lifts Team USA

Day two of men’s freestyle allowed U.S. wrestling fans to enjoy something that is pretty rare. Those who watched the morning session on Tuesday saw the U.S. team get on a run, and reel off 12 straight wins without a loss. It was a perfect session.

When Team USA gets on a roll, like it did this morning at the Junior Worlds, it is a sight to see. You can just feel the momentum building and the athletes feeding off each other. And when this is going on, you can be sure that the rest of the world is paying attention.

There were some really cool things about today’s men’s freestyle winning streak, in which all five athletes on the team won all their matches and qualified for the evening semifinals.

1. This was not a group of veterans at the World level who were just doing their thing. Only David Carr, a past Cadet World bronze medalist, had ever been at a previous World Championships. This group of five came in confident, and wrestled like they belonged here right off the bat. First-time World Team members Gabriel Tagg, Trent Hidlay, Lucas Davison and Mason Parris were wrestling like international veterans.

2. At one time, three U.S. athletes were wrestling Iranian opponents side-by-side-by-side on the mats. All three of these wrestlers (Tagg, Carr and Hidlay) beat their Iranian opponents. I can’t remember ever seeing that happen before, even during the glory days of our program when we would occasionally get on a similar run like this. It is a heck of a feat to beat the Iranians three times simultaneously. I asked Kevin Jackson, who was a member of some of those powerful teams and has coached with USA Wrestling a long time, if he had ever seen that. He can’t remember this happening either.

3. The USA dominated these matches, winning seven by technical fall. In almost all of the bouts, there was no doubt that the USA would win. Only two of the matches were close, and those are the ones you need to keep this kind of winning streak going. In his first match, Carr scored the only two takedowns to beat a past World medalist Devid Betanov of Russia, 4-0. In the quarters, Tagg scored late to edge Mahdi Shirazi of Iran, 2-1. A team on a roll has to win the tight ones against strong nations to keep the momentum. This team did just that.

One of the things that made this unbeaten session so good was that the first day for the U.S. men’s freestylers was a rough one. Vitali Arujau had a great day, but the other four guys in group one were not able to advance to day two. Coach Jackson talks about how a World Championships can be like a roller coaster ride. Day one was a downer. The first session of day two was about as high as you can get with a wrestling team.

I can remember seeing these kind of runs before, but can’t remember exactly what team did this in which tournament in what year. I do remember one run that stands out. At the 2003 World Championships in New York City, which was held on a three-day format, the U.S. Women’s World Team went unbeaten for the first two days of the event. It wasn’t just one session. It was two full days. That one was memorable.

The team got back on the rollercoaster a little bit in the second session, when the USA won three of their five semifinal matches, and then Vitali Arujau lost a close battle in the closing seconds to a tough Japanese athlete and ended up with a silver medal. Great runs always come to an end eventually. But it was sure fun to see one again, and one which I would not have predicted coming in today.

Photo of David Carr during the men’s freestyle team run today by Daniel Mitchell.

October 12 – Junior Worlds is tough. Vitali Arujau is very tough

The Junior World Championships is one of the toughest tournaments in the world each year. Don’t ask me. Ask the guys and gals who have wrestled here.

The average age of Senior World medalists in wrestling has gone down in recent years. It is not uncommon for wrestlers to do well at the Junior Worlds and quickly start winning medals at the Senior level. We are seeing it all around the world, and even in the United States. Think of all the young stars on the U.S. scene today.

That said, to win the Junior Worlds, you have to be tougher and more talented than the other tough guys. Vitali Arujau, the son of a Soviet World champion wrestler, local hero from my native Long Island, and already a star at Cornell as a freshman, is one tough hombre.

He had some challenging early round matches against some talented guys, but emerged with victories that showed he had something extra. He fell behind to a three-time Cadet World medalist Giorgi Gegelashvili of Georgia but scored two takedowns to take control in a 4-3 win. In the quarterfinals, he got way ahead of a game Vijay Patil of India, holding him off for a 10-8 win.

