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|FEATURE: A love of competition and hunger to be a champion make Nik Fekete an emerging contender for national and international gold|
By Erin Phipps USA Wrestling
As a child, Nik Fekete first became interested in the sport of wrestling as many young boys do-by watching professional wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage of the WWF. Although a far cry from the moves and techniques in amateur wrestling, Fekete wanted to take up the sport.
"When I signed up at the local Police Athletic League in New Jersey, I saw it wasn't like that," said Fekete. "After being in it for one season, I decided I loved it and that it was for me."
"I've had a lot of great coaches along the way," Fekete said of his early motivators in the sport. "It was my father who pushed me at first to be involved in sports. As a kid, I was a little slower than other kids, kind of a fat kid. I didn't see myself as an athletic talent at all."
His mentality changed when he became involved in sports, such as soccer, baseball and wrestling. Eventually, Fekete found his athletic forte, lettering in football and wrestling in high school. While in high school, Fekete won the Cadet Nationals in 1996, and later the Junior Nationals in 1998.
However, he chose to continue wrestling in college.
"I felt more of an attraction to wrestling and hand-to-hand combat," Fekete said. "I like being responsible to myself rather than a whole team. I just felt more comfortable with wrestling. It felt more natural."
As a wrestler for Michigan State, Fekete had a promising career, until he was forced to sit out two seasons due to two separate injuries, one to each shoulder.
"It was one of the toughest times in my life, not competing," said Fekete.
Although Fekete never won an NCAA title, he was named an All-American after placing eighth at the 2001 NCAA Championships.
After college, Fekete chose to continue his wrestling career, hoping to obtain World and Olympic gold. He spent a year training under Tom Brands, the head wrestling coach of Virginia Tech.
"I learned a whole new side of training and mental toughness," said Fekete.
However, it was seeing the 2005 World Championship in Budapest, Hungary that Fekete realized that in order to become the best freestyle wrestler, he would have to do it at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"The focus was seeing the World Championships and seeing how the best [wrestlers] in the world have a total focus on wrestling," said Fekete. "It's somewhere I knew I needed to be."
While at the OTC, Fekete trains with some of the best coaches and alongside some of the top freestyle wrestlers in the nation.
"At first it was difficult getting used to the altitude," Fekete said. "After a month or so I got used to it. It's a daily grind but it's everything I wanted it to be. The training partners are outstanding."
Fekete is ranked No. 4 at 96 kg/211.5 lbs., but has his sights set on taking over the top spot. In addition, Fekete has the ultimate goal to someday win World and Olympic gold.
"That should be the goal of everyone. To be the best-to be number one," said Fekete. "I didn't always think like that, but being around some of the best coaches of late, that's how I think."
And he has the potential do just that. During the 2005-06 wrestling season, Fekete won the gold medal at the Henri Deglane Challenge in Nice, France and took home the bronze medal at the Ivan Yargin Memorial Grand Prix in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. At home, he placed third in the 2006 Dave Schultz Memorial Open.
"He's coachable, he wants to learn," said Dave Bennett, USA Wrestling's Freestyle Development Coach. "He's in the [wrestling] room every day trying to improve. He's making a concentrated effort to improve and make himself a better wrestler."
Fekete once again proved his potential when he competed in the Alexander Medved International in Belarus in March. Although he didn't medal, Fekete defeated Vasili Tismenetzki of Ukraine, the 2005 World bronze medalist.
"He's ranked No. 4 and in his last tournament, he beat the World bronze medalist," Bennett said. "This is a strong indication that improvement is taking place and that he's a contender like every one else is."
As Fekete finds himself on the podium more often, the possibility of a World or Olympic gold medal becomes even more of a reality.
"My goal is to be number one. If I do everything I've been trained and coached to do, then I'll see a first place finish," Fekete said.
His first major step towards achieving his goals will come at the U.S. National Championships in Las Vegas, Nev., April 14-15. Although the Nationals are only a few days away, Fekete is biding his time tweaking his technique, preparing mentally, and most importantly, resting.
"Right now, it's more rest than training so I go in really hungry. Hungry to be on the mat, hungry to compete, hungry to fight," Fekete said.
That hunger will be a major strength for Fekete, as he enters the U.S. Nationals and goes onto the mat against the toughest competition in the country.
"There are some worthy opponents in the U.S.," said Fekete. "I take each match one at a time. I don't see any outside force holding me back. To beat the best is always difficult, and I look forward to the challenge."