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Wrestlers getting a grip at camp

Russian icon shares his knowledge with budding Olympians

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Russian Olympic wrestling team coach Sergei Beloglazov works with grappler Gryphon Lalonde during a clinic at the University of Winnipeg Monday.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Russian Olympic wrestling team coach Sergei Beloglazov works with grappler Gryphon Lalonde during a clinic at the University of Winnipeg Monday. Photo Store

The Wesmen sure know how to sprawl and shoot for those double-leg takedowns, even more so after this week.

The University of Winnipeg wrestling program is only four years old, but the Wesmen have arguably the best recruiting class out of any Canadian university this year, with 16 highly-skilled grapplers from across Canada, the United States and other parts of the world committed to the school this fall.

For coach Adrian Bruce, it's not about what his athletes achieve during their time here -- he knows not every one of his students will win a CIS national championship. It's about who they become and for a few of them that's hopefully an Olympian.

Then who better to bring in to host the four-day Wesmen Wrestling School of Hard Knox this week than Sergei Beloglazov, a two-time Olympic gold medallist and world champion from Moscow who is considered one the greatest wrestlers to have ever lived.

'Japan is even more strict, coaches are king there, Russia the same way, too. No complaints there, just follow what he says, it's just their approach. Here it's more relaxed between wrestlers and coaches... But so far we're better, we're more

successful in wrestling, so that must mean our system works'

-- Sergei Beloglazov

Beloglazov, very strict in his approach, gave the group of 40 wrestlers from Winnipeg and parts of the United States a technical workout on Monday, with a taste of the Russian style of wrestling. At 57 years old, the Russian icon can still sprawl and shoot fluidly across the floor.

"I used to work in Japan for five years," said Beloglazov, now the head coach of the Russian Olympic team. "Japan is even more strict, coaches are king there, Russia the same way, too. No complaints there, just follow what he says, it's just their approach. Here it's more relaxed between wrestlers and coaches, but it's not wrong, it's just differences... But so far we're better, we're more successful in wrestling, so that must mean our system works."

Wrestling, one of the oldest Olympic sports, was nearly cancelled from the Games two years ago after being labelled boring. But after several International Olympic Committee meetings, the sport was voted back in for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Beloglazov said the possibility of wrestling being pulled from the Olympics was unfortunate. He said when the meetings were taking place, he and other prominent wrestling champions were ready to help, but nobody asked them.

"I still from the beginning can't believe it could be out, I never believed it," he said. "I thought it was a joke, but after it became very serious and I talked with Raphael (Martinetti, the former president of FILA) before, I said 'Are you serious? Lets make a big noise, my brother and I are ready to help. I'll bring 50 Olympic champions, we'll go and we'll talk to anybody. We cannot afford to do this.' "

You could hear one potential Olympian, Wesmen captain Kyle Nguyen, pushing others who were slacking off Monday morning.

The third-year heavyweight from Vancouver, where the Canadian wrestling headquarters are located, knew he wanted to attend school away from B.C. He could have gone anywhere, but it was Bruce who managed to sweet-talk him into wearing the red and black of the Wesmen, he said.

"It's everyone's dream to go to the Olympics," said Nguyen, 20, who finished second in the CIS national championships and third at the junior nationals last year. "Not trying to jinx it or anything, but as long as I keep progressing, keeping moving on, keep going forward, it's not unrealistic."

The comittment between an athlete and a school is a two-way street, Bruce said. The recruits he's managed to add to the roster -- with no financial incentive -- include a nationally-ranked Russian from Siberia and a state champion from Texas.

Bruce has coached at the national level and boasts his program is one that will be a developmental ground to go on to international competition. When you throw in that the program is only four years old, their results become very impressive.

"It's a direct result of the support we get from our university," Bruce said. "We have an athletic director and dean of kinesiology that really see the direction our program is going, I mean, wrestling is currently the most successful sport the University of Winnipeg has and we're only going into our third full year.

"But again they support what we're doing, but at the same time we recognize that, we appreciate it and make sure that we put our best foot forward. If they're gonna put that kind of support forward, we have to make sure we're worthy of it, every day."

kyle.edwwards@freepress.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 29, 2014 D6

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