Like father, like son
When it comes to freestyle wrestling success, Zilberman has it in his genes

Montreal Gazette, Wednesday, October 17, 2001

The age-old adage goes: like father, like son. David Zilberman can only hope there is some truth to it.

Zilberman is a three-time national freestyle wrestling champion, and you don't have to look very far to see where he gets his talent. His father, Victor, is the freestyle wrestling coach at Concordia University and has coached several wrestlers to international titles. He has coached what he calls the "toughest sport of them all" for 25 years after completing a stellar wrestling career of his own.

Now David Zilberman is hoping to become the next young freestyler to graduate from his father's tutelage to the world stage.

The 18-year-old Vanier College social-science student has only been wrestling seriously for four years, but has had a lifetime of exposure to the sport while watching his father coach.

David Zilberman puts hold on training partner Carl Rainville.

'A Very Good Coach'

"Wrestling didn't always interest me," Zilberman said before a Montreal Wrestling Club practice at the George Reinitz Wrestling Centre at the Snowdon YMHA. "We host a tournament called the Concordia Invitational and I would always go and watch as a kid. I don't know, it's not that it didn't interest me, it was just that it was always in front of me, you know?"

Zilberman says he was interested in more mainstream sports, like hockey and baseball, but a lack of good coaching kept him from dedicating himself to them. There was, however, one place he knew he could find a decent coach.

"My father's a very good coach," he said. "I started coming out to his practices, just to fool around a bit and learn a couple of techniques, and it kind of grew on me. I gradually got out of the other sports because the coaching wasn't there and I wasn't going to go anywhere with that. I started liking (wrestling) more and more, so I started training more seriously."

Victor Zilberman understands it can be tough for his son to wrestle for him, since the two of them live under the same roof.

"Of course, it's hard for him because he's around me 24 hours a day," the elder Zilberman said. "After practice, these guys have a chance to leave and get away from me. I drive him to college and he gets a lecture there. On the way back, another lecture. It's not just about wrestling, it's how he's studying, how he's eating, how he's working. When you get to a higher level, everything has to be perfect."

But the travails go the other way as well, as Victor feels it's harder for him to get his message across to his son than it is to other athletes.

"With the father, the words don't mean the same as if they were coming from someone else," Victor said. "They try to do whatever the coach says, but it's different when it's your father. Everybody knows how kids respond to their parents. I always tell anybody who asks how I am able to coach my son that if you can coach your kid, you can coach anybody."

Despite these obstacles, or maybe because of them, David Zilberman has become one of the country's brightest wrestling hopes. He won the first of his three consecutive national titles in St. Catharines, Ont., at his national-level debut in 1998.

"I remember just going into it thinking it's all for experience, a stepping stone," Zilberman said. "When you go into a tournament that first time, no one knows who you are, so you take them by surprise. That's basically what happened the first time. The second one was tough; they were expecting me."

Zilberman went on to win two more titles, including one this year in his first junior-level national tournament.

"Now is when people start training more," he said. "It's tougher than in juvenile because it's the more serious people who are sticking around."

Those victories, however, don't come without a heavy price. Zilberman spends about 25 hours a week practicing and training, sometimes working out three times a day. On top of that, he must keep up with his school work and practice the piano, which he has been playing for 12 years, as well as maintain some semblance of a social life. Zilberman says it's not hard, since the alternative is not all that attractive to him.

Busy Schedule

"I always had a lot of things to do, so I learned to juggle everything at an early stage," he said. "Now it's a lot tougher. Late nights, early mornings, you get used to it.

"I see what other teenagers are doing. They're bored, they've got nothing to do. Sure, it's fun to go out here and there, and I have time to go out. But a lot of other teenagers are going out drinking every night. I don't know, that doesn't really appeal to me. It's not a healthy lifestyle."

His disdain for the nightlife is not surprising since Zilberman says he is focused on his dream to travel the world representing his country on a wrestling mat. Just like his father did in another era.

- To watch today's Amateur Athlete of the Week in action, tune in to Global News tonight at 6.

© Copyright 2001 Montreal Gazette