Young Blue wrestles with Olympic dream

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When Lachlan Reeve was recently awarded his 2023 Sydney University Blue, the warm applause from the Great Hall audience soon turned to discussion about his chosen sport – wrestling.

Is he the first Sydney University wrestling Blue? How long has wrestling been a sport on campus? What style of wrestling does he compete in?

Lachlan, who has just finished second year of Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Advanced Studies degrees might have told them he’s the fifth wrestling Blue behind Peter Cockcroft (1979), Stirling Larkin (1999), Leonid Zaslavsky (2002) and Dr Kyla Bremner (2003) from the Club that started in the years just after World War 1, and he competes in the 97kg freestyle division.

And as with Zaslavsky (1996 Olympic Games) and Bremner (2008 Olympic Games), Lachlan has ambitions to compete at the 2028  Los Angeles Olympics.

“I’m on a five-year campaign,” the 20-year-old said. “My ambition is to get to the Los Angeles Games; next year’s Paris Olympics might be too ambitious and there is no wrestling at the 2026 Commonwealth Games.”

To that end he trains from 9am-11am and 6pm-8pm each week day and does another session on Saturday, spending time on the mat with different training partners and at the gym. And that’s all interspersed with university studies and a part-time job. And after just four years in the sport he’s on the right track to achieve his aim given his results this year.

He won the Junior U20 title and came second in the 97kg Senior Male Freestyle at the Wrestling Australia Senior Championships at Lang Park, Queensland, in June. In the Seniors he lost his first round bout to Tom Barnes, a 2022 Commonwealth Games bronze medallist who who went on to win the Australian title. Lachlan then defeated Akhil Ajith, Harrison Rourke and Avtar Dhesi to claim the silver medal.

He backed that up with a bronze medal performance in the Seniors Freestyle 97kg the Oceania Championships held at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra in August. Lachlan defeated Teik Nauta of French Polynesia 10-0; Utah Mann of Tonga 6-6 on a VSU (victory by superiority); before losing lost 10-0(VSU) to Thomas Barns, a bronze medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games. Lachlan then lost his semi-final 7-2 to Samoa’s Alofipo Willie, who went on to win the gold medal.

The audience at the Great Hall Blues Dinner were also wondering how a Knox Grammar boy took up wrestling. Well . . .

“ I was introduced to the sport by a friend Andrey Stoiunov, a Ukrainian refugee, and another school friend,” he said. “I started wrestling in the last two years of school at Knox when my friends introduced me to coach Jacub Kacenak, who works at the Compound Grappling Academy in Bondi, and to  Leonard “Lenny” Zaslavsky  at Sydney University Wrestling Club.” (The Sydney University Wrestling and Grappling Club since 2018.)

Wrestling is a highly competitive and physically demanding sport that has been practised for centuries. It involves grappling techniques, takedowns and other holds to gain control over an opponent and secure a pin or a submission or maintain a superior position.

Standing 190cm, Lachlan played First XV for Knox, packing in the second-row and bringing down ball from the lineouts. He also played a pre-season with the Warringah Rats before committing to wrestling.

“Rugby definitely helped me transition into wrestling,” he said. “The physicality, the body contact in rucks, mauls and tackling and the balance required at scrum and lineout time all come into play. My body was prepared for another contract sport.

“In freestyle wrestling there are no joint locks or choke holds. There are varying points for different moves and keeping a superior position.”

At Compound Grappling Academy, wrestling is taught as an integral part of overall grappling training where athletes learn a variety of techniques, including stance, takedowns, and ground control, with an emphasis on precision, power and endurance.

Lachlan’s ambition is being guided by two very experienced campaigners in coaches Kacenak and Zaslabsky.  Before moving to Australia from Slovakia Kacenak was named Best Wrestler in Slovakia for 2011 and trained at the Ossetian school of wrestling, one of the top schools in the world. He served as the Commonwealth Head Coach for the Australian Wrestling team for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, as well as the Official Assistant of Coaches for the Australian Wrestling team for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Zaslavsky competed in  freestyle at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, the 1990, 1995 and 1996 Oceania Championships, and in Greco-Roman at the 1996 Oceania Championships.

Lachlan might have also told the Great Hall audience that wrestling is one of the oldest forms of combat sport dating back to the 13th Century BC. But he’s focussing on the future, not the past, with the Games of 2028 AD in mind.