Wolverines train with Olympians

BY MARK GIANNOTTO
Daily Sports Writer
Published December 1, 2004

Ideally, a wrestler’s career culminates in an appearance in the Olympic games.

This past summer, redshirt junior Greg Wagner and sophomore Josh Weitzel got a taste of what it takes to be an Olympic-caliber wrestler when they spent two weeks training with the USA Wrestling team in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Wagner and Weitzel were invited to practice with many of the current standouts for the USA wrestling team. Wagner got to wrestle with 2000 Olympic gold medalist and 2004 bronze medalist Rulon Gardner, while Weitzel got to train with four-time undefeated NCAA champion and 2004 gold medalist Cael Sanderson.

“Watching (USA wrestlers) practice, I just tried to pick up a lot of the little things they do,” Weitzel said.

In the Olympics, wrestlers compete in both freestyle and Greco-Roman versions of wrestling, rather than the folk style that is done in high school and college. Both freestyle and Greco-Roman emphasize the neutral and top positions, in which opponent control is essential.

“We did a lot of Greco-Roman wrestling, and a lot of Greco-Roman drills,” Wagner said. “I really learned how to hand fight better and how to better control (the opponent’s) head.”

Simply observing how the Olympians trained has proven beneficial for Wagner and Weitzel.

“Seeing how they work and how they train and how committed they are (was worthwhile),” Wagner said. “Pretty much everyone out there is training independently, and seeing how they handle themselves on an independent basis struck me.”

Both Wagner and Weitzel have been able to incorporate what they learned this summer in their own workouts this season.

“Just watching (USA wrestlers) wrestle, I picked up on a lot of little things that they do,” Weitzel said. “The way they prepare for practice and the intensity they have in matches are things I’ve definitely implemented into my own routine.”

The Michigan coaching staff has also noticed a difference in the duo since their summer experience.

“(Wagner and Weitzel) were able to bring back a lot of confidence from this experience,” Michigan coach Joe McFarland said. “Being able to work out with some of the best wrestlers in the world and holding your own does wonders for your confidence.”

Wagner and Weitzel have started the 2004-05 season on a roll. Wagner is undefeated (5-0) so far. Last weekend, he won the heavyweight title at the Body Bar Invitational. Weitzel (4-2) placed third in the same tournament.

“In a lot of my matches so far, I’ve noticed opponents can’t get through my hand anymore, and it feels real comfortable,” Wagner said. “That is definitely something that has helped me this year.”

The wrestlers thought ahead to their own personal Olympic dreams, their collegiate success remains the immediate focus.

“I’ve thought about (the Olympics), but right now I’m just trying to excel in college.” Weitzel said.

Wagner, Weitzel and the entire Michigan wrestling team will try to continue their collegiate success at the Cliff Keen Invitational in Las Vegas this weekend. Action starts on Friday morning and continues through Saturday night.