The semifinal match was something totally different. Arujau knew all about Russian wrestling, as the son of Vougar Orudjev, who won World titles and an Olympic medal for the USSR in 1990s. Vitali did not fear facing a 2018 World champion from Russia, Akhmed Idrisov. He relished the opportunity to compete at the highest level and show the world what he was all about.

Except for a point he lost to the shot clock, Arujau totally shut down Idrisov. He scored a powerful single leg takedown. He won a scramble for a takedown. He scored on a creative counter tilt. He scored in the final 20 seconds with another takedown to put the nail in the coffin. Considering the quality of his opponent, it was very impressive. Just as coach Kevin Jackson (who beat his share of Russians in his career) said afterwards, Vitali dominated the match.

I chatted with Vitali yesterday morning about how he lived only about 10 minutes from where I grew up. I was from Centerport, and if I drove through Huntington, I could pretty quickly cross the Nassau border and end up in Syosset, where Vitali made his mark in wrestling. Us Long Islanders take some pride in our wrestling, so I have been paying attention to Vitali for years now.

His dad Vougar, who is also a legend on “the Island,” was sitting not very far from me and I heard his fatherly instructions and encouragement the whole match. I asked Vitali if he heard his dad while he was wrestling and he said he sure did. “How could you not hear him?” he asked with a smile, and went on to tell us about how proud he was to be Vougar’s son and how much it means to him to make his dad proud.

Even so, it was a tough first day for the USA, which sent five freestyle wrestlers out today, and only Arujau was able to advance to day two.

Everybody was looking forward to Aaron Brooks and how he would handle his tough draw at 79 kg. A 2017 Cadet World champion, Brooks won a Junior silver last year at 79 kg. The Junior silver medalist at 74 kg, Abubakr Abakarov of Azerbaijan, was his first opponent. This was the dude that Mekhi Lewis of the USA beat last year in the finals. It was a close match most of the way, but the Azerbaijani had a bit more in the second period to win 5-3. And then Abakarov goes and loses to a Russian in the next round, and Brooks is out of the tournament. I told you this event was tough.

Everybody in the USA camp is looking forward to seeing what Vitali brings against a relatively unknown Japanese opponent in the finals, Toshiya Abe. This is the Junior Worlds, so it is hard to predict the outcome much of the time. But, if anybody wants to take a small wager, I have the kid from Syosset in the finals tomorrow.

Follow-up from yesterday’s feature: I said that my “to do” list for Saturday would be eventually done, after spending the morning with the freestyle men at practice. I did get all of that achieved, like I expected.

Get accreditation – Check. Referees Jim Speelman and Nick Kindred came to our hotel and I walked back with them to their other hotel nearby, where I could get my credential.

Figure out transport to the arena – Check. I jumped on a bus with Coaches Kevin Jackson and Shawn Charles and went to the draw at the venue, establishing one option for getting the arena.

Do the draw story – Check. I attended the draw and found out that I don’t need to go there each day because of the way they run it here, so I waited for the online brackets, then wrote my draw story from the hotel.

Test out the internet – Check. I tested the internet at the hotel with some video and it was fine. The venue internet was not available for test until Monday, but that was good also.

Buy bottled water – Check. I was told about a supermarket across the street and got a ton of bottled water for the week.

After a day of going to the arena and back (I stayed in the gym in between the sessions as always), I may need to revisit the transportation plan. But like we said yesterday, you have to go with the flow in wrestling. Sooner or later, everything gets worked out.

The photos of Vitali that we used today came from Daniel Mitchell, a U.S. photographer I met today and has been generously sharing his images. Thanks Daniel.

Photos: 1. USA Wrestlers outside workout facility in Tallinn, Estonia; 2. Kevin Jackson and Mike Grey lace up their shoes; 3. Team USA warmsup for practice; 4. Team USA drills in old-school wrestling gym. (Bottom is video clips of workout).

October 11 Junior Worlds are perfect example of how to “go with the flow”

I wasn’t going to blog this trip. Since they have returned to two-day tournaments in each weight class at international events, there is so much writing to do each day. Taylor Miller has become the master at getting a ton of stories and images posted at these World events. It is my turn to do the same at the Junior Worlds.

