USA Wrestling asked a number of wrestling leaders for their thoughts concerning the historic 2007 U.S. World Greco-Roman Team, which made history by winning the World Team title for the first time. Many of these people were coaches and athletes during the years in which the U.S. Greco-Roman program grew and improved. Others are very involved with Greco-Roman at this time.
All shared a sense of pride and joy in the U.S. team victory in Baku, Azerbaijan this year. We list their comments in alphabetical order below.
Note: A shorter edited version of these comments was published in the December 2007 issue of USA Wrestler magazine.
Jay Antonelli, 2007 U.S. World Team Coach
I credit Steve Fraser and his running of the team. He has a great group of supporters, with the resident coaches and volunteer coaches. The key was his getting people to believe that his way of training is the answer. Steve got the wrestlers and the coaches to believe we could win the title. There was a lot of hard work from everybody involved. The athletes believed in the training, in the coaches and in each other. You can’t just get on the podium some day. You have to imagine it first.
The other countries saw us and respected us. We have had some good performances before. But on the national level, this brings us up. We have always been second fiddle to freestyle in this nation. It is a much more natural fit with our college style of wrestling. But now, Greco-Roman should get a better crop of athletes from our nation.
If you saw how things worked at the World Championships, you would see that it all came together. We knew what we had to do. We all had a piece of the pie and together we got it done. Steve Fraser was the conductor; he put all the pieces together.
John Bardis, 2007 U.S. World Team Leader
I think the credit first goes to Steve Fraser, who had the vision a long time ago, when they did not see us as a World power as a team. To build a concentrated focus on Greco-Roman with year round training, with training centers in Colorado Springs and at Northern Michigan, made such a difference. It allowed us to attract top notch coaches from other nations, such as Ivan Ivanov, Momir Petkovic, Anatoly Petrosyan. He energized the top American coaches in the program. We have developed a best of breed. It has caused a transition in what we teach and has kept us on the cutting edge.
We took top athletes from partial-year programs and put them in a year-round training environment. It would be impossible to compete worldwide if we did not have a full-time training schedule. Steve has done this through the support of USA Wrestling. He has recruited the best Greco-Roman wrestlers in the world to come here to train with us. We found that these athletes have nothing on our athletes. It has improved our confidence levels. We have also developed a team camaraderie. When you are overseas, all you have is each other. That can’t be built in 30 days. Our team relies on the strength of our bond to keep us motivated and confident in hostile environments.
I was third in the Olympic Trials in Greco-Roman in 1976. We are so far ahead of where we were then. This would almost make 1976 unrecognizable to us. Our stars were few and far between and our depth didn’t exist. We had good athletes, but we didn’t have many good Greco-Roman wrestlers. Now we do. These were the guys on whose shoulders our current wrestlers stand.
Wayne Baughman, Hall of Fame member as coach and athlete
When I heard, I was elated, pleased and surprised. In all honesty, I never believed it would happen. I am happy for Steve Fraser and all the coaches and athletes who were part of this. When I heard about it, I was leading the cheers. This is the greatest thing for Greco-Roman wrestling and for wrestling in general. We are in good position with that victory to win at the Olympics next year. It was about building up more respect for American Greco-Roman over time.
At the 1960 Olympics, I had a medal locked up going into the last match, and had a comfortable lead on the Russian. The winner would get the silver and the loser would be fifth. I got a little careless and got hip locked. I was disappointed not getting that silver medal. If I got it then, it would have increased the respect for American Greco-Roman. After that, we got a few medals over the years. It has been a long hard battle. The international community was against us for so long. We were making inroads. We have had individuals do well over the years. The good thing is that the team won it. Many contributed to the victory, not just one or two champions. It was the greatest thing in the world.
Jeff Blatnick, 1984 Olympic champion
The U.S. World Greco-Roman Team title is significant for a few reasons. It is the first by a U.S. Team. It occurred outside of this country, so nobody can claim home mat advantage. The U.S. Team performed great despite not having World Champ Joe Warren. It happened the year before the Olympics, qualifying the bulk of the Team. This is definite momentum going into China for the Games. For Dremiel Byers, it is picking himself up from last year and delivering in the clutch. Perhaps this match, in terms of the program, is every bit as noteworthy as Rulon’s win over Karelin for an individual crown. Most of all, it validates a man’s mission to be the best as a wrestler and a coach. Steve Fraser is the face of the U.S. program. It is his grind on a day-to-day basis that has produced these truly remarkable results.
