Russia: Success of National Wrestling System Explained

Russian wrestlers are often considered to be the best in the world. Citizen media suggest that a possible explanation for this is the relationship between politics and wrestling in Russia as exemplified by Alexander Karelin. Mr. Karelin was an elite Russian wrestler and Olympian and is now an elected official who serves on the Russian Duma's Committee on International Affairs.

Vladimir Anoshenko was a Belarusian National Champion wrestler as well as an American university wrestling coach. He discussed in an entry from last year on his blog why the Russian team is so effective:

2010 was again a successful year for Russian wrestlers. They dominated in all big international competitions. Many people in the international wrestling community (particularly in the U.S.) are trying to figure out the success of the Russian Wrestling System. My opinion of why Russia dominates is that the system is built on deep wrestling traditions with tremendous financial and political support.

Vladimir went on to discuss how American wrestlers start at a younger age and practice more intensely – and thus get burned out before they are able to compete at the international level. By contrast, Russian wrestlers start a little older – between the ages of 10-13. They participate in fewer tournaments and practice for shorter amounts of time per day, instead focus more on their technique, while Americans focus on conditioning.

Later in the post Vladimir Anoshenko introduces the relationship between Russian wrestling and Russian politics:

In Russia, big bonuses and incentives are good motivation to wrestle. Usually all of the best wrestlers are provided with career opportunities by government or businesses. While athletes wrestle or they finish their sport career they know they will have a good job. This is very important for the Russian Wrestling System.

In U.S., wrestlers don't have opportunities like this. Only a few can afford to wrestle 10-15 yrs. at the senior level. The U.S. can beat Russia in wrestling some years. But to dominate the World constantly, the U.S. has to create a wrestling system that is better or at least competitive to the Russian Wrestling System.

Alexander Karelin fits exactly the profile Vladimir Anoshenko described, as illustrated by Mr. Karelin's MySpace blog from 2007. Although he joined the United Russia party and was elected to the State Duma in 1999, he did not officially retire from wrestling until after the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.

• Jan 5, 2007
..> ..>
1967 Born September 19 in Novobirsk, Siberia
1980 Takes up wrestling at age 13
1988 Wins Olympic gold medal in Seoul, South Korea; also wins European Championship
1989-91, 1993-95, 1998-99 Wins European and World Championships
1992 Wins Olympic gold medal in Barcelona, Spain; also wins European Championship
1996 Wins Olympic gold medal in Atlanta, Georgia; also wins European Championship
1997 Wins World Championship
1999 Elected to the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament
2000 Wins European Championship
2000 Wins Olympic silver medal in Sydney, Australia; also wins European Championship
2000 Retires from wrestling, a blog pertaining to the Winter Olympic Games which will be held in Russia in 2014, shared a video of an interview with Alexander Karelin. He is introduced as an “Olympic Champion” but in the interview his persona reflects more his current role as a state official when discussing the efforts put forth to preparing the city for the Olympics.

Aldar Balzhinimaev jogs a victory lap with the Russian Federation flag in celebration of his gold medal win at the Inaugural Youth Olympic Games, 46kg freestyle wrestling event, Singapore. Photo by Ray Shiu, copyright © Demotix (17/08/2010)

Alexander Karelin is a wrestler from the past, but other citizen media outlets capture current and future Russian wrestlers. posted a video of the 2011 Russian National Championships, which were held in Yakutia over the summer. The author described the video:

Notice all the different angles and methods being used to attack, shucks, fakes, snaps all accompanied by great footwork and position.

The Moscow-based radio station, Voice of Russia, announced on Twitter the results of the Youth World Sambo Wrestling Championships:

Russia reaps gold in sambo wrestling: Russian boys have won 16 gold, 9 silver and 8 bronze medals at a youth world championship

Perhaps one of those boys is the next Alexander Karelin in the making.

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