Monday, October 15, 2007

A conversation with Mike Duroe - part 1

A conversation with Mike Duroe – part 1

I had no idea what to expect when I sat down in Mike Duroe’s office to “chat about wrestling”. Mike is the head wrestling coach at Cornell College and has coached at all levels of the sport since 1980 - including serving on the staffs of three Olympic teams and as the national resident freestyle coach at the Olympic Training Center.

It doesn’t take long before the passion becomes evident. He just simply loves wrestling and loves teaching it. He also wants to see the sport grow and improve.

For 90 minutes we discussed everything from Joe Heskett’s heart surgery to the need to preserve the legacy of the 1947 Cornell College NCAA championship team. We covered so much ground that I’m going to share it with you in two parts. This week – Mike’s thoughts on the current state of freestyle wrestling and the recent World Championships in Baku.

“The Russians were dominant. They’ve got an arrogance – not really arrogant – but confidant. The rest of the world sometimes has a bit of a fear factor – not consciously. We have to get away from worrying so much about the tactical game that freestyle wrestling has become and dominate and score. We tell our guys, ‘one point isn’t enough. Don’t let it come down to the clinch.”

I asked Mike about the occasional internet criticism of resident freestyle coach, Terry Brands – that not all wrestlers can wrestle the aggressive “Gable style”. “Absolutely Terry has a dominant philosophy. I don’t think the criticism is warranted. He’s still a young coach – he was still competing in 2000. But he’s definitely evolving into a great coach. Take how he helped Bill Zadick (win a world freestyle gold medal) last year. Our overall performance wasn’t as bad as it may have looked on paper and we did qualify five of seven weights.”

“Part of the problem is that we only have most of our freestyle guys at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) a couple months out of the year. The (2007 world team champion) Greco guys are there year around – so are the women. It’s hard – most of our (freestyle) guys are college strength coaches or volunteer assistants. College head coaches are concerned about their own teams and winning, but we (the US freestyle team) need a little help from them. We have to have these guys more.”

This led us to another popular internet topic – the question, “Should America abandon folkstyle and switch to the international styles?”

“Absolutely not – it’s part of our heritage. Besides, which one would you switch to – Greco or freestyle? It would take us 15 – 20 years to even begin to develop enough good coaches at all levels. The NCAA could help us a little. I’d like to see the 1-point pushout rule in college. Think how much more action and scoring there would be. FILA needs to change their scoring so that you get two points for a technical takedown.”

“We need more clubs – more developmental programs. USA Wrestling does a good job, but we need more. Most of our funds come from the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) and are based on the number of medals you win. That’s why swimming and track get so much money. Plus they get so much private money. Art Martori (of Sunkist Kids) has been great for us, but we need more like him.”
When asked about the future of freestyle wrestling Mike said, “I’m not an alarmist, but I’m worried. We’re down to only seven weight classes and the IOC could decide to eliminate one of the styles in the future. Some of our athletes are going into ultimate fighting, where they can make more money. But – it’s everybody’s responsibility to make the sport better”

Next week – Mike on college wrestling.

Here’s a little video from American freestyle bronze medallist Daniel Cormier.

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