Dan Chandler, Olympic and World Team Coach and 3x Olympian
You have asked me for some quotes regarding the U.S. Greco team’s World Title. I apologize if I expound too much, but this is a happening that I was not sure would ever happen. Our Greco-Roman program has had its share of trials and tribulations. There have been some remarkable individual achievements, but to dethrone Russia and the other perennial powers and win the team title is too delicious for words.
In order to completely appreciate the magnitude of this event, one has to know the history and have suffered some of the abuse that has been heaped upon the US Greco program over the years. Through it all, our “Greco Family” has stuck together in the knowledge that somehow, somewhere, sometime all the hard work would pay off.
The significance of this World title to a Greco fan is similar to the Mets winning their first World Series. To truly grasp how significant this is, you have to know where we came from. We came from a frightening place.
What made this achievement possible? First and foremost is Steve Fraser’s leadership and planning. He has used the resources at the USOTC to absolute maximum benefit. He has also assembled a coaching staff that is second to none. He has inspired this program. Every Greco team in the World wants to come to our training center. The benefits of training at the OTC and the USOEC are obvious. If you aren’t there, you are not in the game.
Our Greco athletes are the best in the world. Our entire team worked their butts off all year. Dremiel Byers wins a bronze medal which is a remarkable accomplishment, but to win that match with that kind of pressure! That took some world class poise!
USA Wrestling has made a total commitment to Greco. Our top three guys at each weight get lots of international matches and training. When I competed the only international matches we had were at the World Championships every year.
In Minnesota and all over the country there are a lot of old Greco guys that were pioneers of American Greco. I am talking about guys that wrestled in World Championships in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. For many years there was no Greco program in the United States, no Greco Coaches, just Greco wrestlers. These guys more than anyone else understand the significance of this Championship.
Mike Chapman, Wrestling Historian
The stunning success of the American Greco-Roman team validates what all wrestling fans have always believed – that hard work, perseverance, discipline, dedication and, most of all, heart, pays off over the long haul. Goals were established, a structure was put into place that could help the team reach its goals, and then the right coaches were hired.
I am most happy for the pioneers – men like Dean Rockwell, Joe Scalzo, Alan Rice, Brad Rheingans and Dan Chandler – because they blazed the path. Then I am happy for men like Steve Fraser who weren’t afraid to dream big, and talk about those dreams. But, as always, the lion’s share of the credit has to go to the athletes. They trained like madmen, and got the job done.
This is huge for wrestling in America at all levels, because it shows that incredibly hard work can pay off with incredibly big rewards. It’s also big for USA Wrestling because it shows the system will work when the ingredients are mixed correctly and everyone buys into the process.
When I first received word of the world victory, from none other than Alan Rice, I felt a sense of pride even though I personally had done nothing to contribute. It was just a great feeling to know that “our guys” were the best in the world in one aspect of the toughest sport on the planet.
Joe DeMeo, Greco-Roman coach and pioneer
It is remarkable that we were able to almost win last year, then we came back and won this year. It is a credit to the athletes and Greco-Roman coaches in this country. It has been a small number of people working for a long time. A lot of credit goes to USA Wrestling, the entire staff, especially the national resident coaches. I have always thought we could win it. If a little country like Cuba can win it, how could we not? Our biggest challenge was getting the athletes who could do it.
When Steve Fraser took over, he had run a business and was capable of organizing things at a higher level. We got the better athletes, some top quality athletes. Every weight class this year, we had top quality athletes. Every year, we got a little bit better. But it has been a struggle. We don’t have 500,000 athletes in Greco-Roman like they have in Russia. But we beat Russia. We have like 5,000 athletes in the USA who identify themselves as Greco-Roman wrestlers. It is a phenomenal result. It is amazing that we are able to beat these countries that have more Greco-Roman wrestlers and Greco-Roman coaches than we do.
Our upside is great. We can be much better in the future than we are now. We have the ability to develop more clubs, develop our state associations and get more Greco-Roman coaches that know the techniques. We can become better and better.
