On Friday, there was an airplane hovering somewhere over the Midwest. This is not a shocking revelation, but what was in that plane makes the story intriguing.
Sitting inside was 285-pound wrestler Adam Coon, a recently-minted Michigan alum who had just qualified for the Senior World Wrestling Team — a glorious position paired with elite company.
For any other wrestler that weekend, it could be assumed that they would’ve been flying back home to celebrate or rest after their showing at the World Team Trials in Tulsa, Okla. But Coon is not any other wrestler.
After downing long-time opponent Robby Smith in the Greco-Roman World Team Trials, Coon couldn’t let himself celebrate. He had to fly to Bethlehem, Penn. to compete in the Freestyle World Team Trials. Attempting to qualify for both squads, Coon had to consistently remain in attack mode in order to see his goals realized.
Coon would then go on to drop the two matches — essential for making the team — to another former opponent, world bronze medalist Nick Gwiazdowski, in the Final X event at Lehigh.
It was a weekend to remember for the heavyweight with highs and lows, and, as he described it, the longest sleep of his entire life.
Coon’s two showdowns arose under very similar circumstances, but would end with two drastically different outcomes.
To kick things off, Coon began his World Team qualification campaign against a man he had just lost to in the U.S. Open, a tournament prior to the World Team Trials — four-time Greco World Team member and 2016 Olympian Robby Smith.
In the U.S. Open, Smith was able to set the tone early and cruise to a 5-0 victory over the Michigan man. But since being named an NCAA All-American automatically qualified Coon for the World Team Trials, a rematch seemed inevitable.
Closing the gap set during the Open, Coon looked like a new man on the mat and out-muscled Smith for a 3-1 first round win in a best-of-three series. Looking to put things away and earn his spot on the World Team, Coon entered into an impeccably close second match. Narrowly trailing late into the bout, Coon laid it all on the line and slammed the big man down for a last-second pin to put Smith away for good.
“It was a little different strategy that goes into wrestling with him,” Coon said. “I made some small adjustments in strategy, and it worked on a bunch of small positioning things that took a lot of work. And it was just that small change that ended up leading to a pin. I mean he’s a fierce competitor, so it was great to be able to take a couple away from him, but I know he’s gonna be able to come back very strong, so I have to make sure I’m ready to go when he comes back.”
Coon also found success in his ability to pummel with Smith and hold his position, which ultimately led to the victory. Being able to set your position against a guy with the command and upper-body strength of Smith is no easy feat. In fact, it had seemed almost impossible for Coon until the Finals.
Coon couldn’t revel in his achievement, though, as he had a plane to catch.
During his travels, Coon had to completely switch gears while attempting to avoid fatigue. Switching from Greco to Freestyle is a tall order as leg attacks are forbidden in Greco. Adding on an entire half of the body as a target can certainly throw a wrench in any wrestler’s approach.
“Once Greco was done, it was just a quick transition, (I) didn’t really have much time to celebrate,” Coon said. “Just get to the airport and start thinking about Freestyle, just getting my mind ready for the leg attacks because in Greco, obviously, you don’t have the leg attacks. So, it’s just thinking about a different style as we’re travelling through and just change your mind and recover.”
In Bethlehem, another familiar opponent was waiting for him. This time it was two-time NCAA Champion Gwiazdowski, commonly referred to as, “Gwiz.”
The Final X was not the first time Coon saw Gwiz on the other side of the mat. The two squared off most notably in the 2015 NCAA Championships where Coon fell 7-6 to the then-reigning champ. With a notion of how to best defeat Gwiz, Coon gave the best-of-three series everything he had before falling in straight matches 6-1 and 6-1, respectively.
It was here that Coon’s plan — to become the first man to qualify for both the Greco and Freestyle World Teams since 1981 — came to an end.
“He did a really good job defending my stuff,” Coon said. “I, on the other hand, let him get to his attacks too much. I didn’t do a really good job executing the plan we had in place while he did, so that just gave him the results that happened.”
There’s no doubt that fatigue was another huge factor that played into this showdown. With hardly any recovery time, the mountain just seemed a bit too steep for Coon. But never the one to make excuses, the Michigan alum gives all credit to his opponent.
“Exhaustion might’ve played a factor, but at the same time, I’m not gonna make excuses,” Coon said. “He was better than me that day, and obviously, if we wrestle another day, I’d like to go after him again, but on that day he was the better wrestler, so he’s the World Team guy for sure.”
Coon can’t be that upset, though, as he did make one World Team. From here, Coon will train in anticipation of the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in October of this year.
“It’s been a few years since I’ve been on one of these world teams, so I haven’t been wrestling [wrestlers from other countries] for a long time,” Coon said, “So I’m really looking forward to testing my skills against the best in the world just to see where I fit in on that pecking order.”
Being able to focus on one style will be good for the heavyweight, and with any luck, the plane to Budapest will be the only one Coon will have to take in his time competing for a championship.