Jake Deitchler made the 2008 USA Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling team as a wide-eyed 18-year-old just a few months removed from high school graduation. A three-time Minnesota state high school champion for Anoka High School, Deitchler grew up a firm believer in the motto "spring and summer wrestlers make winter champions." So it was never a question for Deitchler —during the offseason he would always train and compete in Greco-Roman wrestling.
After all, it had worked for another local legend—Anoka was also home to Brandon Paulson, a 1996 Greco-Roman Olympic silver medalist. So, growing up, Deitchler had seen first-hand the benefits of training in what is often the sport’s most overlooked wrestling style.
Deitchler went on to compete for the University of Minnesota, where his career was cut short due to an injury. But he has recently opened up Takedown Gym, a youth and high school wrestling and fitness training facility in Brainerd, Minnesota, where he still maintains the same philosophy. Kids who train at his facility, Deitchler emphasizes, will be taught the fundamentals and benefits of Greco-Roman wrestling.
"It’s great from the standpoint that it teaches you how to stand toe-to-toe with your opponent and fight to win the battle in the neutral position, control ties, and ultimately develop a feel for the combative nature of our great sport," Deitchler says. Because a wrestler only has half of their opponent’s body to score on, they’re forced to develop hand-fighting skills such as snaps, Russian arms (or 2 on 1), underhooks, in addition to getting a feel in upper body throws and positions, he explains. "Getting better in the neutral position from Greco can only help your folkstyle wrestling by giving you that much more experience."
Kyle Snyder certainly is in control of his folkstyle wrestling. Snyder went 179–0 in three years competing for Our Lady of Good Counsel High School in Olney, Maryland. He’s spent the past year—his senior year of high school—training at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. in the Resident Athlete Program. Snyder has committed to wrestle for Ohio State University next season, and while his goals include becoming an NCAA champion and freestyle Olympian, Snyder was also a Greco-Roman national champion, winning a gold medal at the 2012 ASICS/Vaughan Junior National Championships in Fargo, N.D.
"If you can dominate somebody in any position in wrestling, especially if its with the upper body moves that you learn in Greco, then you are just going to be that much more dangerous," says Snyder. "I've found that not a lot of people are comfortable wrestling with their upper body, which is what you learn in Greco. When I've attacked and engaged in that type of situation, I've found that my opponents will try to back out of it, or if we do lock up I can tell it's awkward for them if they aren't experienced wrestling Greco."
Last summer, Snyder became the youngest American in more than 20 years to win a FILA Junior World championship, claiming the 96 kg (211.5 pounds) freestyle championship. "One thing I've learned when wrestling against international competitors is, they all train in Greco," notes Snyder. "Even when competing against guys in freestyle matches, you can tell they are strong and skilled with their upper body. But I've trained in Greco my whole life, so I was prepared."
Aaron Pico has won multiple national freestyle and Greco-Roman age group national titles throughout his career. Now 17 years old, the Whittier, California-native was a 63-kilo Cadet Freestyle World Champion last year. He and Snyder are arguably the two best teenage wrestlers in the United States. And while Pico's focus is on becoming a freestyle Olympic champion, he still trains in Greco-Roman multiple times a week because his coach, Valentin Kalika, who hails from Ukraine, places an emphasis on this style of wrestling.
"Sometimes we'll practice and it will be an all-Greco practice and that's all we'll focus on," Pico says. "My coach keeps telling me that this is going to pay off and I believe him. Wrestling Greco has helped me so much in so many different situations, it really is a big part of my wrestling and something I'll continue to focus on throughout my career even as I focus on freestyle."
Joe Russell is the head coach at George Mason University. Prior to that he was a longtime assistant at the University of Minnesota, where he also coached the Minnesota Storm freestyle and Greco-Roman national teams. He also coached Paulson and Garrett Lowney, who won a bronze medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Olympic games. There are many benefits of Greco-Roman (see below), but one thing stands out for Russell. "Greco-Roman training teaches home-run moves," he says. "Throws learned in Greco-Roman can make you dangerous in competition. If you know how to put someone on their back, you can win."
In addition, Russell says training and competing in Greco-Roman is great way to improve both physically and mentally as a wrestler. "Learning to compete, dealing with competitive stress, mat management, preparing for competition, all these things can be worked on in Greco-Roman wrestling," says Russell.
Benefits of Greco-Roman wrestling
(From Joe Russell, head coach, George Mason University)
1. Learning to hand fight: Knowing how to hand fight is essential and Greco-Roman Wrestling can be an excellent way to learn it.
2. Controlling tie-ups: Greco-Roman teaches you how to both be comfortable and control upper body tie-ups as well as how to get and control under-hooks, 2 on 1, over-hooks and headlocks.
3. Excellent form of cross-training: Having a Greco-Roman practice day is a nice break from the typical wrestling practice routine. "I enjoy watching guys overcome the fear of wrestling Greco-Roman,” Russell says.
4. Lengthens a career for a wrestler: By becoming an elite Greco-Roman wrestler, you can have a longer career in the sport. Wrestling past college is limited in folkstyle. You can use your Greco-Roman skills to compete many more years.
5. International opportunity: Greco-Roman wrestling is popular throughout the world, while folkstyle is not. By being able to compete, train, teach, and discuss Greco-Roman wrestling, you can better engage with and appreciate wrestlers from different countries.