Rich Estrella, 2007 U.S. World Team Coach
I found it interesting that the guy who won our first Greco gold medal at the Olympic Games was the same guy who had the vision to say we could be the best in the world. That is our National Coach Steve Fraser. There is some irony here. He is fanatical. He felt he could do it as an athlete, and as the coach, he felt we could do it as a nation. It is fitting that he brought the vision and helped the USA become 1st in the world.
We have had milestones. You can go back to the 1984 Olympics, and the strong performance at the 1996 Olympics. Later in 1996, we had five gold medalists at the World Cup. For the most part, they were individual achievements. What makes this important is this was a team effort. This will percolate down through the entire program, right down to the Kids level. It is important that our youth see this. Now we have to live like champions for all the people who come after this season. Because we won, we won’t sit on our laurels. We have already gone back to work.
Steve Fraser, National Greco-Roman Coach and 1984 Olympic champion
We have come a long way in the sport of Greco-Roman wrestling. Our country did not traditionally have a strong developmental system in the style because of our folkstyle emphasis. It has been a process that many coaches, athletes and Greco-Roman supporters have stayed focused on, even through many long hardships. There were many years of not producing the teams we had hoped to produce.
This means a tremendous amount to all of the pioneers who have been involved such as Alan Rice, Dean Rockwell, Bill Martell, Dan Chandler, Joe DeMeo and many others. It has been a great reward for us to finally realize the dream we have had in Greco.
It has always been my belief that we can do it. We have the athletes, coaches and resources to accomplish this goal. It has been my belief that you have to constantly remind people that we can achieve it. Some years it was hard to do that. We had a few years in the dumps. Those years separated the men from the boys. We had to ask ourselves many things. Do we really believe it? Can we overcome this adversity? Can we get focused on what we can do to win?
I have been fortunate enough to surround myself with great individuals, starting with my staff of Anatoly Petrosyan, Momir Petkovic, Ike Anderson, Ivan Ivanov and Jim Gruenwald. Those guys had to execute the plan, and show that they had the faith and confidence that if we do the right things we could achieve the mission. We have a diverse group of coaches in this nation. We all bring a different flavor to the pot. It has been my job to stir the pot. They are the ingredients that make it work.
Rulon Gardner, two-time Olympic medalist and 2001 World champion
It was pretty amazing. It was exciting to see Brad Vering grow up like he has, starting as Matt Lindland’s workout partner and working out with me in the early years. He never stopped training hard and taking every opportunity to get better. Every person on the U.S. team has that mentality. If you have that mindset every day, you can become champions. I was part of a great system, the chain that makes Greco-Roman wrestling the power that it has become in the United States. We have to give a lot of the credit to Steve Fraser, USA Wrestling and many others for giving the athletes the opportunity to believe in that dream.
Dennis Hall, 1995 World champion and 1996 Olympic medalist
For the guys on the team, it is a huge success. They put in a lot of time. Most of them are veterans, and have been around the sport. With all the rules changing all the time, it is not an easy task. I give them a lot of credit for getting it done as a team. It is tough when the rules change so much. It would be easy to give up on it. None of these guys had that attitude. Brad Vering is a perfect example of that. In 2004, he was close to getting a medal, then they changed the rules completely in 2005. He stayed with it. This is a tribute to the whole USA staff. They perservered, overcoming all the obstacles. The world knew we were not fond of the reverse lift. We adapted and won anyway. It will be interesting to see if the rules change again after 2008. Greco-Roman wrestling in the USA is getting the credit it deserves. In the past, when a wrestler got a guy from the USA, they might think it was an easy match. Now, if they get a guy from the U.S., they are not happy about it. It shows how far the program has come.
Mike Houck, 1985 World champion and past National Coach
When I heard about it, I had goose bumps. It was an amazing sense of pride. Years ago, the USA wrestlers were the good draw overseas. Here is a sport that went from not having a chance to a few decades later becoming the World champions. USA Wrestling took this program seriously, and with the support of the U.S. Olympic Committee, it was achieved. It was a huge team effort over 50 years. Every generation was better than the generation before it. This is a huge tribute to our sport. Winning the world championships as a team was truly a rags to riches story. There has been a core group of wrestling people with the commitment and belief that it could happen. They spent their entire lives dedicated to this pursuit.
