Missouri wrestler Rocky Elam has been in this position before.
The rising sophomore has traveled overseas for competition and will do so again when he and the U.S. team compete in the UWW World Junior Championships from Aug. 16-22 in Ufa, Russia. Two other Missouri wrestlers — Keegan O’Toole and Colton Hawks — are joining Elam in Russia.
“That’s good experience for me,” Elam said. “You can learn things from experience that you can’t just wrestling in the room, so I think that’ll be another thing that prepares me going into this competition.”
Some members of the team, including Hawks, don’t have international experience.
“I think it’s gonna be a lot of fun and I’m excited,” Hawks said. “I’m looking forward to wrestling some foreigners with different styles and seeing that different level of competition.”
U.S. coach Kevin Jackson said most of the wrestlers on the roster don’t have the international experience like Elam has. He said this is a challenge the wrestlers need to adapt to.
“This is going to be new to them,” Jackson said. “Try to understand what they’re going to face and what they’re going to see, what they’re going to feel once they get on the ground in Russia.”
Missouri coach Brian Smith said hosting the camp at Hearnes Center will help the program as a whole. He said Elam, Hawks and O’Toole will have a great experience with the rest of the national team.
“Without a doubt, it elevates your mentality,” Smith said. “It elevates the way you train because you’re training for world competition, not just U.S. I think it changes the way they perceive things and the way they approach things.”
Missouri finished the past season with three All-Americans and ranked No. 5 in the NWCA coaches poll rankings. Jackson has been impressed with the three Tigers on his team and by the program at Missouri.
“I know they’re good, I know they can wrestle,” Jackson said. “(Missouri has) a great group. Those three guys making the team shows what Missouri wrestling is really all about and where they’re climbing to.
“They’re the best in the country at the junior age,” he continued, “and that bodes well for the university.”
Elam said he doesn’t know of many programs like Missouri’s that have three wrestlers on the team. He said he expects the Tigers to be among the best teams in the country again because of the individuals on the team and everyone returning.
“It’s pretty fun, just training with these guys and seeing these guys develop with me each day,” Elam said of O’Toole and Hawks. “I’m hoping we — all three — can go over and get gold medals.”
Representing the U.S. is an honor, Elam said. As one of the wrestlers with international experience, he is expecting to perform well in Russia.
“I want to earn a gold medal for USA., it’s just really special for me,” Elam said. “It’s not like you’re representing one state or one university when you’re going to compete, you’re representing a whole nation.”