Croatia Beach Blog: Chapter 8 - JJ

By Rusty Davidson, Associated Styles Committee | Sept. 03, 2019, 2:42 p.m. (ET)

September 9… We were already travel tired, getting into New York, this afternoon. Then, the text and voice messages and emails started raining. JJ passed.

I appreciate Gary Abbott’s soft touch. His piece, along with the other tributes I’ve seen, today, cover all the bases. There’s nothing I can add, that would offer you any better appreciation of this Gentle Giant’s life.

I can tell you this. During this trip, last Wednesday, to be exact, we had the luxury of sharing an afternoon with friends, at a family vineyard in Slovenia. The first time I ever visited the Suman Vineyard was in 2007 and it was with JJ.

We spent a good hour, last Wednesday, sharing JJ stories. Every single word was about the love of life and genuine human compassion that defined him.

I’m having a tough time with this, and I’m sure I’m not alone. But, I’m gonna’ stick with my themes of Celebration and Gratitude.

JJ could hug ! I got more than my share. Every hug was one of genuine love. I’m celebrating the hugs we all got from JJ.

Many of our dearest friends are on their way to Nur Sultan, this week. I will challenge all of you to hug the people who deserve one… and some that need to learn. Do this for JJ.


September 8 - Chapter 7 - Great Day to be American

It was! As Gary already reported, we went three for three on podium appearances in this final stop of the first World Series of Beach Wrestling. United World Wrestling President and IOC member Nenad Lalovic was on hand for award presentations.

Not only did all three Americans, Michael Peters, Diana and Kristal Betanzo, earn medals for this World Series stop. All three ended up with Bronze Trophies in the yearlong series rankings.

Kristal earned all her points at this event, even though she’s a Junior World Bronze medalist. Diana cashed in on her participation in two of the four World Series events.

Michael’s path to the overall Bronze was a little deeper. Note that the U.S. produced three separate men’s Series Bronze medalists, in three events, all at 70 kg. Reece Humphrey was Bronze at the Rio de Janeiro event in May. Timmy Box was Bronze at last month’s Odessa event.

What separated Peters form the pack were the points he brought forward from competing in the 2018 World Championship in Sarigerme, Turkey. This is actually Peters’ third World Championship appearance, having placed fifth in Dalyan, Turkey, in 2017.

Icing this weekend’s performance cake, was Kristal winning the Best Throw of the Event Award. This award is decided by spectator voting, after watching repetitive clips of the top five throws selected by UWW Media Staff. Kristal won out, over Ukraine’s Semen Radulov, who won the award in both Rio and Odessa.

Radulov had another Sweet, cartwheeling fireman’s carry yesterday. With the majority of spectators here being native Croats, seeing wrestling through a Greco-Roman lens, Kristal’s cleanly executed, sweeping hip-toss was a crowd sensation.

The World Series of Beach Wrestling is a “Money” event. That becomes sort of a sensitive issue. I’ll be happy to share all the details, with anyone who asks, but it’s not comfortable to discuss is here and now. Suffice it to say that each of our Americans has some extra business at the currency exchange counter, tomorrow.

So, when you put it all together… and I’m admitting my bias, here… our success in the Beach Wrestling World Series, over the last month, should be a wake-up call to countless American Wrestlers, Parents and Coaches. Beach Wrestling is a REAL thing. It will be an increasingly important part of Wrestling’s future appearance.

Answer me this: How many times, during your entire wrestling experience, have you heard that, “Success requires and exceptional willingness to accept risk?” Yeah… me, too.

It’s time for a bunch of us to get off our butts and walk our talk. There are so many opportunities for Athletes, Coaches, Referees to grow themselves through experience in this dynamic style. If it’s Wrestling, the United States should always take a shot at dominating it!

I’ll finish up this series, tomorrow (Monday), during our layover in New York. Then, I’ll turn it over to Gary and his staff of professionals, as they cover what promises to be a very exciting World Championship, in the Olympic Styles.

I’ll be back with you, in mid-October, for the First Ever World Beach Games, in Doha, Qatar. Ciao.

Photo above of U.S. Beach World medalists Michael Peters, Kristal Betanzo and Diana Betanzo courtesy of Diana Betanzo.

September 7 - Chapter 6 - Throws

It was a Betanzo kinda’ day ! Two Head Throws and a Hip Toss, and Mother Daughter Betanzo advanced. Daughter, Kristal, hit the hip toss against Carmen Vieira, of Portugal, and is now one match away from World Series Gold. Kristal is actually a Junior, wrestling up a division with medical permission. She will face Kateryna Mashkevych, of Ukraine, in what amounts to the Final

Mom. Diana, took her heavy Head and Arm to the bank against both Sara Trbulin of Slovenia and Sonia Brazio of Portugal, winning both matches 3-0. Tomorrow (Sunday) Diana faces Anna Mazurkevych of Ukraine, to keep her medal hopes alive.

