49 North Wrestling recently caught up with Steven Takahashi, who will be attempting to punch his ticket to Rio by attending the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier in Texas, competing in the 59 kg Greco-Roman division. Takahashi recently competed at the Dave Schultz Memorial Tournament and spent time training in Colorado following the competition.
Before the Olympic Trials, what experience have you had in Greco-Roman? Any International experience?
I have limited experience in GR with only a few Junior National titles. However, I have often practiced GR to balance my Freestyle training. I’ve been lucky to have some judo background where some skills are transferrable. I’ve also been coached to use upper body techniques as part of my freestyle so there’s already somewhat of a comfort level. And, I’ve been fortunate that some of our club coaches have a GR background, who have been helping me – Dave Spinney and Laszlo Adamko.
In your opinion, what are some of the biggest technical differences between Freestyle and Greco-Roman? What attributes make for an easier transition?
I think that the par terre wrestling in GR compared to freestyle is the biggest technical difference, at least for me. I find that in GR you have to be much more proactive on the bottom, which is a bit of an adjustment for a Freestyle wrestler. Pummeling is also a big difference between the two styles. It’s not that you don’t pummel in Freestyle, but in GR it is much more important. GR pummeling there is more constant pressure, and no room to back out and rest. Pummeling a lot really makes the transition between Freestyle and GR easier. Of course having a couple of solid throws helps, but the basics of just holding your own in pummeling I think is the most important factor in the transition. When it comes down to it, whether you are doing GR or Freestyle, it is all just wrestling. A well rounded freestyle wrestler should be a decent GR wrestler, and vice-versa.
You recently competed in Greco-Roman at the Schultz Memorial tournament in Colorado as a tune-up event for the Pan-American Olympic qualifiers, finishing the day 2-2. What did you take away from that experience?
Wrestling at the Schultz tournament was a great experience for me. It was my first time competing GR internationally, and was a perfect stage to test my abilities before the Olympic qualifiers. Competing really showed me some specific things that I need to work on in order to qualify, but it also showed me that I am competitive and can compete with some of the best guys. With little experience in GR before this tournament, I came out feeling more confident and eager to compete again.
After the Schultz tournament, you stayed in the US and trained with the US Army Greco-Roman program. Why did you pick that particular program?
I picked the US Army WCAP (World Class Athlete Program) simply because I feel like it is the best program in the States, and especially for 59kg. It also was convenient that they train out of Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, the same city the Schultz tournament is held. It just made sense to compete at Schultz, then stay and train with some of the best guys in the country. The program at WCAP is top notch. They have great coaches and an elite GR program. Everyone is very professional in their training and with their overall conduct on-and-off the mat.
Do they regularly have International wrestlers train with the program? Leading up to the qualifiers, were they accommodating?
I do not know how frequently other international wrestlers train at WCAP, but I can say with confidence that everyone there was extremely accommodating and helpful. The coaches and athletes were very accommodating, especially considering one of their athletes will be at the Pan-American qualifiers may compete against me. That did not discourage them from trying to assist me in bettering my skills to eventually qualify for the Olympics.
Describe their facility and training methods. Is there anything you’ll be bringing back and add into your training repertoire?
The WCAP training environment is a great place to train. The Army base, creates an intense and professional atmosphere that I think is perfect for wrestling. The discipline, respect, integrity, and loyalty that the Army demands is definitely reflected back into their wrestling and overall program. Even the way that they do simple exercises, like burpees, is just more intense and coordinated. If I could bring anything to my program back home, it is that. I will of course be bringing back some skills I have picked up while being there, but the intensity and unity of their room is something that I would like to mimic.
Are you planning to return to their facility leading up to any of the qualifiers or the Olympics themselves?
I definitely plan on returning to train at WCAP at some point, if I’m welcomed back. After the Pan-American qualifiers I will look into going there again, hopefully in preparation for the Olympics.
At 59 kg, the Cuban is already qualified for Rio after winning the world title in 2015. Who do you see as the major players at the Pan-American qualifier? Have you faced any of them before?
There will be solid competition at the Pan-American Olympic qualifiers in the 59kg category and I expect every match to be hard. Some major players would be USA, Ecuador (who beat Cuba at the Pan-American Games), Mexico, and Chile to just name a few. I think a lot of the Pan American countries have made big improvements lately, so I think everyone will be dangerous. I don’t have extensive competitive experience in GR but have competed against Panama, some Americans, and have trained with the Mexican last summer – along with my recent experience with the US Army. I’ve made big improvements and I’m looking forward to competing.