Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Saitiev waves after another big win

I’ve always loved watching amateur wrestling. It’s been in my blood since I was just a boy, watching my older brother compete. I can’t remember a time when the sport wasn’t a part of my life. Wrestling is great on so many levels. It is a branch martial art, full of technique, strength, power, and stamina. It is a one on one competition, and therefore it’s easy to determine where you stack up against those around you. Like all great sports the mental preparation and endurance is just as crucial as the physical, and supersedes it in the big matches.

Wrestling seems to be a dying sport, despite being one of the oldest. Title IX, the legal precedent that set standards involving discrimination on the basis of sex, is in essence very noble. But it has resulted in many schools cutting their wrestling programs because of the requirement to make room for an equal number of men and women’s sports, and since wrestling isn’t a real moneymaker, it gets the chop first.

Wrestling in the U.S. could and should be huge. In Russia it is the popular equivalent of perhaps professional tennis in the United States. The athletes who dominate in the sport come mainly from Russia, the former Soviet republics, Iran, Korea, the U.S., and several eastern block countries.

Up until recently it has been nearly impossible for me to actually watch our wrestlers compete, let alone foreign wrestlers. The competitions aren’t televised nationally, except for the NCAA Championship round, and a precious few Olympic Gold medal matches. Recently Real Pro Wrestling is trying to find a niche in cable networks, but for the most part viewing the matches must be done in person.

This week the World Championships (an annual event) are held in Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestling. For the first time they were broadcast in their entirety—Quarter, Semi-, and Final matches. Freestyle is my preferred discipline, and I’m always excited to see who the U.S. sends to the world stage to compete. I was disappointed to see that only two of our wrestlers made it into the Quarterfinals, and only one, Joe Williams, medaled (bronze). But the real joy was to see for the first time Russia’s Buvassiar Saitiev. This guy is the Michael Jordan of wrestling. He won his first World Championships in 1995, and the next year won the Olympic Games. Some years he has competed in the World Championships, others he opts not to, but he has tallied an impressive 5 World Championships and 2 Olympics Championships. In 10 years he has only lost one match, that came from USA’s Brandon Slay in a huge upset in the 2000 Olympic Games. Yesterday Saitiev won his 6th World Title.

Watching this guy is pure joy and excitement. He moves unlike any other wrestler I’ve ever seen. Graceful as a dancer, always poised, always controlled, effortless, smooth, humble, and totally unconventional. In each match I saw he did some trick, some move, some scramble where I said, “Whaaa? I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Congratulations to this phenomenal athlete.

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