Not many athletes get the opportunity to compete on the world or Pan-American level. Many wrestlers and wrestling fans set alarms for the middle of the night to watch their favorite team compete against the best in the world. Some spectators just wait to see the results pop up on their Twitter feed, but overall many people wonder what it is like to compete internationally. I get asked that question a lot. Whenever I mention that I have competed for Team USA overseas, people immediately want to know what it is really like. Let me take you through what it entails to compete at an international event for Team USA.
First of all, many times Team USA has a training camp before every international event especially world events. The athletes fly either to the Olympic Training Center or an acclimation camp somewhere in the same time zone as the event. I remember for Junior Worlds in 2017 we spent just about two weeks at the Finnish Olympic Training Center, before busing down to the capital to compete. If there is no pre-event camp, all members of Team USA fly overseas together. Teammates come from all over the USA, but we meet up in a common airport before making the big international flight. Let me tell you, cutting weight on an eight-hour flight is a different kind of terrible, but it does make you cherish the airplane food on the way back even more! When you first land in an airport overseas, it is a bit of a shock for those that haven’t been out of the country. When waiting for your bag, you notice that everyone around you is speaking in another language. The airport is a good place to start though, because most airports have a little English on their signs.
Next, Team USA gets on a bus to the hotel. Almost every other team will be at your hotel. The hotel also provides three meals a day and normally has wrestling mats and scales set up in a ballroom or conference room. I never thought I would be able to say I wrestled under a chandelier, but check that off the bucket list! Athletes will walk into breakfast and see the person they are competing against later that night eating at the table next to them. It is a weird, but very cool dynamic. It makes you realize that, no matter what part of the world you are from, everybody is just there to wrestle.
From the hotel, there is a bus that takes you to the venue and you pile in with all your competitors. It is normally an interesting drive down narrow streets. Weigh-ins are done behind a curtain with two officials and you must remember your passport. After weigh-ins, it is warm up time. When it is your time to wrestle, the staff will find you and will give all of your belongings to a kid with a box. Normally, these kids are wrestlers themselves and they volunteer because they are huge fans who want to see everything up close and personal. You are then escorted to the stage you will be wrestling on, hearing them announce your full name and country. Once you get on the mat, everyone is just trying their best to wrestle to their fullest ability.
It is definitely hard to keep the nerves at bay when you are competing on the world stage, both figuratively and literally. Just keep in mind that the clocks count up and not down. Another interesting thing to note about international tournaments is the elimination process. In the United States, tournaments are typically double elimination, but not at international events. They are single elimination with repecharge. This means that once you lose, you are out of the tournament, unless the wrestler you lost to makes it to the finals. One more interesting thing to note is that two people get third place at international events. Besides these small differences, at the end of the day, it is just a wrestling tournament and everyone is trying to be the best. No matter what country is announced with your name, it all just boils down to who is left standing victorious on the mat.