In men’s action, Michael Peters went one and one. Peters scored a decisive victory, versus Petar Josipovic, of Croatia, in the first round. He lost, 0-3, in his second round match, against Ukraine’s Semen Radulov, Champion of the recent World Series event in Odessa, Ukraine. Peters will face Croatia’s Luka Malobabic, tomorrow (Sunday), to decide his pool.

In more of what amounts to good news, bad news… I am anxious to share more of the characters that make up this wonderful experience. The bad is, I’m gonna’ have to sleep before I can write. The good is, our Croatian hosts set a new record, tonight, with a social for all participants, in the beautiful lake park, next to our competition.

I’ll get there. Ciao.

Photo above: Kristal Betanzo after her win on Saturday.

September 6: Chapter 5 - Rain

Good news, bad news. The good is, tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon is supposed to clear up a little. The bad is, it’s been raining, steadily, in Zagreb, since late last (Thursday) night.

We have already cancelled the Saturday Morning session, but it looks good for Saturday afternoon and two sessions, Sunday. Certainly, the preparation routines of these world-class athletes are impacted. But, that’s actually not the toughest problem, in the modern world of sport.

Today, there is so much technology at work that a little moisture presents catastrophic potential. We use giant, electronic scoreboards, exorbitantly expensive cameras and more laptop computers than one might guess. So, even a little rain creates a big scare for UWW’s IT, marketing and management teams.

These specialists spend all of today (Friday) at Jarun Lake Park, the site of the 2019 Beach World Series Finale. It seems like, with just a little help from nature, we’ll be up and wrestling Saturday at 3:00 local time.

Speaking of technology and marketing, Mike, from FloWrestling is here. Flo will be streaming the entire championship. Three o’clock Saturday afternoon, in Zagreb, is 9:00am EDT and 6:00am in California.

Seeding and draw will take place early Saturday morning. However, we do know numbers. Kristal Betanzo, at 50kg, is in a pool of three, including Portugal and Ukraine. Kristal’s mom, Diana, 70 kg, is in a pool of four, with Portugal, Slovenia and Ukraine. Michael Peters, at 70 kg, is part of a seven-man bracket. The bracket will be split into two pools and will include Peters, Georgia, Serbia, two athletes from Ukraine and two from Croatia.

I know Gary and Mike will get you nearly instant results. You can also follow along on the UWW site, or with Flo. I’ll work at getting you some ‘Icing’ for the ‘Cake’.


September 5 - Chapter 4: Michael Peters

Michael Peters is one of those guys that simply “Gets It”. The Red-Shirt Sophomore at Maryville has figured out how Wrestling helps us grow all the components of our lives… exponentially.

Peters hails from Quincy, Illinois. In this powerhouse state, Michael qualified for the High School Championship, a couple of times, and made three teams to Fargo. Maryville sought him for his combination of raw talent, the work ethic to maximize and the academic prowess to thrive. Michael is on the Dean’s List and is an NWCA Academic All American.

Many of Peters’ Maryville teammates call him “Sandman.” This weekend’s World Series Finale marks his third appearance in Beach Wrestling’s World Championship event. Michael competed in Sarigerme, Turkey in 2018. He was fifth in the world in Dalyan, Turkey, in 2017.

Michael is a really quiet guy, introspective, stoic. If you watch his eyes, though, you know he’s like a human sponge. He’s soaking it all in.

Michael takes the time to enjoy the food in a variety of new places. He and his Dad, Donnie, find ways to get out, to see and experience the culture and people of each new place.

When he’s on the mat, in the sand, in the classroom, Michael Peters is all business. This makes him easy to coach and teach. Those that invest in this young man, get the true enjoyment of knowing it’s appreciated.

When he’s on the bus, in the restaurant, around the hotel, Michael Peters is easy and comfortable to be around. He doesn’t make a lot of noise, but his smile lets people know they are valued.

Wrestling has a way of producing some pretty good humans. Michael Peters is a great example. That cannot go without congratulating Tanya and Donnie. You raised a good one. Thanks for sharing him, through Wrestling.


Photo above of Michael Peters courtesy of Maryville Athletics

September 4 - Betanzo

Family is important. On that, we all agree. Wrestling is certainly a sport that emphasizes that importance. We all know of countless stories that feature successful Father and Son experiences.

