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International Wrestling

How the Army WCAP Shaped Ellis Coleman (Part Two)

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photo courtesy of Richard Immel

Part One of our Two-Part Series

In 2012, a 20-year-old Coleman shocked the wrestling community and made the Olympic team by defeating veteran Joe Betterman. Coleman ended up disappointed after losing his first match of the Games to Bulgaria’s Ivo Angelov. Even before the Olympics, Mango and Lester were recruiting Coleman to join the WCAP, a decision he ultimately made in October of 2013. Ellis looked at his future and decided to trade a life that could include a college dorm-like situation at the OTC, for the regimented situation he would face in basic training. Despite having wrestled around the world, on the biggest stages, against the strongest and most skilled 60 kg men on earth, Coleman was initially nervous about the unknowns that came along with basic training. Like the rest of his class, Ellis was broken down and stripped of his immaturity and the previous mentality then rebuilt as a leader of men. He explains his graduation from basic training as being, “so satisfying. Nothing has compared to it and it didn’t have anything to do with wrestling.” 

When asked what trait he has learned from his time as a wrestler, which has best translated to his time in the Army, Ellis answers quickly and confidently, resiliency. “Wrestlers know that there are a lot of times where things don’t go your way. It’s all about how you respond. In the Army, during basic training, there are going to be stressful situations, and you have to find a way to push through them”. 

In the last four years, resiliency is a feeling that Coleman knows all too well. Since the previous Olympic Trials (where he was fourth) in 2016, Ellis has had to deal with injuries such as a hamstring that was torn off the bone and a broken elbow. During his extended time away from the mat, rehabbing those injuries, he’s heard not-so-subtle whispers from the Greco-community who wondered if his best days were past him. The questions about his place on the national team, the injuries, and the pressure to win all came to a head in Bulgaria in 2017 and Coleman broke down to Lewis, thinking he was done with the sport. Lewis reminded him of his family he needs to take care of along with his teammates. Lewis knew how respected Ellis is in the WCAP room and suspected if he were to quit, others may follow suit. Ellis listened to his coach and stayed the course, which resulted in his winning a spot on the World Team in 2017, 2018, and 2019. He had not been on the team since 2013. In 2019, Coleman was one of four world team members from the Army WCAP (Max Nowry, Ildar Hafizov, and Ryan Mango are the others). Additionally, Whitney Conder and Jenna Burkert were WCAP athletes on the women’s freestyle team in 2019.

Coleman has been on four world teams and an Olympic team during his illustrious career, but is still chasing that elusive Senior/Olympic medal. He has wins over some of the top competitors in the world, he just needs to do so in the biggest tournaments. Coleman’s mindset is that the Olympics or the World Championships, “are just one tournament. Nothing bigger. A lot of people put too much pressure on themselves because of its importance, but it’s one tournament”. With such a small margin between a first-round exit and a world medal, Ellis believes that he just needs to capitalize on his opponents’ mistakes. “They don’t happen very often, so when you see something, you need to be able to score from it. That’s something I haven’t always been able to do, but it will make a difference for me.” 

The biggest story of the sporting world and the world, in general, over the last month has been the spread of COVID-19, the coronavirus. This weekend Ellis and his WCAP teammates were supposed to be in State College, Pennsylvania, fighting for a spot on the Olympic team at the Trials. Both the Trials and the Olympics have been pushed back to 2021, which has already had an impact on the US Wrestling community. 2016 Olympic freestyle team member Frank Molinaro has announced his retirement rather than train for another year. While Molinaro is about two years Coleman’s senior, will the delay have a similar impact on him? “Actually from a personal standpoint, the delay is a blessing in disguise for me. It’s a terrible situation, it’s sad, and very tough for a lot of people. But trying to look at things on the bright side, it could help me”.  Coleman tore his bicep off the bone in November and was aiming for a return date of mid-March for the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier. He needed to finish in the top-two at the event to clinch a spot at the Olympics for the United States. Coleman’s doctor advised him to skip the Pan-Am’s to focus on getting closer to 100% for the Trials. Ellis took that advice and let Hafizov take his place and his teammate qualified the US for the Olympics. Now with a delay, Coleman does not need to rush back to the mat. He actually just resumed training near the time the Pan-Am’s were held. 

While Coleman has left the immaturity he carried into basic training in the rearview mirror, he still is fun-loving and energetic. Earlier this week, USA Wrestling released a set of “high school yearbook-style” superlatives for each member of the world team, across all three styles. Ellis was voted “Best Dancer”. He agrees with the choice and likes to stay loose and comfortable before his competitions by dancing. So much so, that competitors from other countries know his love for dancing and some have even followed suit. United World Wrestling (UWW), the governing body of international wrestling, has made a compilation video of Coleman dancing. When prodded about who is the worst dancer on the Greco team, Ellis mentions Raymond Bunker, Pat Smith, and Adam Coon; however, he does give the trio credit for trying. He has never seen his WCAP teammate Hafizov, whom he describes as “stoic and responsible” ever dance. 

Lately, there has been no certainty in this world because of the spread of COVID-19. This has always been the case in the wrestling community where there are no givens as to who will earn spots on the Olympic team or not, who will medal and who won’t. However the next year plays out, Coleman is very thankful for the support from his WCAP coaches and teammates. “We all have a bond and we’re family. Even outside of the wrestling room”. As Lewis once told a struggling Ellis, “It’s about the journey rather than the medals”. And what a journey it has been…. from the rough streets of West Chicago to London, to basic training, and now Colorado as one of the senior members of the WCAP and the Greco world team. 

For more information on the Army WCAP

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