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A day of training with the U.S. Women’s Olympic Team in Marquise, France

Gary Abbott USA Wrestling

U.S. Olympic Women's Wrestling team poses with coaches and training partners outside their hotel in Marquise, France. John Sachs photo

The day started in rainy London, with the hustle and bustle of the Olympic Games even apparent during a 4:00 a.m. with a cab ride from the University of East London – Docklands to St. Pancras train station in central London. A large version of the Olympic rings hung over the trains in the train station, a reminder that the world has come to London for the biggest event on earth.

The station filled with thousands of passengers. We were on our way to a location just one hour away, but it was like a whole different world. We took the Eurostar bullet train, going through the tunnel under the English Channel, to the rural town of Calias, France. Making the trek with us is Joe Williamson of Flo Wrestling, John Sachs of and Paige McClanahan of the Christian Science Monitor. Once the train got through the Chunnel, the rolling farmlands of Northern France was there and Calais was the first stop.

Lise LeGrand, a 2004 Olympic medalist in women’s wrestling for France, was waiting at the train station for this small delegation of American journalists seeking to spend a day with U.S. women’s Olympic wrestling team in their final training camp before hitting the mats in London.

National Women’s Coach Terry Steiner said the reason for this camp was to help the Olympians relax in a quiet setting, a calm before the storm. It was apparent just minutes after leaving the train station that Coach Steiner found exactly what he was looking for. A 15 minute drive in a van brings us to the small town of Marquise, France, and a rustic building on the edge of town, Hostellerie de la Quenueville, where the women’s team was staying for the week.

There are Roman columns at the front door of the building, and sitting on the steps are coach Alex Conti and trainer Carrie Harmon-Moore, a small greeting party for the U.S. journalists. They welcome the group, and point out an animal pen nearby with a goat and a flock of aggressive geese. We are not in London any more.

It is quiet time for the women’s team, which had an early morning team walk at about 7:00 a.m. Most of the team was in their rooms when we arrived in mid-morning, sleeping or relaxing by themselves. Coach Izzy Izboinikov and Olympian Elena Pirozhkova came down to join the group, and they jumped into a van to go shopping. Journalists Williamson and McClanahan jumped in with them for the excursion, while photographer Sachs went to out on the grounds to take pictures of the beautiful countryside.

I sat with Lise LeGrande and had a nice visit. Her English is good enough for clear communication, and she was very friendly, like many wrestling people we meet from around the world. She says that she lives in a small town not far from Marquise. She asks where I am from, and when I say Colorado Springs, she said she was there to compete in 2007. Although she was a World-class athlete herself, she says that she does not coach because she is too shy. Instead, she is the president of the wrestling club in the area, which has 100 members of all ages from the surrounding small towns. According to Coach Steiner, Lise helped put this training camp together and has been a driving force behind it.

Coach Steiner takes off for a run, and comes back with a good sweat. He said that he ran up to the top of the hill on the edge of the town and could see the ocean from there. Team Leader Kim Martori-Wickey came down and visited with us, telling us about the positive things that training in France had on the team.

Time came for the afternoon workout, and all of the Olympians, training partners, coaches and medical staff straggled down to the hotel lobby to head over to the workout facility. John Sachs had the team pose on the stairs for a team photo with an American flag and the group split up into two large vans for transport.

It was only a few minute drive to the training center, and we went past fields of corn and pastures of cows to get there. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere was a modern sports facility. Once inside, it was apparent that this was a superb training location for wrestling. There were three full mats inside, along with a weight and cardio room, a sauna, locker rooms, medical training room, a pool and more.

Coach Steiner ran a short by intense practice, asking the athletes to push hard the entire time. After a warmup period, the athletes did some hard drilling and situation wrestling. All four Olympians looked sharp in their training.

On the far mat, athletes from France and Brazil conducted their own practice. On the mat were two other Olympic athletes, Joyce Souza da Silva of Brazil at 55 kg and Cynthia Vescan of France at 72 kg. This gave the room an international flavor.

When the U.S. practice was over, the team had individual cool downs, and did a number of interviews with the media in attendance. Lunch was set promptly at 3:00 p.m. by the hotel staff, so the team got back into the vans and got there on time. The group sat at a long table and had a nice meal of pork, salad, pasta, bread and a few melons for dessert. Most of the women skipped the bread and pasta, because it is only a few days until weighins. It was a relaxing meal, a chance for the team to joke with each other and tell a few stories.

Elena Pirozhkova stayed around to do interviews with two of the other journalists, while the rest of the women went to their rooms for rest. When she was done, she also went up to her room. A few of the others got into a van and went to nearby towns, first Calais where the train station was located then to Boulogne, which has a beach and port on the sea. The streets were tight and there were many old buildings, including some which were worthy of tourist photos. The group was scouting out a place to take the team for a short day trip, and the consensus was to go to Boulogne.

The evening practice began about 6:30 p.m., and the local hosts invited the town out to watch the workouts. Dozens of citizens of Marquise were in the stands to watch the workout, along with a local television station and a number of photo journalists.

The French coach ran the warm-ups for all the athletes, having them run laps and do different exercises. Then the teams broke to their own workouts, with Team USA on the far mat. This was a shorter workout than the earlier one for the U.S. women with more individual attention spent on each athlete. The women went hard, and the coaches were pleased with their efforts.

All of this was going on while just one hour on the train from the craziness of London. It is the fourth day of competition of the Olympic Games, but you wouldn’t know it in Marquise. If peace and quiet and focus were the goal of the women’s training camp in France, they certainly found it.

The women return to London on Saturday, and the first weigh-in for the women’s team is on August 7, just six days away.

VIDEO: Day trip to France for U.S. women's Olympic training camp

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