What a kick to be in a generation featuring successful Mothers and Daughters. Two thirds of our U.S. delegation to the Final event of the 2019 Beach World Series will be Kristal and Diana Betanzo.

Daughter Kristal has been successful at the kids, high school and National Teams level for her home state of California. Kristal will represent the United States next month in the first Beach World Games, in Doha, Qatar.

Mom Diana (whose maiden name was Wesendunk), competes this weekend in her second UWW Beach World Series event. She competed in Odessa, Ukraine, in early August, in the plus 70kg class. Down a weight, she will represent the Red, White and Blue at 70kg, in Zagreb.

After only a couple of days at home, Diana will fly to Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan for the Grappling Worlds. While this may seem a little extreme, for the mother of a high school graduate, Diana is no stranger to World Class competition.

Diana represented the United States, on the Women’s Freestyle World Team, in 1992, in Lyon, France. After a successful high school career as one of the pioneers, Diana stayed in the chase for World Team positions for nearly a decade. Coaching a kids club in Northern California, she continues to both Give Back and Pay Forward.

So, Thank You to the Mothers and Daughters and Sisters and Wives that continue to move our sport into the 21st century. Thank You to the Fathers and Sons and Brothers and Husbands who stand next to these brave women throughout the wrestling world.

Speaking of Dads, Thank You to John Wesendunk for realizing what wrestling does for kids. John has stood beside his daughter Diana from day one. This weekend, he will coach her and his granddaughter Kristal in Croatia.

One last special note: Our thoughts and prayers remain with all those affected by Hurricane Dorian.


Photo of Kristal Betanzo above

September 3: Friendship

Wrestling is such an accurate microcosm of life. We brag about how many ways, and times, our sport lets us experience the value of struggle. It reminds us to appreciate luck, along with effort. Wrestling defines, for us, the way true friendship enhances our lives.

Many of us are so fortunate; we develop true friendships far from home. This week, Eva and I get to visit a couple of those true friends. Thursday, we will be back in Zagreb, where we’ll get to spend time with Davor Petanjek. We spent Tuesday with Stanislav Sernek of Slovenia.

Stane and Davor are, arguably, two of the greatest Wrestling referees on the planet. I’m sure everyone has their own definition of what makes a referee great. (I’m also sure there are those who would argue, “There’s no such thing !)

My definition is simple: These are honest men who love Wrestling and act like it. Both have spent decades in the room and on the mat. They were both fortunate enough to be born in the wrestling-rich center of Eastern Europe. Both have evolved to positions of leadership within United World Wrestling. Both have EARNED everything they’ve gotten.

I’ve watched these guys, and their wives, raise good kids. Now, Stane and I, (along with Gary & Patricia Abbott) are raising grandchildren. Davor has two successful adult sons, and fingers crossed.

These two men are shining examples of the countless friendships wrestling offers each of us, across the planet. All of us, in every role… athlete, coach, media specialist, coach… whatever… must take every opportunity to appreciate the humanity of it all.

Thank You, Wrestling! You’ve been good to me.


September 2: Remembrance

As we celebrate American Labor this weekend, our shared “Labor of Love” Wrestling is commanding a lot of attention. Today, we celebrate the discovery of our last World Team member. Congrats to Zain, for the perseverance to make the squad. Congrats to Yianni, for being a class act while making the battle.

Next week, it’s important for us to take a little time out and “Celebrate” September 11th. I put that “Celebrate” in quotes because the word, itself, commands the personal definition of each of us. I’m pretty sure you get what I mean.

In 2001, the United States was deep in preparation to host the Freestyle World Championship, at Madison Square Garden. Obviously, that didn’t happen. We ended up in Sofia. Lots of families lost someone precious on September 11th that year. Wrestling, and its resilience, had a chance to offer a certain perspective of hope during a very troubled time. That’s worth celebrating, as we prepare for Nur-Sultan, 18 years later.

Eva and I are in Croatia for the Finale of the 2019 Beach Wrestling World Series. On the way, we had a five-hour layover at JFK. We chose to spend three of those hours taking the train into Manhattan. Spending a few minutes in the solitude of the World Trade Center Memorial Garden was well worth the trip.

It will be fun reporting to you the events of this Beach Wrestling Championship. But, right now, it feels right to reflect on early September. We get to remind ourselves of our struggles, both common and unique. We get to say “Thank You” to each other, and to Wrestling, for the resilience and strength to be who we are and where we are. Thank You!


Editor’s Note: You can see the Beach World Series event in Zagreb live on Saturday and Sunday on FloWrestling.