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|World Team member Michael Lightner joins U.S. Olympic Training Center Freestyle Resident Program|
By Erin Phipps USA Wrestling
Colorado Springs, Colo.-No. 1 ranked Michael Lightner (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) recently joined the Freestyle Resident Program at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in pursuit of World and Olympic gold. Lightner competes at 60 kg/132 lbs.
Currently, two of the top seven freestyle wrestlers in the nation are training with the Freestyle Resident Program. In addition to Lightner, Mo Lawal (Colorado Springs, Colo./Gator WC) trains at the USOTC. At 84 kg/185 lbs, Lawal was a U.S. Nationals champion and World Team member in 2005. He placed seventh in the 2005 World Wrestling Championship.
In 2005, Lightner became the U.S. Nationals champion after defeating 2004 Olympic silver medalist Stephen Abas (Fresno, Calif./Sunkist Kids) and other high ranking athletes.
Lightner qualified for the 2005 U.S. World team by winning the World Team Trials in Ames, Iowa last June. He represented the U.S. at the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, Hungary in September.
"It was a good feeling to see how far I came. It's really rewarding to set your sights on something and attain it," said Lightner.
Before relocating to the USOTC in Colorado Springs, Colo., Lightner worked as a volunteer assistant for the University of Oklahoma wrestling team. While there, he helped the team work on technique and conditioning, and also ran some of the workouts.
After attending summer camps at the USOTC, Lightner noticed significant improvement in his wrestling technique. He realized that if he wanted to be successful, he would have to constantly train with top coaches. With the support of his family, Lightner and his girlfriend moved from his home state of Oklahoma in pursuit of being the best.
"If I wanted to be a World champion, I had to come out here and train full time," Lightner said.
The Freestyle Resident Program has been in existence at the USOTC since the fall of 1997. Freestyle wrestlers are allowed to live at the USOTC and are given access to the training facilities. They also have the advantage of being trained by national coaches. In addition, the athletes have a variety of opportunities to wrestle with foreign teams who come to Colorado Springs for training camps, as well as dual meet competitions.
Lightner is now being trained by Freestyle Resident Coach Terry Brands, a World champion and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist. He also trains under National Freestyle Coach Kevin Jackson, a 1992 Olympic gold medalist and two-time World champion.
"In the past, our program has produced champion athletes, such as Stephen Abas and Brandon Slay," said Jackson. "They have the ability to train full time for World and Olympic competition.
Abas was in the resident program for two years prior to winning his Olympic medal. Brandon Slay (Amarillo, Texas/Dave Schultz) trained in the resident program for three years prior to winning the Olympic gold medal in 2000.
Jackson indicated that top ranked athletes who train daily in the program, are more apt to have success on the World and Olympic levels.
Lightner will be focusing on techniques such as set up, position, and par-terre, which is offensive and defensive mat wrestling. However, wrestling is as much a mental sport as it is a physical one, and Lightner will be improving his mental approach to wrestling by learning what he can from his coaches.
Lightner considers himself to be in a good environment where he is able to concentrate full time on freestyle wrestling from of the best coaches in the country. At the training center, Lightner will devote full time to training and concentrating on areas where he needs improvement. As an assistant coach at the Univ. of Oklahoma, however, Lightner had to balance his time between being his own training needs and being a coach to others.
"Here you're just the athlete all the time," said Lightner. "People are here to help you all the time."
The training, Lightner says, will be consistent. Every day he will be taking steps in the right direction and towards improvement. As he looks towards the upcoming 2006 season, Lightner has high expectations.
"To be World champion-number one," Lightner said.