The travel day is always interesting. If you do it right, you stay awake for two days, just to get back to the correct time zone as soon as you can. When my wife Pat dropped me off at the Colorado Springs airport, I met a group of departing employees. My flights went from Springs to Chicago to Munich to Belgrade. Laura Peters, our General Counsel, had the same itinerary and we were lucky enough to visit a few of them. At the Chicago airport, we came across Caroline Williams, one of Laura’s friends and one of my longtime communications colleagues. Caroline had worked over 25 years at USA Basketball, including a number of Olympic Games with me, but decided to leave that role recently. She’s shared her adventures since, as she took the time to do a few things on the to-do list before getting back into the workforce.
I don’t sleep on flights anymore, so most of my trips have been spent working or listening to music. Arrived in Munich, we ended up traveling with Jaimie McNab from our national teams department and great photographer Tony Rotunda for the last leg of the trip to Serbia. I slept the whole trip. When we arrived at baggage claim, the USA women’s team had also just arrived from their acclimatization camp in France on a different flight. Local hosts took us outside the airport to a bus stop, and we all piled into a bus to take us to Stark Arena. As our delegation already had its credentials, we were transferred to another bus which took us to the Crown Plaza Hotel, a huge property not far from the arena.
At the hotel, National Team High Performance Director Cody Bickley met us there and helped get the team and staff checked in to the hotel. Cody made it a science, and it all went as smoothly as possible. Being prepared is a big part of supporting our teams, and Cody and our national team staff are the best at it.
The idea being to stay up as late as possible on the day of your arrival, so I jumped in the van with Cody to go to the technical meeting and the Greco-Roman draw. Taylor Gregorio, our communications and social media manager came a few days in advance to attend a meeting of the UWW Media Commission. She was there to report on the draw. I sat down with the new Greco-Roman general manager Ivan Ivanov during the draw, and gave him some insight into some things. United World Wrestling has invested heavily in technology and the draw is done through a fairly sophisticated online system. Taylor promptly reported the draw to the nation on our website. This is when you first see some of our American media colleagues, like the photographer Justin Hoc and journalists Willie Saylor.
The UWW Press Conference, hosted by the UWW Head of Communications Eric Olanowski, star president of UWW Nenad Lalovic, the President of the Serbian Wrestling Federation, plus three athletes: Olympic champion Tamyra Mensah Stock of the United States, no longer world champion Rafig Huseynov of Azerbaijan and the Serbian star Mate Nemes.
Most of the questions went to Lalovic or the leader of the Serbian struggle. Lalovic answered a few questions about the IOC’s decisions regarding Russia and Belarus, and a few more about hosting the Worlds in his hometown. The media asked the athletes questions, which is enlightening. As always, Mensah Stock was a rock star.
“I took eight months off and it was fantastic. And I wasn’t ready to come back. But now that I’m back, I remembered how much I loved wrestling, which makes me even more excited to be back here at the World Championships, in a country I’ve never been to before to wrestle, so I’m pretty excited,” she said when asked about her l ‘last year.
President Lalovic asked her a question about how she got a Serbian first name. Mensah handled that well too, with a laugh and a smile.
“Is that really? I’m honored. I just know my mom and dad called me Tamyra, the biblical name. They did that,” she said.
After the presser, Mensah Stock visited Nemes, did an interview with a reporter, and posed for photos with wrestlers. UWW had arranged transportation to take Tamyra back to the hotel, so Taylor and I went with her. However, my day was far from over.
When I got to my hotel room, I posted a story with reporters’ predictions for the world championships, which we do every year. There was also an induction into the UWW Hall of Fame on Friday night, which two American Olympic champions, brothers John and Ben Peterson, were inducted. We received beautiful photos from Michael Bender to accompany a story the UWW published about the ceremony.
I was able to go to dinner at the hotel. This is when you have the best chance to hang out with other members of the US delegation, and I sat down with some staff over a chicken dinner. The women’s team was also eating at the time, and I chatted with many of them, with a long visit with the world silver medalist Kayla Miracle.
I couldn’t just fall asleep normally because there was the FloWrestling Who’s Number One event in Michigan. We enlisted Adam Engel, who was our intern this summer, to cover this event for us, with a story about girls’ and boys’ cards. I had to get up at odd hours to edit and post his reports, so the first night was a bit hectic with sleep and periods on the computer.
The first day of wrestling awaits you. Belgrade has been great so far and we are excited to see how our top four Greco-Roman wrestlers are doing on day one, which is Saturday here in Serbia.
Tamyra Mensah Stock at the UWW press conference in Belgrade. Photo by Tony Rotundo