November 28, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 51  

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Western Mustangs' Wrestling 101: an inside look

By David Lee & Alison Stolz
Gazette Staff

Dave Picard/Gazette
THE BOUT TO KNOCK THE OTHER GUY OUT. Western grapplers Jamie Gillman and Tosh Jeffery square off during practice. The scrimmage was so fierce that Jeffery’s shirt spontaneously combusted.

Forget what you've seen on TV -professional wrestling is not real wrestling.

Inspired partially by the exploits of famed sportswriter George Plimpton -whose efforts at participatory journalism led to him taking a few snaps at the quarterback for the Detroit Lions- and partially by our own athletic aspirations, The Gazette decided to partake in a Western Mustang wrestling practice.

Of course, such an endeavour was not without its bumps and bruises -we both left the practice visibly limping and sore. However, we were lucky enough to have a brief glimpse of what it's like to hit the mats and take care of business.

The wrestling team is coached by Ray Takahashi, a Western alumnus who made the Canadian Olympic roster in 1976, 1980 and 1984. Having been a standout athlete during his heyday, Takahashi realizes that varsity athletes are a rare breed. "I think [all varsity athletes] are pretty motivated and they work really hard," he says.

Like all other sports, wrestlers need to be in good shape to compete at a high level. "There are a lot of different physical components to wrestling," Takahashi states. "While some sports focus on conditioning, wrestlers need to be well-balanced -they need strength, flexibility, conditioning and agility." Despite the stereotype of muscle-bound ogres, wrestlers can succeed no matter what shape or size they are; there's not one body type that's better or worse for the sport. "There are different weight classes, of course. Ideally, you're strong for your weight," Takahashi says.

With that inspiration in mind, we believed that we too could compete. Boy, how wrong we were.

Practice began with Takahashi and his assistant coaches outlining the goals of the two-hour session, followed by a warm-up. What started as a simple jog eventually included somersaults, push-ups, sit-ups and one-on-one drills. However, the components were far from routine. Push-ups involved a partner resting his or her weight on one's back to add more challenge to the exercise. The whole warm-up seemed to simulate what it would be like to wrestle in a tournament -we were continually moving and exerting ourselves, yet at a moment's notice we had to grapple with our opponents.

Following warm-up, the practice turned into a series of one-on-one scrimmages. Wrestlers were given the chance to show their coaches and teammates what they're made of and to practice new moves.

Dave Picard/Gazette
WHEN YOU’RE THIS BIG, THEY CALL YOU A SPORTS EDITOR. Gazette sports editors David Lee and Alison Stolz get a taste of the mat, served up by Western’s wrestlers. (Left to right) Dave’s imposing body is hoisted by assistant coach Rob MacDonald —> Dave suffers a minor heart attack —> Ali is forced to do push ups with wrestler Jess Fitzgerald —> Ali gets the upper hand and prepares to body slam her opponent

Midway through practice, assistant coach Chris Capangyarihan spoke to the entire team about the importance of strategy and demonstrated a move called an arm drag, which in turn can lead to other strategic techniques. "Technique is so important in wrestling," Capangyarihan says. "It's the strategy before the takedown that counts the most." Coaches emphasize the importance of wrestlers using new skills properly in practice and not trying to show off. "We'd rather see someone lose [in his or her scrimmage matches] than win without trying to learn something new," explains coach Josip Mrkoci.

While in the ring, wrestlers get into an aggressive mind-set. Unlike goal-oriented sports like soccer or hockey, wrestlers are matched physically against a complete stranger. "You have to get into a mind-set -it's a six minute attitude on the mats that disappears once the match is over," says wrestler Jess Fitzgerald.

Teammate Tosh Jeffrey has a more competitive opinion about the sport. "When the whistle blows, you're physically against another person," he says. "It's not a fun sport -it's a fight." Once a match begins, focus is key. A common saying in wrestling is if you get the first point, you'll win the match. "One little mistake can cost you the entire match," comments women's captain Terri McNutt. "It's not like you're missing one basket that you can make up for the next time you're down the court." The need to be a well-rounded athlete also translates into well-rounded team members. Seth Ross, in his second year of an honours business administration degree, often has to juggle his wrestling schedule and the demands of attending Ivey. "There were times [last year] when I had a 48-hour report on the same weekend of a tournament, but Western is pretty good with make-ups," Ross states. "Of course, there were times where I couldn't wrestle as much as I wanted to, as well." Similarly, assistant coach Rob MacDonald is well-informed about a range of issues from corporate sponsorship of universities to admissions criteria for post-graduate programs. He also stresses the demands made by the sport on a wrestler's time: "It's hard to practice 20-30 hours per week, work a job to make money [for school], plus get good grades," MacDonald adds.

The intense practices and matches take their toll on the wrestlers, allowing trainer Derek Butterwick to see his share of action as well. "Mostly it's bloody noses, sprained elbows and thumbs, even a shoulder dislocation," he says. "But the worst thing I've ever had to do is pop a guy's kneecap back in." While the injuries are simply part of the sport, perhaps the best-known controversy surrounding wrestling is the process of weight-cutting before a tournament. In order to be entered into a lower weight class, it's not uncommon for a wrestler to drop 10 pounds in two days prior to a weigh-in.

After the team has been weighed, the wrestlers try their best to put the weight back on in time for their matches. When asked about the tradition, most team members are frank. "It's not easy," Ross laughs. "It's a trade-off between not wrestling at 100 per cent or wrestling bigger guys." Most of the people we talked to on the Western team hated any comparison we tried to make to pro wrestling, and with good cause. While pro wrestling is highly scripted and full of drama, varsity wrestling is more about reacting to an opponent and out-strategizing them. All this takes place while wrestlers try to physically control their opponents.

While we're by no means experts, we at least have a newfound respect for an often unheralded sport. Wrestlers of Western, we salute you.




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