If you follow international wrestling, notably the world championships and the Olympics you will know that Russia usually outperforms America.
When you start adding up the medals won by Russians competing for other countries you realise just how much more successful Russian wrestlers are than their American counterparts. In this article we will breakdown why Russians are the leaders in wrestling.
Why Is Russia So Good At Wrestling?
Russia is so good at wrestling because they have a high participation rate, a training methodology based on Soviet sports science, a culture of success and large amounts of government support which allows athletes to train and compete full time.
When people think of Russia and wrestling they usually imagine the sport as being immensely popular with millions of kids all over the country practicing their double leg and sprawl from sunup to sundown. However, this is not the case, wrestling is a fringe sport that is only really popular in the Caucasus region and some of the Far East republics.
In Dagestan and Ossetia freestyle wrestling is the number 1 sport. Nearly all children are exposed to wrestling in some form. A large percentage of kids from these regions train at one of the many local sports schools. Where from the age of 5 they start learning gymnastic movements before progressing to wrestling techniques at the age of 8.
Despite these two tiny Russian republics only having a combined population of 2.7 million the fact that nearly all kids there wrestle provides the Russian wrestling system with ample amount of recruits to mould into world and Olympic champions.
To reinforce just how much wrestling in Russia is dominated by the republics of Dagestan and Ossetia in the 2020 Russian Championships Dagestan and Ossetia won 8 of the 10 gold medals with fellow Caucasion republic Chechnya winning the other 2. In the 2019 and 2018 Russian championships the two neighbouring republics again won 8 of the 10 gold medals.
Every year wrestling in Russia is a two horse race between Dagestan and Ossetia with Dagestan usually winning more medals but seeing as Ossetia is 3 times smaller than Dagestan pound for pound they are neck and neck.
When you are developing athletes the first you need to have is ample participation. Out of thousands of young boys only a handful are going to have the athleticism, determination, dedication and skill to win world and Olympic medals.
Without a big enough sample size no matter how good your training system it won’t be able to overcome other nations who have way more young wrestlers training.
Despite the fact that wrestling in Russia is not a popular sport, its fanatical supporters in the small republics of Dagestan and Ossetia are able to get enough young boys to participate in the sport to enable Russia to consistently produce world class athletes.
Russian Coaches Use Scientific Methods To Develop Wrestlers
The Soviets wanted to prove to the world that Communism was the best system and produced the best people. One way they wanted to prove this is by dominating the Olympics. To help them achieve this goal they took some of their best scientists and had them study how best to train athletes and then developed sports specific systems which were distributed to coaches.
The result was the founding of the modern field of sports science and tremendous Soviet sporting success.
Russian wrestling coaches still train wrestlers according to this system. Essentially how the system works is they take a 5 year old child and train the child in general sports skills. Gymnastics in the most favoured method. They teach the child coordination, develop their strength and flexibility.
When the child is 8 they start introducing their specialised sport alongside their general training. This is when they start teaching them some basic wrestling techniques. The emphasis at this stage is mostly on general training with wrestling conditioning introduced such as rope climbing, pulls ups and bridging.
From the 8 to 14 the amount of wrestling training is increased while the general training is decreased.
By the time the wrestler reaches 14 to 15 it is time for full time training in wrestling. This involves wrestling training 6 days, with each session lasting 2 hours. The training is all year with small breaks after competitions.
They also developed their own system for teaching the required physical preparedness needed in wrestling and technical ability. That requires its own article.
The results of Russia’s wrestling system speak for itself. They produced champions in the Soviet times and still continue to produce them today.
Russian Wrestling Has Built A Culture Of Winning
This is a topic that is often neglected when talking about the success of Russia in wrestling. Winning is a habit when you are a wrestler from Dagestan and Ossetia. If you are able to cement yourself as the number 1 wrestler in Dagestan or Ossetia you are not only expected to dominate the Russian championships but you are expected to dominate world level competitions.
The local competition is so high that getting out of there is more difficult than competing on the world level, particularly in the early rounds of tournaments.
Total belief in yourself and your coaches is a very powerful factor when it comes to winning. This belief is difficult to develop without a long line of history of success.
Russian wrestlers don’t have to look far to find this belief. Every day in the training room they are training alongside European, World and Olympic champions. They are being coached by former world class wrestlers who have then coached champions.
If you grow up wrestling in this environment how could you not expect to succeed and become a world champion when everyone around you has achieved these things and you are doing exactly what they did to make those dreams a reality.
Countries that don’t have this history of winning find it very difficult to overcome this barrier. How do you believe in your coach and yourself when you have never won a world title and neither your country or coach have produced champions? Many wrestlers are already psychologically beaten before the match starts when they take on a Russian.
How Much Do Russian Wrestlers Get Paid?
National team Russian wrestlers receive a salary between $5,000 to $10,000 a month based on their success and experience. They are also given an apartment in their home region and receive large prizes such as G Wagon Mercedes for international results.
Putin has poured large amounts of money into Olympic sports. Putin is a former sportsman himself and respects athletes. He also wants to boost Russia’s international image by showing the world how strong and dominant Russia’s athletes are.
Russian wrestlers have benefitted from Putin’s patronage and the love that many local Caucasian businessmen have of wrestling. The result is Russian wrestlers can earn serious money allowing them to train full time and not have to worry about money.
Wrestling can actually become a lucrative career for Russians where they can enrich themselves and then once their careers are over use their star power to obtain powerful political positions or start businesses. A wrestler like Sadulaev has already turned himself into a millionaire.
The fact that Russian wrestlers receive a lot of money not only motivates young Russian boys who are hungry to make a name for themselves and provide for their family but it also ensures that adult wrestlers can dedicate all of their time to improving their wrestling skill without having to worry about balancing work with training.
Many wrestlers from other countries are not as lucky. They receive little to no support from their government and have to work a full time job while trying to also pursue an international wrestling career. This puts them at a severe disadvantage to Russians who fully immerse themselves in the sport.
Up until recently American wrestlers also struggled to receive enough funding to allow them to train full time. However, things have changed with Regional Training Centres, USA Wrestling, companies and private donors ponying up enough money to allow top athletes to earn a comfortable living.
Russia dominates wrestling because it is an incredibly popular sport in the Caucasian republics of Ossetia and Dagestan where thousands of kids are training to be world champions.
The Russians have developed a system based on Soviet scientists’ research which takes these eager young recruits and turns them into gold medalists. This history of success has created a culture of winning. Russian wrestlers also benefit from ample support from the government which allows them to live a comfortable lifestyle, so they focus on training wrestling full time.