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USOEC Greco-Roman program continues to reach new heights

Ivan Ivanov set a primary goal when he took over the U.S. Olympic Education Center program in Greco-Roman wrestling five years ago.

Ivanov wanted to build a program to the point where he could sell it based on the results.

Based on the results at the U.S. World Team Trials, Ivanov has plenty to offer to prospective recruits looking at the USOEC at Northern Michigan University.

Five USOEC wrestlers placed in the top two at the World Team Trials with 2006 World bronze medalist Harry Lester making his third straight World Greco-Roman Team at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. The USOEC also had four second-place finishers in 2006 World University champion Spenser Mango at 55 kg/121 lbs. along with Joe Betterman at 60 kg/132 lbs., Jake Curby at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. and Adam Wheeler at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.

Also from the USOEC, Willie Madison was third in the Trials at 60 kg/132 lbs. and Jake Plamann was third at 84 kg/185 lbs. The USOEC also placed two wrestlers - Jake Swensen and Chad Hemerson - on the 2007 U.S. Junior World Team.

"I'm very excited about our showing at the World Team Trials," Ivanov said. "This is the first time we've placed so many guys this high. I was really pleased with our performance. We hope to keep building on that and we hope to keep bringing top-notch kids into our program."

Even with the USOEC program's high level of success, Ivanov and assistant coach Jim Gruenwald want to continue to spread the word to top young Greco prospects about what the USOEC has to offer at its campus in Marquette, Mich.

Athletes at the USOEC can receive a full athletic scholarship and train in a top-notch environment with excellent facilities and learn from proven coaches with glowing credentials. The USOEC program has awarded more than 20 full scholarships in some years.

Athletes from the USOEC also are permitted to win prize money for having success in overseas competitions like Lester did last year at the World Championships.

"We're still trying to get the word out and we want to let people know we have a lot to offer," said Gruenwald, a two-time Olympian. "We want the blue-chip Greco athletes to commit to our program and realize they get the same benefits here that they would at an NCAA school."

Gruenwald calls what the USOEC has in place "the program of the future." The Greco-Roman program at Northern Michigan started in 1999.

"I think every guy on the 2012 Olympic Team will have either come through our program or will be currently in our program at that point," Gruenwald said. "We could put two or three guys on the 2008 Olympic Team. I'm not saying that in a boastful way, I'm just being realistic. We want young Greco wrestlers to see the benefits of our program and take full advantage of what we have to offer."

A strong coaching tandem of Ivanov and Gruenwald is a big part of that. Ivanov won a World silver medal in Greco-Roman in 1994 and placed fifth in the 1996 Olympics for Bulgaria.

"Ivan is one of the best technical coaches in this country," Gruenwald said. "He has a lot to offer these kids. Our styles complement each other very well."

Ivanov raves about what Gruenwald has brought to his program.

"Jim brings instant credibility to our program as a two-time Olympian - he's an American hero in wrestling," Ivanov said. "He's a great motivator, he's very positive and he's a great role model for our kids. He can wrestle with our guys and still go with almost anybody on the mat. He's been very helpful."

Ivanov and Gruenwald will target and focus on landing many of the young kids who excel in Greco-Roman at the annual Junior Nationals and Cadet Nationals in Fargo, N.D.

"We want the top young kids in Greco to have a chance to develop their Greco skills when they're still in college," Ivanov said. "They shouldn't have to wait to do that until after they finish college. If young guys are serious about wrestling Greco and want to make Olympic and World Teams, they need to come here and wrestle at the USOEC."
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