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|FEATURE: Greco-Roman star Justin Ruiz builds from an October to remember with a World medal and marriage|
By Erin Phipps USA Wrestling
Colorado Springs, Colo.-2005 was a truly a busy year for No.1 ranked Greco-Roman wrestler Justin Ruiz (Colorado Springs, Colo./New York AC). A long year of training and competition paid off with big rewards in October.
Going into the year, Ruiz had yet to establish himself as an elite international star at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. He had competed in the 2003 World Championships, where he did not place, then placed second to two-time Olympian Garrett Lowney (Kaukauna, Wis./Minnesota Storm) in the 2004 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Things are a whole lot different now that 2005 has been completed. Ruiz is a World bronze medalist, after a tremendous performance on October 2 in Budapest, Hungary. Add to that a wedding just two weeks after taking his bronze, and Ruiz had an October to remember for the rest of his life.
Ruiz is busy training with the rest of the top U.S. Greco-Roman wrestlers in the nation at the National Team training camp in Colorado Springs, Colo. He looks forward to building on the success of his 2005 season, with his eyes set firmly on the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
It has been a long road for Ruiz since his days as a high school wrestling star in Utah. Ruiz attended the Univ. of Nebraska for a year, then took a two-year Mormon mission overseas where he was away from wrestling. He returned to win two All-American honors for the Huskers.
In 2004, Ruiz took an Olympic redshirt from college to train in Greco-Roman at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. After taking second in the Olympic Trials, he decided to stay with Greco-Roman rather than return to college wrestling.
Over two years prior to winning the World bronze medal, Ruiz joined the Greco-Roman Resident Program to train full time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC). Ruiz and the other resident athletes in the program train under Resident Training Coach Anatoly Petrosyan and other respected coaches such as Greco-National Coach Steve Fraser, who won the Olympic gold medal in 1984.
The resident program also allows the athletes to compete with foreign athletes in training camps at the USOTC for further practice in international competition. Currently, six of the top seven Greco-Roman wrestlers in the nation are training in the resident program.
"Most of the top guys who want to succeed are out here," said Ruiz.
The 2005 season was a big breakthrough for Ruiz. He had a strong winter tour season last year, winning a number of medals including golds at the O.Karavaev Memorial International in Belarus and the Granma Cup in Cuba. Ruiz followed with his second straight U.S. Nationals title, then qualified for the World Championships with a victory at the World Team Trials. In order to get more experience, Ruiz also entered and won and the 2005 University World Team Trials, then competed at the World University Games.
It was at the World Championships in Budapest that all of this hard work came together for Ruiz. After winning his first two matches, Ruiz was defeated in the quarterfinals by Hungary's Lajos Virag. When Virag qualified for the gold-medal match, Ruiz was drawn back into the wrestle-backs, where all of his hard work paid off.
A victory over Shata Narmaniya of Belarus placed Ruiz into the bronze-medal round. In a grueling match with Margulan Assembekov of Kazakhstan, Ruiz won with a third-period disqualification to capture the World Championship bronze medal.
"Justin is a hard working kid. He's very consistent," said National Greco-Roman Coach Steve Fraser. He trains hard and does what's asked of him. He's there every day doing what he has to do."
Working with USA Wrestling's National Coaches Fraser, Momir Petkovic and Anatoly Petrosyan, and having top-notch workout partners every day helped Ruiz to prepare physically and mentally for the best international competitors.
"Mentally, I looked at it as an opportunity for me to do well on the World level," said Ruiz. "I tried to just relax and take it match by match and it ended up working out alright for me."
A special focus for Ruiz then, as well as now, is par terre.
"He spent a lot of time on his par terre defense and offense. It was what helped him win his matches," said Fraser.
The excitement didn't end for Ruiz after the World Championships. Two weeks after winning the bronze medal, Ruiz got married.
"October was a good month for me," Ruiz said.
He now lives with his wife Sarah and their two puppies. After the rush of the World Championships and the wedding, the couple was finally able to have some down time and settle into their home.
"Now I find myself doing more dishes," Ruiz says.
With the 2006 wrestling season at hand, Ruiz has begun his winter training, focusing especially on par terre in preparation for international competition. On Jan. 27-28, Ruiz will be competing in the Kit Carson International Cup for Greco-Roman wrestlers at Fort Carson. In February, he will be competing in the Dave Schultz Memorial International, a tournament in which he placed third in 2004 and 2005.
"I'll keep doing what I've been doing. I try to have fun with it and do what the coaches say, and I'm sure it'll work out," Ruiz said.
Perhaps with gold this time.