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Australian wrestlers strong in the face of a challenge at Ashgabat 2017

26 September 2017

ASHGABAT 2017: In the biggest competition venue at Ashgabat 2017 and in front of the biggest crowds they have ever faced, four Australian wrestlers threw it down on the mat on Day 9 of the Asian Indoor & Martial Arts Games (AIMAG).

Unfortunately the scoreboard did not reflect their readiness and preparation and all were knocked out in the first round.

As the luck of the draw would have it, all faced very tough and more experienced opponents in the opening rounds, with Connor Evans and Liam Neyland drawing the host nation for their AIMAG debut.

Although pulling Turkmenistan first up was not ideal, Evans and Neyland said they both enjoyed having all eyes on their match and it encouraged them to fight even harder and put on a good show for the roaring stadium.

“I actually enjoyed the crowd, I wanted the chance to shut them up,” Evans said.

“At first I was a little out of my comfort zone…. but everyone was cheering for my match, granted it wasn’t for me, but it’s not bad having a room of four thousand people cheering,” Neyland agreed.

Evans went down 12-2 to the men’s 74kg eventual bronze medallist Döwletmyrat Dorazgylyjow in the round of 16 and was left feeling he had more to give.

“I had a game plan going in there, but I never managed to get off the mark to stick to my game plan, he was too good from the start and got me pretty convincingly,” he said.

The former Scottish wrestler now based in Melbourne already has plans in place to work towards the Commonwealth Games and eventually Tokyo 2020.  He will live in India for two months at the start of 2018 to compete in the India professional league.

“The biggest thing for me is getting more experience at this international level. In Australia I know what I am capable of but at this level it’s more challenging,” he said.

“At the camp in India we compete once a week, train together, eat together and sleep together which is the environment I need to help myself improve.”

In the men’s 65kg 1/8 finals Neyland was defeated 10-0 by Turkman Batyr Borjakow and while he tried to use the crowd to spur him on he couldn’t quite knock the local legend over.

“The venue and crowd was a pretty unique experience for me,” Neyland said. “Whether it be Nationals or Oceania, you don’t get crowds like this so it was definitely a new experience.

“My opponent was straight up more technical and more experienced than me. Strength wise and speed wise we were about the same but his positioning and how he controlled the match was more precise.

“I can’t be too mad about it because I did what I wanted to do and that was to take the fight to him and try to take him off his game a bit. I achieved that at the start, but after I rattled him and his coaches gave him a mouthing he started bringing it back in and took control.”

The osteopathy university student will juggle training, part-time work and study as he pushes towards bigger and better things, with the occasional “coffee or energy drink” to get him through all his commitments.

2014 Commonwealth Games 48kg wrestler Rupinder Kaur drew Sheetal Tomar from India in the opening round, going down 11-0.

In what was only her second international competition since the birth of her now 18-month old daughter, Kaur is focused on getting more training under her belt in the upcoming months.

“I knew heading into it that it was going to be my tough match because India are doing hard and good training,” Kaur said.

“She was in strong form and has more techniques, which is what we really need to work on in Australia.

“The transition from being on maternity leave to being back on training is going well and I am focusing on my training but when I am away I miss my daughter.

“This is the hardest time for me, but I think that I have to train if I want to represent Australia again and so my mum is looking after her.”

Ashgabat 2017 was a whole new world for 18-year-old Petrus Palm who went down 10-0 to Indonesia’s Eko Roni Saputra in the 1/8 finals at his first senior competition in front of a packed stadium of screaming fans.

“I did really enjoy myself, it was a good experience and a big learning curve,” Palm said,

“I kept trying to move and to get in to the legs but he was just stronger than me.

“Fortunately the 2015 Cadet World Championships were a similar environment to this, so I wasn’t as nervous as I was the first time I competed in front of crowds like this,” he said.

According to Australian Olympic coach and former athlete Konstantin Ermakovich, the Ashgabat Games were an important tournament for Palm to have under his belt.

“For Petrus, it was his first ever senior competition and he showed good spirit but was beaten by a stronger and more experienced opponent,” Ermakovich said.

“Getting his first senior competition out of the way was a good learning curve for him and he now knows what he needs to work on to improve his strength and to be more competitive in the senior ranks.”

While disappointed they didn’t quite get the results they were after, Australian coach Brett Cash said he was very impressed with how the athletes handled the Games and supported each other.

“It was really good to see them all come together as a team,” Cash said.

“All the athletes stepped in to help each other out behind the scenes which is a big part of a multi-sport event where the coaches are limited. While myself and Konstantin were out on the mat, everyone was helping each other out the back."

Full results are available HERE.

Georgia Thompson

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