Team USA - Moscow 1997

by Denise Wattles


     For the last 6 years I have been the Team Manager for Team USA that attends the "Gold Bear" International Championships in Moscow, Russia.  Dave Devoto organized the trip in 1990 and has taken the team since 1990 and I had the privilege of joining him in 1992. Team selection begins with the qualifying tournaments: the USWA/USAA National Pro-Am Armwrestling Championship in Lake Tahoe and the World's Wristwrestling Championships in Petaluma, California. I assist Dave Devoto & Leonard Harkless in the selection of the Team and I organize all the travel arrangements and "payment plans".   It takes a lot of time and effort to manage a team that can number up to 40 members but it is worth every minute! 1997 was no exception. Unfortunately,  Leonard  Harkless could not attend this year but Ryan Hutchings and Joedee Asbury did a great deal to help me with all the "duties" of the team.

     I even made it on time to breakfast once or twice.  We had a young team this year. both in experience and age, but the whole team did an excellent job in representing the United States in their respective weight classes. The competition we had this year seemed even tougher than we have seen so far at this tournament. It is always difficult to compete in a foreign country with the language barrier and also the inexperience of the officials but the tournament always leaves our Team members in awe and with life-long memories and friends from many other countries, not to mention other American armwrestlers that they would have never had the opportunity to meet without having joined Team USA Moscow. This trip has always given me the chance to personally meet wrestlers that I have only talked to on the phone. Of all the Teams I have traveled with, this team became closer than any of them. It is impossible to explain the feeling of camaraderie. I know I talk to team members every week and we all have the same sentiment.

      The 1997 team consisted of 24 members from 10 states. I had met Frank Travisano in Orlando and was pleased to have him join us on this trip along with many other wrestlers from other armwrestling associations. We all met in New York before boarding our 9 1/2 hour flight direct into Moscow so we had plenty of time to get to know each other on the plane. We landed on a Tuesday morning and weigh-ins weren't until Thursday evening so we had 2 days to "sightsee" and cut-weight. The weigh-in times had been moved back a day without our knowledge so it was really tough on the team to try and maintain their weight for such a long, unplanned, period of time. When the time finally came to weigh-in we had several members out running to lose weight ( Justin Phillips, Ryan Hutchings, Debbie Morris, just to name a few). The most memorable thing for me on the whole trip happened this day. Debbie Morris was the last one out running and was still 4 lbs over with only 45 minutes till the end of weigh-ins and was about to give up when Jarrod Levulett of Klamath Falls, Oregon went out and ran with her. He had made his weight class hours before but never hesitated to help out a fellow Team member that he had only just met. (she did make her weight class, by the way!)   The whole team had this same spirit during the entire seven days we were in Russia.

       Elimination's were Friday and finals on Saturday so we had two very long days of tournament. Ed Goble of Utah had a very impressive match during elimination in which a referee had called match and Ed was still at least 4" away from the touchpad. He had enough strength to remove his other hand from the peg and show the referee his error and was able to continue wrestling and comeback from the "losing position" and pin his opponent. It was unbelievable!!   It was difficult for the competitors we had brought who were also referees like Ryan Hutchings and Gaylon Russell to see all the bad and missed calls but they were definitely good sportsmen. Despite all the hard work of the competitors we were unable to have an American represented in the Finals. We had 8-4th place finishes, 6-5th place and all others in the top 10 which is great considering how tough the competition was.

     On Saturday evening the Gold Bear Tournament held a "Super Match" in which prizes worth over $15,000 were awarded to the 1st place winner. Only a few of the participants in this tournament had competed in the " Gold Bear" so the fresh wrestlers had a definite advantage. It was very exciting as the matches were held in the Beverly Hills Casino in downtown Moscow. This particular casino is owned by Chuck Norris and managed by an American so it was interesting to visit with him after the tournament.  Zaur, the "Georgian Giant" won this event fairly easily and went home with the gorgeous gold "Carerra-Carerra" statue, tie clasp and ring.

     The days following the tournament we finally had time to shop and see the amazing sights of Moscow. Even after all the times I have visited here everything I see is still so thrilling, it's like I'm seeing it for the first time. Charles & Dianna Hamby of Texas took miles of tape and took many notes and I am looking forward to seeing the tape and hearing again how much they enjoyed the trip. I have seen some of the Team Members scrap books and pictures and it still surprises me how different all the pictures are and how I could have missed some of the "Kodak Moments". Mike "Mr. Ripple" Andrakin did a great job of posing for the Team at the farewell banquet, not to be outdone, Joedee Asbury had to strut his stuff too and we all had a big chuckle out of the performance.

     Many of the Team Members fromm 1997 plan to attend again in 1998 and we have already had some armwrestlers qualify at the 1997 National Pro-Am Armwrestling Championships in Lake Tahoe. Remember you can also qualify at the 36th Anniversary of the World's Wristwrestling Championships (it is an armwrestling tournament) in Petaluma, California on October 11, 1997 so don't miss your chance to attend the "Gold Bear" International ArmSports Championships in Moscow, Russia in April 1998. We'd love to have you join us!!!



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