With approximately 28 Americans, the United States made a sound showing at the Veterans World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia at the end of August. That contingent included Riverbank High School math teacher Kevin Hejnal, who took second place in Division E Freestyle wrestling at 76 kilos, which is at a weight of about 167 pounds.
There were two styles of wrestling at the competition, Freestyle and Greco-Roman and seven age divisions. Hejnal competed in the 55 to 60 age group and joined the other Americans on the United States team to compete in the team event.
The long 40-hour trip from the states to Belgrade was worth it in the end for Hejnal. Both the styles of wrestling are divided into three days. Hejnal was in the first group on the first day so he weighed in on a Monday night and then wrestled on Tuesday morning.
When Hejnal competed at the Nationals he was 85 kilos and at the Worlds he competed at 76 kilos, which is about 20 pounds less.
“So I cut down a weight,” said Hejnal. “Number one I do it because it makes me train harder.
“So I have no choice, I have to run.”
After arriving in Belgrade, the participants get picked up and have to go through the accreditation process where they fill out the entry forms, check passports, and fees are paid. Normally, this process should only take approximately 10 minutes however, with heightened security and regulations, it took some travelers seven hours to complete.
Then the weigh in occurs along with a medical check and depending on which wrestlers showed up and weighed in will determine the match ups for the tournament starting the next day. There were six competitors in Division E which included two Turks, two Russians, and two Americans.
“So you never know how many guys you get,” stated Hejnal. “The smallest brackets were maybe three individuals and the largest was maybe 10 or 11.There ended up being about 45 countries that competed from all over.”
In the team competition the Americans took third, the Iranians won first place, and the Russians took second place which was determined by place points and medal count.
“We ended up getting 18 medals in Freestyle which is exactly what they got the year before,” added Hejnal. “We had four golds, six silvers, and eight bronze medals in the Freestyle division on the American Team.”
The participants on the American team were able to purchase team uniforms and had a team leader that coached and organized. An official from the US was also brought in to participate in the competition.
The first match went well for Hejnal as he was able to pin a Turkish opponent for a win. In the semi-finals he was matched up with another American, Bruce Moe, whom he had wrestled four times before.
“He actually has beaten me three times and I have only beaten him once,” stated Hejnal. “I haven’t wrestled him since about 2006.”
This time, though, it was Hejnal emerging victorious. The match ended with an 11 to 3 win in favor of Hejnal, moving him into the gold medal match against the Russian. That match was a loss for Hejnal where he got pinned after getting caught in a move.
“The problem of taking second is that you go out on a loss,” explained Hejnal. “If you take third in a bronze medal (round) you end up winning your last match so though you want to take second and not third, it still leaves a bad taste in your mouth because the last match you lost.”
Still, he was philosophical about finishing second overall, even though he did end his performance with a losing effort in the gold medal round.
“So I was happy I medaled because this is only the second time I competed in World Championships but I had the opportunity to win a gold medal and I didn’t so it is going to give me the motivation to keep training,” said Hejnal.
Moe also wrestled in the Greco-Roman style competition and won a silver medal for the Americans.
After the competition, the winners were celebrated at an awards ceremony where they received a certificate and a medal. They also placed all the flags of all the countries that were medalists on a screen which showed two American flags.
According to Hejnal, there were parts of Belgrade that were beautiful and like most cities there were other parts that were not. The weather was nice during the trip, he said, and communication wasn’t too bad although there were some interpreters on hand for the competitors.
“I am happy I won second and I am proud that I did but I am not satisfied, but that’s just me,” stated Hejnal. “It was a great experience and I am glad my wife was able to come and I am proud that I was able to represent the USA.
“I will keep wrestling as long as my body will allow me to; so far it has, thank God for that.”