Bulgaria & Greece 2008


World University Champions Elena & Katherine Fulp-Allen Thessaloniki, Greece 2008

Thessaloniki, Greece Monday July 7, 2008–The World University Championships will be held in Thessaloniki, Greece July 11-13, 2008 and the women’s freestyle team is being coached by Trevor Keifer and Shannyn J. Gillespie.

This semi daily journal is brought to you at the hands and mind of Shannyn J. Gillespie.

For starters, all of the bags scheduled to fly into Sofia, Bulgaria did not make the trip from Chicago. I guess I should back up to Chicago and perhaps Denver.

The flight from Denver was delayed for unknown reasons into Chicago which left us (Sara, Katherine, Chelynne, Othella, Alaina, Elena, and Stephany) minutes to spare just making the flight traveling to Sophia via Vienna, Austria.

To say there were a lot of flights this day would be sufficient. Nonetheless, about 15 hours later, we arrived in Sophia, Bulgaria safe and sound minus 9 bags and to sum this story quickly, Sara and Shannyn’s bags are still missing.

After a nights stay in Sophia, Bulgaria, Team USA travelled to Thessaloniki, Greece to register and workout just prior to the World University Championships. Actually, Team USA trained at the wrestling national team training center in Sophia with the help of Ivan Ivanov, Emil, and Valentine (Valo) Jordanov.

These men just mentioned are legends in Bulgaria and you can Google them for sure.

Valo, who is the President of the Bulgarian Wrestling Federation and also an Olympic Champion and 4 time world champion, greeted a portion of Team USA at what I believe was the Dan Kolov competition. (The shirt given to me was written in Bulgarian and Elena is in her room.) At this tournament, Shannyn, Ron Fazio, and Cody Hesser (USA FILA officials) were invited to sit in a special section to view the finals by Valo.

Also, at this tournament, I was able to see Ivan’s brother Stephan Ivanov. (Ivan and Shannyn coach together at the USOEC and Ivan was the key contact who set up the trip via Bulgaria.) Stephan and Shannyn trained at the USOTC for 2 years together about 10 years ago…a small world indeed.

There is a a lot to write about and I certainly will tomorrow.

By the way, Elena speaks Russian and is certainly a big help here as many folks speak Russian here -Thanks Elena!!!

Bulgaria & Greece

Thessaloniki, Greece Tuesday July 8, 2008–And then there was one…one bag left of the missing bags list supposed to arrive in Thessaloniki, Greece via Denver, Chicago, Vienna, and Sophia. Team USA flew out of the land of the free with all their bags and today Joan Fulp picked up bag number 8 on the list of bags lost in Chicago.

Who cares about the last bag? Well, that bag contains the FILA license that the international federation for wrestling at the Olympic Games and world championships issues to its member national governing bodies as proof of membership. This license also acts like a passport or a certificate for all FILA affiliated international competitions.

More importantly, the last bag belongs to the author who is figuring out how to make it work with less…sometimes less is more.

Moving on…

Joan, Lee, Sara, Katherine, Chelynne, Trevor, and Shannyn toured Thessaloniki today and saw many ruins or monuments or very old buildings and structures dating back 1700 years. For younger USA readers, this means before anyone wrote about the Americas or claimed to have discovered the region where we all call home.

I actually took a lot of pictures of churches and these photos will be online at some point. Many other photos of people wrestling and more will come too soon. The internet connection here is great and also slowly uploads photos.

Amazingly, Thessaloniki reminded me of old Europe combined with the hustle and bustle of most big urban cities like Chicago and New York. A lot of European cities I’ve been to have small alleys like NYC does and many of them have ruins or monuments or old buildings unlike urban America.

Thessaloniki is similar to many cities in Europe and also has a rapid bus system that we traveled on and traffic just like I see in Chicago and New York. Other things in Thessaloniki that reminded me of urban America were the amount of people driving around similar to the Indy 500 race (even the bus driver), very small vendor stores on nearly every block, hot and humid weather made more intense by the bricks; cement; and masses of people, and the diversity of beauty displayed all around in various forms.

In Marquette, MI, there are small mountains and many folks out in Western America call them big hills. In Colorado Springs, Colorado, there are big mountains similar to the size of volcanoes or what appears to be earth piercing the sky. In Thessaloniki, Greece, there are mountains, big hills, and urban land all in one with water (Mediterranean Sea) connected to via ports. I did not expect this city to have the range of sights and it was very nice to quickly explore.

The athletes looked really, really good today in practice and many of them slept to conserve energy for the events to come after practice. The freestyle men actually weighed in today and will compete for world titles tomorrow. The Greco-Roman team will arrive today and begin final preparations for the World University Championships (WUC) immediately.