My trip was a little bit long, with a 12-hour layover in Frankfort. That’s on me, for putting together that itinerary. I no longer can sleep much on planes, so I spent that layover time working on a Junior World Team media guide and taking some cat naps.

When it got time for my night flight to Tallinn, there were other wrestling people with me on the plane. I ran into Trackwrestling journalist Andy Hamilton. Also South Dakota State head coach Damion Hahn, his wife, and assistant coach Cody Caldwell was there. The Turkish wrestling team was travelling, decked out in their warmups.

Things went smoothly at the airport when we landed at 12:30 a.m.. The local hosts were there waiting for us. They quickly pulled up a van for the USA group and took us right to the hotel, which was not far. I got my hotel key, and woke up my roommate, Mike Baria, our team doctor from Ohio State. I got organized and unpacked as quickly as I could and in bed by 2:00 a.m.

I found myself fighting my alarm at 7:00 a.m. I eventually got down for a pretty good breakfast – eggs, potatoes, cold cuts, cheese, fresh bread, a few cups of black tea. I got into the shower and cleaned off two days of travel. I also got online to check on our last day at the Pan American Games in Peru, the Beach World Series in Ukraine and a U.S. team competing in Belarus. (Always something going in our sport, somewhere in the world).

Every day I make a to-do list. These were at the top of today’s assignments. Get accreditation. Figure out transport to the arena. Test the internet. Do the draw story. Buy some bottled water for the week.

I decided to tag along with the U.S. men’s freestyle team. Coach Kevin Jackson had organized the group to meet in the lobby at 9:30 a.m. to take transportation to the venue for workout. I was soon hanging out with America’s best 17-20 year olds, along with our USA Coaches, personal coaches from many of the best colleges, medical staff. This is Team USA.

And as often happens at international events, things don’t’ always follow the script. They changed the time for the bus until 10:00 a.m., so we got to visit for a while longer in the lobby. Our bus finally pulled up. There was about a hundred that piled onto that bus. There were as many standing as sitting. All mixed in were athletes from Canada, China, Kazakhstan, Turkey, the U.S. and other nations. It was both men and women. Olympic medalists like Cael Sanderson, Nate Carr and Kevin Jackson were all jammed into the bus with a bunch of 20-year-olds.

I have liked what I have seen so far about Tallinn, and got to see some of the city as we drove through the town. All of a sudden, the bus just stopped on a random street. Everybody streamed off of the bus, across the street and down some back alley. An open door led us up a dark staircase with exposed brick, three flights of stars. Guess what? This was not the arena.

When we got to the top we went into a local wrestling club. It had everything that was needed. There were padded walls, mats from wall to wall with four circles, two in each room. The mats were well worn, with thousands of hours of wrestling in their past. There were pull-up bars and some throw dummies. The walls had some chipped paint, and the ceiling was not covered. This was an old-school wrestling gym.

Team USA, and the other nations, quickly got down to business. The athletes warmed up and begin doing some brisk wrestling. National Developmental Coach Kevin Jackson was encouraging the athletes to meet their goals for the workout. It was quite warm in the room, even though somebody had opened a few windows. It was raining pretty hard outside. I started taking some pictures and videos of the workout. It was some great stuff.

I have always enjoyed the Junior Worlds. The athletes in this event move on to the Olympic level. Some may be ready for 2020 Tokyo. Others will be representing their nation at the 2024 Paris Games. The competition is at a high level, yet the event is not quite as formal as the Senior Worlds. They are often held in smaller cities in interesting places all around the world, places you may not have thought about visiting but are glad that you did.

If you spend much time in wrestling, you learn some important lessons. Just go with it. Go with the flow. Things don’t always go according to plan.

This morning, I didn’t achieve a single thing on my list. No credential. No transportation plan. No venue visit, with no internet test. No shopping. Those things will get done, eventually.

But I once again got the chance to be reminded what makes wrestling such a great sport. Roll down some mats and let the warriors work out. World and Olympic medals are won in practice, day-by-day, in wrestling rooms off the beaten path like the one our guys trained in today in Estonia. I am very glad I went with the team today to experience it once again, first-hand.

Note: I will try to blog a little the rest of the week…