"The Golden Bear" International Tournament
As an unexpected competitor to the "Golden Bear" tournament I had no clue as of what to expect. Me, John Burgeson, age 17 from California going to Moscow, Russia. NO WAY!!! Well, the adventure began on April 22, 1998 @ 6:00 P.M. at JFK Airport in New York. All of the team members from different states met in New York and boarded the plane heading for Moscow. This gave me the opportunity to meet a few of the athletes such as Jim Ryerson, Ryan Hutchings, Andy Fuller and Eric Woefel. I also met Mr. David Devoto, the main organizer of the USA Armwrestling Team along with Denise Wattles and Leonard Harkless. There was a total of 34 Americans that attended the competition. I think the only other country that was so greatly represented was Russia. We had a large group. We landed in Moscow on April 23,1998 @ approximately 11:30 A.M. (Moscow time).
My first impression of Moscow was not to great. To me, the city seemed unclean, unfriendly and a little smelly and I was not too happy being there. After a small delay at the airport we finally arrived at our hotel (around 3:00 P.M.) checked in, took our belongings to our rooms and headed out for the weigh-ins. The United States had a total of 17 competitors which included both amateur and professional. This is when I found out I could compete. Well, I was already there, so why not? Even though the other countries had weighed in, many of the competitors came to see the American Team. After the weigh-ins we left for the hotel to have dinner. The first night everyone just hung around getting to know each other.
The next morning we were to meet for breakfast at 8:30 A.M. in the dining hall where the daily events were discussed and to let us know what to expect. Shortly after breakfast we left for the tournament. There was a total of nine countries, Canada, Georgia, Belarus, Turkey, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Bulgaria, United States and Russia which all met in the main lobby to be escorted into the auditorium for the competition. During the first day of the tournament there were approximately 69 competitors in the amateur class. It was at this time some of the Americans (including myself) were eliminated but many went on to win in their weight classes.
The final outcome for the Women's Left Hand: Michelle Kelly, 3rd place (below 58 kg), Monica Wozniak, 3rd place (above 73 kg), Cynthia Yerby, 4th place (above 73 kg), Women's Right Hand: Michelle Kelly, 3rd place (below 52 kg), Judy Dodd, 5th place (below 58 kg), Cynthia Yerby, 3rd place (above 73 kg), Monica Wozniak, 4th place (above 73 kg). The men also did very well. In the Men's Left Hand: Tim Storey, 3rd place, (below 73 kg), Stephen Beauclair, 6th place (below 73 kg), Rick Steffens, 7th place (below 73 kg), Ryan Hutchings, 6th place (below 90 kg), Richard Chrisian, 8th place (below 90 kg), Andy Fuller, 7th place (above 90 kg), Robert Baxter, 8th place (above 90 kg), Jim Ryerson, 9th place, (above 90 kg), Charles Best, 10th place (above 90 kg). In the Men's Right Hand: Rick Steffens, 4th place (below 65 kg), Tim Storey, 3rd place, (below 73 kg), Stephen Beauclair, 7th place, (below 73 kg), John Burgeson II, 8th place, (below 73 kg), Ryan Hutchings, 2nd place, (below 81 kg), Richard Chrisian, 5th place, (below 81 kg), John Burgeson, Sr., 4th place (below 90 kg), Robert Baxter, 4th place, (below 100 kg), Andy Fuller, 2nd place, (above 100 kg), Stretch (Frank) Shirado, 3rd place (above 100 kg), Charles Best, 4th place (above 100 kg) and Jim Ryerson, 7th place, (above 100 kg). There was also a competition for the disabled. A total of five women (all Russian) and ten men (all Russian) competed.
The United States did not have any women enter into the professional division but the men did a great job. In the Left Hand: Ed Goble, 2nd place (below 90 kg), Eric Woelfel, 1st place (above 90 kg), John Brzenk, 2nd place, (above 90 kg).
As for the Right Hand: Ed Goble, 3rd place, (below 90 kg), John Brzenk walked off with First place and Eric Woelfel with a 3rd. The American team was there to cheer them on and they both did an outstanding job. When the tournament was over the team was able to tour Moscow. We were able to see the Kremlin, Red Square, Lenin's tomb, Saint Basil's Cathedral and Arbach Street. Our mode of transportation was walking to the Metro where we caught the train which took us to different locations. This is where the guides really helped. We also saw the "Tomb on The Unknown Soldier" and spent two days shopping at a Russian Flea Market. I was able to get a pocket watch and few items for myself. As for the food, it was quite different from the United States. We were able to find a McDonalds (two actually) and a Planet Hollywood where the Americans wasted no time ordering hamburgers, fries and cokes.
On the last evening that we were in Moscow, the Russian's had a banquet dinner in honor of the American Team. I thought this was very nice since it was not done for the other countries. There was plenty to eat and drink. The Russian people love to toast each other and drink vodka. Everyone attended including Sergey, Ana, Natasha, Jim and Misha who were our interpreters and guides.
There was one thing that I found to be different. There are no parking lots for the cars. The people just park the cars on the sidewalk and get out to go into the stores. This means that your car can and probably will be stuck between two other cars. Speaking of cars, you had better watch out. As Leonard said, "The crosswalk is only a target zone" and this was proven to be true. We left to come home to the United States on April 29 @ 2:00 P.M. in the afternoon and I know one day I will return. It was a wonderful experience for me and as for my first impression all I can say is, "Never judge a book by its cover". The Russian people are so friendly and will do anything to please you. I have made new friends, both Russian and American. I also found out from a few of the Americans who went last year that the city had improved a great deal from last year and I am sure it will continue to improve. It will take time and a lot of hard work, but from what I saw, the people are willing to try. I also learned that not everything you read, hear or see on TV is true and I had the opportunity to find this out. You may ask, "Would he go again?" My answer: In a heartbeat!! In closing I would like to say "spa-see-ba" (English spelling of the Russian word thank you) to Denise Wattles, Leonard Harkless and Dave Devoto who took the time to put this event together so I could go. I also would like to take this opportunity to say "spa-see-ba" to the Russian sponsors, athletes and our interpreters who spent so much time helping us with the language but most of all, to all of the Americans who attended this year. We are all winners and we made a great "TEAM USA".
John Burgeson II
ARMWRESTLING.COM- Dave Devoto (707) 537-7373
incorporated in any information retrieval system without
written permission of the Publisher.