On the heels of a historic American performance at the 2022 freestyle world wrestling championships, it’s a good time to reflect. America won medals in 8 of the 10 weight classes, breaking our previous record. Russia, our longtime rival, was absent. Due to actions by the government of Russia in Ukraine, Russian athletes were not allowed to compete. Regardless of personal feelings towards politics and sports mixing, everyone agrees that Russia’s absence allowed American athletes to place higher than was projected. Despite their ban, Russia still won 8 medals too.
This is probably pretty confusing. How can a country win 8 medals if they didn’t even compete? Russia didn’t win them directly, but 8 former Russian athletes who defected from Russia after not being able to make the national team won medals. To put it clearly, Russia’s B team was the equivalent of a historic performance for America.
Now the obvious question is why. There are many factors to consider. Wrestling is a sport that requires extreme discipline, and Russia breeds that. In Dagestan, a state of Russia referred to as the wrestling capital of the world, most are devout muslims. This strict religion teaches discipline and is one reason why Dagestan is known for producing the best grappler in the world. Whether it is MMA, wrestling, sambo, or jiu-jitsu, Dagestanis are well represented on the podiums. That doesn’t completely explain it though. The culture alone doesn’t create amazing athletes, as that culture can be found in other places. What does set them apart is how they train.
In America, we love the comeback story. From Rocky to Remember The Titans, it can be seen everywhere in our culture. This affects how we train as well. We train very hard focussing on conditioning and stamina, but we don’t focus on technique. For example, the club I have trained at has 3 practices a week. Now these practices are no joke. At the last one I lost 8 pounds of sweat during the practice and I could barely walk up the stairs to leave after. While the workout did make me better, comparing it with a Russian workout schedule reveals why they are winning.
Russians don’t train 3 times a week, and they don’t train with the sole focus of getting in shape. Most Russian wrestlers are training 6 or 7 days a week, but with a focus on technique. They spend more time drilling their technique and sparring than they do going live and doing conditioning. This style of training is better on your body, produces wrestlers who are technically dangerous, and wins medals. This is not to say that they don’t train their conditioning. Obviously anybody wanting to wrestle at this level has to, but that isn’t the sole focus. This slower style of training can be more boring and less fun. It does have its drawbacks and it’s not always the flashiest. But at the end of the day, the most fun thing in the world is winning, and Russia is doing that.