April 16, 2012
Fifth-year senior Kellen Russell, just five weeks removed from completing his Michigan career with his second straight NCAA 141-pound title, will begin his post-collegiate freestyle career at this weekend's 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials (Saturday and Sunday, April 21-22) in Iowa City, Iowa. Russell, who received one of the final two wildcard selections for the event, was an accomplished prep freestyle wrestler, capturing both junior (2006) and cadet (2005) national titles and taking seventh place at the 2008 FILA Junior National Championships. He will compete in the 60kg/132-pound division.
Russell answered five questions to kick off MGoBlue.com's Olympics-related coverage leading up to the 2012 Summer Games in London.
Coming off the college season, how has the quick transition been to preparing for the Olympic Trials?
My conditioning is really good coming out of the college season, so I don't have to worry about getting into shape, and I don't think it was a huge turnaround. It's a little different than collegiate wrestling, but with the new rules, a lot of those differences have been minimized. So, it's been a pretty comfortable transition.
How has the training environment been in the room working exclusively on freestyle wrestling?
We have some of the best freestyle coaches in the country here. Obviously, I can't learn everything there is to know about freestyle in a couple weeks. They kind of gave me a crash course and emphasized the most important things. I've been working on my defense in Par Terre and couple turns from top. A lot of the wrestling from the feet is similar, but Par Terre is very different. So, I've had to focus a lot on those positions to get used to the different kind of mat wrestling and situational awareness.
Do you think your wrestling style is well suited for freestyle competition?
Yeah, I think my style is pretty well suited for it. I'm pretty solid on my feet -- I have a few good attacks that I can get off -- and I usually stay in good positions, so I shouldn't give up too many big takedowns. I'm good at controlling the center of the mat, and usually when I scramble, I'm focusing on staying off my back and exposing my back. I won't have to change my scramble too much. Everyone in freestyle is a good scrambler, but I feel like I'm pretty well prepared for that. Some people, throughout my college career, said that I was boring, but I really concentrated on my fundamentals. That's a big part of freestyle wrestling.
What are your expectations for the trials?
It's my first big tournament in freestyle in a couple years, so I definitely want to go out there, wrestle well and focus on the things we've been really working on, like staying in the center of the mat and getting off attacks quick in each period. I feel pretty confident and expect to have success, especially going down to 60 kilos, but more than anything, it's about getting experience. If I do really well, that's awesome. But if I don't, I'll have a lot to learn from. I'm just excited to go out there and compete.
What is your favorite Olympic moment? What kind of memories do you have of the Olympics growing up as a wrestler?
My favorite part of the Olympics growing up was watching it with my dad. We'd always have to tape it, because wrestling would be on in the middle of the night. I just really enjoyed sitting down the next morning after breakfast and watching all the matches with my dad. We watched a bunch of U.S. wrestlers win and medal. I remember watching [Tom] Brands wrestle and a lot of those guys who are coaching collegiately. I know a lot of those guys now, which is pretty cool after watching them on TV and really looking up to them. But that was probably the best part of the Olympics for me, sharing that experience with my dad.