Imagine his surprise
when he learned, as a precocious seventh-grader at Pierrefonds
Comprehensive, that there weren't any ropes at all, and there
would definitely be no atomic elbows. Just a mat, some funny
outfits,and a lot of grappling.
"I had no idea
what I was getting into," said Mancini, 17. "At the
first practice I saw what we had to wear, and it pretty much
turned me off."
was a far cry from the "sports entertainment" world
of the pros. Thankfully, the one-piece tights didn't turn Mancini
off too much. He took part in his team's first competition that
year, and was instantly hooked.
"Though I got
creamed every single match, I saw the competitiveness in the
sport, the individualism, which I love," he said. "I'm
a very competitive person. I love being able to know that if
I won, I won on my own."
Then imagine Mancini's
satisfaction when, two months ago in Fredericton, N.B., the first-year
Vanier student won the national 58-kilogram juvenile freestyle
wrestling title and added a bronze in the Greco-Roman discipline.
"I had never
been in such an atmosphere in a wrestling match before,"
he said, estimating there were about 1,000 people watching his
final against B.C.'s Chris Bellefeuille. "It was exciting,
like nothing I'd ever had."
Mancini swept through
the competition en route to the freestyle semi-final, winning
his first three matches on a mercy rule after going up 10-0 each
time. But he really had to bear down in the semi-final, when
he went down 5-2 early but came back to tie it 5-5 before scoring
the winning point with only six seconds remaining in the match.
The final wasn't
any easier. Mancini said most of the crowd was cheering for Bellefeuille,
which might have contributed to the Westerner jumping out to
a short-lived 5-0 lead before Mancini rallied to make it 5-2.
to take an injury time-out at that point, giving Mancini time
to settle down.
"I knew I had
to wake up, and there were certain things I had to change right
away," he recalled. "I knew I was a lot better than
the other guy, and I knew there was nothing stopping me from
taking a lot of points on him. So I just told myself to stay
ran off the next 12 points to win the match 14-5, you could say
his strategy paid off. He won the title and was honoured as the
tournament's outstanding juvenile-class wrestler.
this year's success to Victor Zilberman, the highly esteemed
coach of the Montreal Wrestling Club.
Mancini had evolved
under coach Jay Bradbury at the Pierrefonds-based Riverdale Wrestling
Club for two years, winning a bronze at nationals in the cadet
category last year. This year Mancini moved on to Zilberman's
club, which includes Gia Sissaouri of Georgia - an Olympic silver
medalist in Atlanta and one of only two men to ever win a wrestling
world championship for Canada.
Gia are the two people who gave me the confidence I needed to
succeed at any kind of level," Mancini said. "You wrestle
a world champion and then go out against guys of your calibre,
the transition is like going from Mario Lemieux to minor-hockey
kids. To have him throw you around a bit, you just learn so much."
Has Mancini ever
managed to pin the great Sissaouri?
a few points on Gia," Mancini said. "But in terms of
winning a match against Gia, I can't see myself doing that for
a while. But every time you score on him you feel great."
Though he could
probably find numerous college suitors in the United States willing
to pay for his education, Mancini is eyeing Concordia University,
where Zilberman heads up the wrestling program.
"I feel I have
the best coach I can have," he reasoned. "Victor and
I interact at a good level, and I wouldn't want to ruin anything."
That means Mancini
can expect at least four more years of training 30 hours a week,
sometimes even three times a day.
In a somewhat masochistic
way, Mancini is looking forward to it.
to wake up every morning is to train hard and get to my goals
in the sport of wrestling," he said. "There should
be no reason for me to complain about training hard, because
in the key situations this is what's going to help me. This is
what's going to get me to the top."
With Sissaouri serving
as inspiration and mentor, Mancini hopes to become the first-ever
Canadian-born world wrestling champion. That would carry far
more weight than his original aspiration of dropping people with
"I wasn't hitting
people over the head with chairs or punching people in the face,"
he recalled with a laugh, "but the thing that kept me in
the sport was being able to know that I could be on top of the
province, then the country, and maybe one day being a world-class
Two down, one to
2002 Montreal Gazette
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