English appears to be a language many folks speak in Europe, Asia, and Thessloniki. In fact, the organizers of WUC speak some form of English to nearly everyone who requests help. This is amazing because many of the countries in Europe, Asia are hours from each other and the UK or England is really close to only a few countries in Europe and no countries near the former Eastern Bloc or Asia.

Russian is also a language many people speak and luckily Elena (Team USA) speaks Russian. Between Elena speaking Russian and nearly everyone speaking English we are able to communicate with the masses remarkably well on this trip.

Things have changed drastically in the last 10 years or so especially when it comes to shopping in Europe. About 10 years ago there were very few malls and grocery like stores. Now, any USA person can travel to Europe or Asia to a big city and it may feel similar to the States because now you or I can simply go to the store or mall and pick up what ever we left at home. Believe me, this experience is great especially if you traveled to Europe in the 90’s or before.

Really, there are Star Bucks, McDonald’s, and all types of convenient stores that sell just about everything under the sun. On my first trips to Europe, this was not the case and if I forgot to bring something, it either had to be borrowed or not used on the trip.

Times are changing quickly.

Bulgaria & Greece

Thessaloniki, Greece Wednesday July 9, 2008–Today was as adventurous as it gets due to the opening ceremony, interesting calls by referees, and the different ways in which teams made weight. Also, someone special’s bag finally made it to the hotel with Team USA.

I just actually moved from the Grand Hotel Palace, a 5 star hotel, lobby to the comfort of the smoke free zone desk bedside provided by the hosts because smoking in the lobby is tolerated. The lobby is elegant and has many places to read, type, smoke, and drink your favorite beverage. My beverage of choice was an espresso worth 3 Euros (1.65 Euros = 1 USD) complete with a class of water and 4 cookies compliments of the server.

Where was I? Oh yeah…the opening ceremony was nice and a breath of fresh air compared to opening ceremonies at the NCAA Nationals or most other national tournaments I’ve been to in the States. There was, of course, the walk in of each country with their flag and representatives from each sport, in some cases, although the Americans only had freestyle male wrestlers present. Anyway, the organizers spent some time getting all the different type of dancers and music together or separate (depending on your perspective or view.) The traditional dancers started followed by modern dancers – back and forth at least 3 times. This was exciting to me because I like music and I like dancing.

It dawned on me several years ago that a lot of folks put a lot of time in to perfect what they love and are passionate about similar to most people in our sport.

After the athletes worked out this morning, Team USA walked upstairs to view the closing moments of Jake Herbert’s controversial match.  I didn’t see the call or watch any of his match, nor did Team USA (women’s version), and we think he got a bad call because the match was over and both groups of coaches were having loud discussions with the mat side officials. To be certain, Jake’s hand was left at his side while his Turkish opponent’s hand was raised. At that moment, TJ Williams’s words from his Coach Quint back in Harvey, IL entered my mind…”Quint use to tell use we had to beat the ref., the crowd, and the wrestler”.

Our day started with a workout organized by the wrestlers who were wearing the gear they usually wear when getting close to weigh-ins. This was fascinating to me because after several years of observing world championships, it appears the USA wrestlers are doing something different than most of the wrestlers in the world. That written, perhaps things can change in the near future to enhance the quality of training and performance.

The 8th World University Championships are taking place at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. We have been training for this championship for the last 10 days in camp and 200 or so days this year; tomorrow we get to show the world what we’ve been training for and I am excited. Team USA is comprised of a veteran group with multiple age group world medals and they are hungry, ready, willing and able to grapple for the gold at the Alexandrio Melathron (venue).

Katherine Fulp-Allen 51kg and Elena Pirozhkov 67kg compete tomorrow or today depending on where you are in the world. The Eastern Standard Time folks are 10 hours behind Thessaloniki, Greece time. So when it’s 10:54 pm in Thessalonki, it is 3:55 pm in Marquette, MI.

By the way, Elena explained to me her last name (or sir name as they say here) should be spelled with an ‘a’ at the end. I asked her about this when Emil in Sophia, Bulgaria read her name and said “Pirozhkov” and then said with emphasis “Pirozhkova”. Elena says males in her family go by Pirozhkov and females in her family go by Pirozhkova. This reminded me of Spanish class about 25 years ago indicating the names and words in her native language of Russia can be masculine or feminine.

When you view Freestyle Females and click Photos and finally click Greece, you will see fabulous photos by an amateur photographer.

Bulgaria & Greece

Marquette, MI Sunday July 13, 2008–We are the champions!!!

