Western wrestling welcomes Olympian to staff

Experience of Azarbayjani to improve program, increase recruiting

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Stretching the opponents legs wide while wrestling

Courtesy of Josip Mrkoci

THAT’S GOT TO HURT. Saeed Azarbayjani, pictured in blue, takes down an opponent at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Azarbayjani brings years of professional experience to the Western program.

The Western wrestling program and the London-Western Wrestling Club have undergone a series of significant changes as of late, but none as important as their most recent decision to hire Olympic wrestler Saeed Azarbayjani to the coaching staff.

“Saeed was a piece of the puzzle that will solidify our plan to elevate our program to the top,” Western wrestling coach Ray Takahashi said. “He will have a major role with the team and his focus will be on high performance development.

“I know he has had great results coaching both men and women and we expect him to have a similar impact with our team.”

With over 15 years of wrestling on his resumé, Azarbayjani said his main asset is the experience he brings to Western.

“Hopefully what I know from 15 to 20 years and my experience wrestling will be my strength,” he said. “Once you’ve been on the road you know exactly what you have to do. What I have learned during my years I can translate to the younger wrestlers.”

Most recently, Azarbayjani competed at the Beijing Olympics, and Takahashi, a three-time Olympian himself, believes that as a current athlete Azarbayjani will relate well to the team.

“I know team members are excited ... and we will really benefit from having someone of Saeed’s calibre on the mats,” he said. “He is still a current athlete so he can train with the team members and he has previous experience as an assistant coach at Brock University.

“As an Olympian, Saeed has elite competitive experience that he can pass along to the varsity student-athletes. Western is very fortunate to have [him].”

These two programs have been working on the “Changing Lives One Wrestler at a Time” campaign, a fund-raising initiative with the goal of revitalizing the current clubs. It is this campaign that made Saeed’s move to Western possible, according to Josip Mrkoci, a member of the Board of Directors for the London-Western Wrestling Club.

“We raised funds to have him here in order to rejuvenate our program and to be in the top three [in the nation] in the next couple of years,” he said. “I think it is a great opportunity for our wrestlers to do better than they have in the past.”

Funds have been directed at strengthening the coaching staff in order to keep up with the increased interest in wrestling at Western.

“Coaching support was necessary given that club wrestling has become more important in year-round development of the athlete,” Takahashi said. “As well, with the rise and integration of women in the sport, especially over the last 10 years, the need for coaching support was [apparent].”

Not only will Azarbayjani be a great help to current athletes, but his presence will also improve Western’s recruitment process in coming years.

“He will definitely help in recruiting,” Takahashi said. “He is a big name in Canadian wrestling.”

“Hopefully I can help them more and improve some wrestlers,” Azarbayjani said. “Hopefully we get some good recruits and we can develop some really good athletes.

“I am excited to start soon.”

" with files from Ryan Abreu

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