When USA Wrestling started the national team program, and when the USOC provided Olympic Training Centers in Colorado and Michigan, it made a big impact. We went from when we had no coaches, to having a team of professional coaches. Nothing happens with out vision, belief and commitment.
Dennis Koslowski, two-time Olympic medalist and past National Coach
It brings back memories of 1983, when I went to my first Worlds and we mostly got wiped off the mat. I placed sixth, and it was our best finish. I won our first medal in a non-boycotted Olympics in 1988. We have to thank the Mike Houcks, the Greg Gibsons who started winning on the World level in the 1980s. A lot has to do with the resident program in Colorado Springs. It has meant a lot to the development of this program. I watch the Trials and the Olympics, and most of the U.S. Greco-Roman athletes are coming from there. We went from a smattering of a club system to a much more consistent training environment. All of these things made a difference. It is pretty exciting. I had to read it a couple of times when I first saw it.
Jim Ravannack, USA Wrestling President
The exciting part of this achievement has been the growth of the Greco-Roman program. For us to be so close last year, with a champion and several medals, and then to come back a year later and see our team step up, is very rewarding. It has been a collaborative effort from everybody, from our support staff, our volunteer coaches, our national staff, the athletes and their families, the officials and the fans. This is history in the making. To be a part of it was a sense of overwhelming joy. To see Steve Fraser lift the trophy in the air, our first Greco-Roman Olympic champion and our National Coach, was doubly special. The Greco-Roman community is a tight-knit family. Their ability to work as a unit is what I am most proud of. Winning the team title the year before the Olympic Games gives us momentum going into next year.
Alan Rice, Greco-Roman coach and pioneer
It is very significant. We were so late in the game. If you look at freestyle, it is a young sport worldwide. When we went to the World Championships back then, everybody did Greco-Roman. If you wanted to talk wrestling, you had to talk Greco-Roman, and we didn’t even know how to spell it. Our first competition with the U.S. team was in 1956. We went to those tournaments and we didn’t know much. We didn’t know the rules. They weren’t written in English. They didn’t keep score. There were three judges, and they would vote on the superior wrestler. We didn’t understand who won and why. It was a struggle through the early years.
This is tremendously satisfying for all of us early pioneers. We beat the rest of the world at its game. We have so few Greco-Roman wrestlers here in the USA. There are maybe only a few hundred in the whole country, in comparison to thousands and thousands in freestyle and folkstyle. It was a small number that carried the banner for the sport. This is a tremendous achievement for those on the team who won this title for us all.
Lee Roy Smith, Executive Director of the National Wrestling Hall of Fame
The United States Greco-Roman World Team Title at the 2007 World Championship is of monumental significance when you consider the odds our coaches and wrestlers have overcome to reach this goal. If you look back over the past several years our Greco-Roman program has made steady strides in developing World and Olympic medalists. This victory validates our program’s credibility on an international level and demonstrates that no matter what the rules or regulations, Americans can find their way to the top of the podium.
I particularly commend the leadership at USA Wrestling for successfully blending a foreign and American grown coaching staff that has developed our program to a championship status.
Brian Van Kley, W.I.N. Magazine publisher
The U.S. winning the Greco World team title is one of the greatest wrestling accomplishments in U.S. history when you consider all the variables. It was an uphill battle that the coaches and athletes totally bought into and believed they could accomplish from the beginning.
It shows what can be accomplished when you fully commit to a sizeable task and then work harder than anybody else to accomplish that. It’s a statement that the U.S. can be the best in the world in the Olympic styles, despite our athletes spending many years wrestling folkstyle.
I think Coach Steve Fraser was the catalyst for this win because he was the one who convinced everyone involved in the Greco program that they could win. But, I don’t think they would have ever actually won had he not had so many other quality coaches and athletes who also believe in the end goal. It’s just an incredible accomplishment.
Helen Vaughan, U.S. Greco-Roman Team sponsor along with the late John Vaughan
It give me cold chills. It is so wonderful. I wish John (Vaughan) was here to see it, but I’m sure he does know about it. It has been an honor to be affiliated with this. I have enjoyed it and look forward to staying involved in the future. At all times, John and I tried to do what we could do to help.