Team USA wrapped the team title up virtually on the first day of competition when Katherine Fulp-Allen (51kg) and Elena Pirozhkova (67kg) won individual World University Championship titles; 4 more medals and a 5th place matched this extraordinary feat on day two.

Sara Fulp-Allen (48kg) lost a hard fought battle against her Japanese opponent in the final 4-0, 1-0. In the last measurable seconds of what would be the final period, Sara fought off a perfect double leg and circled in on top of her foe only to lose that scramble after the officials claimed she stepped out of bounds. Sara won her second silver world championship medal.

Chelynne Pringle (55kg) won her first match then in the semi-finals, she received a high angle sprain as time ran off in the second period. The officials claimed she was not injured and raised palms indicating Chelynne had been pinned during the action her ankle was hurt. That match placed her in bronze medal match were Dr. Bernie Feldman and John Edwards ATC suggested she not wrestle.

Chelynne did not come here to watch…she came to wrestle. I have witnessed wrestlers wrestle hurt and have done it myself and know precisely what it means to leave it all on the mat. Chelynne left every ounce of energy she had on the mat as she battled to 5th place to help Team USA capture the title.

Othella Lucas (59kg) and Alaina Berube (63kg) both won their first matches to advance to the semi final round. Both University of Cumberlands graduates fell short in their goals to bring home the gold to Russian and Canadian opponents who would become eventual WUC champions respectively.

Lucas and Berube scared off their finals opponents (in my humble opinion) because neither showed up to grapple for the bronze medals that Lucas and Berube were awarded.

Stephany Lee (72kg) was the final World University Champion of 2008 for Team USA by winning her second WUC title. Steph took 3 periods to dismantle her Russian counterpart with amazing counters to single leg attacks. I suggested to Steph her opponent was wearing down and Steph picked up the pace to win her second world title and solidify Team USA’s first world championship team title in decade or so.

Part 2

International tournaments are interesting at best and this entry is written to enlighten the many of the wonderful scenarios that do unfold in everyday life here and especially abroad.

It has been suggested to expect the unexpected to ensure no surprises in your life. You may be asking ‘what does that all that mean’ or saying ‘so what’. Well, here is evidence for the latter saying.

First, Team USA generally did not get the benefit of the doubt during bouts wrestled at the WUC 2008 version. I have never seen anyone driven out of bounds to his or her back and awarded points till now. I have never seen so many feet to back skills awarded 1 point till this tournament. It is shocking to know that T. J. Williams words will probably better prepare you and I for competition than all the strength, skill, and psychological work combined perhaps. In sum, Team USA is wrestling the crowd, the ref., and the opponent.

Secondly, on the way to the tournament, the bus tended to leave earlier than scheduled nearly every time. After the first time a bus leaves early, one catches on and makes adjustments. But, the first time can be a ‘killer’ to some people.

I had the opportunity to be one of the 30 coaches who were left at the Grand Hotel Palace for the finals of day 1. Scarily, I asked the event organizers what street the Palais de Sport (Sport Palace) was on and hopped in a cab. Fortunately for me, there were a Russian and Greek coach who also realized we could either stand and look at each other or get in the cab and get to the venue.

On the way, I asked the coaches, talked to the coaches about their wrestlers and handed both my business card as they did to me. The Greek coach paid for the cab and we took pictures together for this memorable moment.

Part 3

Touchdown! Well, this word can mean many things and in this case, my meaning is to say the plane has touched down in the USA. This is exciting enough because I have been away from my wife and children for 2 weeks and I miss them dearly!

Remember day 1 when bags were lost? The last day of the trip also has a bag missing for this scribe. At this point, you may be thinking I am unfortunate, unlucky, or something else.

Here’s the scoop: American Eagle (American Airlines) lost a carry on bag because they told this passenger to valet his bag or planeside check the bag.

Now, a lot of important info is in that bag because it was a carry on: computer, match films, pictures of trip, video camera, still shot camera, all keys to car; house; work, contact lenses (I have a spare at home to journal this entry).

Hopefully, the bag will appear before I leave for Fargo, ND in 4 days.

I want to thank everyone who helped Team USA win the 2008 WUC team title in women’s freestyle wrestling starting with and not limited to: Trevor Keifer, Lee Allen, Joan Fulp, John Edwards, Bernie Feldman, USOC, USA Wrestling, U.S. Olympic Education Center, Ivan Ivanov, Bulgarian Wrestling Federation, staff and organizers at Grand Hotel Palace, & of course Team USA: Sara, Katherine, Chelynne, Othella, Alaina, Elena, and Stephany. WE DID IT!

This is the 4th and final ‘Bulgaria & Greece’ entry; for a pictorial review of this trip please click the slideshows throughout this blog.

Copyright © by Coach Shannyn, All rights reserved

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