Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri speaks to wrestlers and a volunteer at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington on Friday. (Tony Blasi/Sun Journal)
FARMINGTON — World Champion and Canadian Olympian silver medalist Guivi Sissaouri spent five days coaching, cajoling and instilling confidence in nearly two dozen adoring wrestlers at the Cascade Brook School last week.
A call from an old acquaintance and an opportunity to teach enthusiastic wrestlers from grades seven through 12 persuaded Sissaouri, who is also known as Gia, to make a four-hour road trip from his home in Montreal to spend a week in the foothills of Maine.
By the end of the five-day Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp, the wrestlers applauded Sissaouri for his knowledge of the sport and came to admire him for his achievements.
For the 47-year-old rugged wrestler with cat-like reflexes, coaching young athletes was a new experience for the expatriate from Tbilisi, Georgia.
“Working with wrestlers as young as 10 years old has been a new experience for me. Normally, I work with high performance and up,” Sissaouri said. “This is an opportunity for me to figure things out for this age group.
“For my part, it is easy because I say, ‘Hey guys, this is how we are going to set things up,’ and some kids are not following it enough, so I have to figure it out and how to approach them not just physically, showing, but how to connect them and give them a rational why it should work and why they should be remembering.
“Yeah, I had the opportunity to work with the youngsters and that is great. I am learning every day as a coach. Those are the steps that I upgraded to my coaching skills.”
His students appreciated Sissaouri’s work ethic and his patience. Augustus Irwin of Garland, Maine, was amazed at his skills as world champion wrestler.
“Garland is real small,” Irwin said. “We don’t have a wrestling team. We have to go to Dexter, and to have someone like (Gia), who probably is one of the best in the world, come to teach us for like for a moderately cheap price, it is really great.
“I fought folkstyle my whole life and this is a freestyle camp, and I learned like a whole week’s worth of freestyle. He is z real nice, super great guy. “
“I want to get better,” Benjamin Ireland, of Sidney, said. “I am not trying to be like a champion like Gia is, but I want to get better at my lessons.
“Like Gia said, I have always done folk style (wrestling) my whole life. This is one week I played freestyle. It is amazing that a world champion teaches us.”
Farmington middle school eighth-grader Iliana Marquez and her brother became wrestlers through a mutual friend.
“My brother convinced me to try it out,” Marquez said. “I would go to practices and I would just watch. My coaches were like, ‘Ready to wrestle today? Ready to wrestle? I would be like, ‘OK.’
“So I got really into it. I have been doing it for the last couple of years. I really like it is a great sport and it is challenging and it’s fun.”
Marquez couldn’t stay away from the wrestling camp knowing Sissaouri was in town to offer his expertise.
“Gia is so cool. He is such an interesting person. He has so many good techniques,” Marquez said. “There are so many different things that we can use from new positions that I had no idea that we could use.
“I like that he just doesn’t teach freestyle. He teaches stuff so that we do it in folkstyle as well. I am very improved by him.”
A blast from the past
Sissaouri didn’t just cross the border and wander into Farmington looking to coach young wrestlers.
Gregg Loewen, a Saskatchewan native who relocated to Farmington in 1999, was working in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta when he met and escorted Sissaouri to the wrestling mat.
Loewen is also the wrestling camp founder who reconnected with fellow Canadian Sissaouri over the Internet.
“I had the opportunity to work at the 1996 Atlantic Olympic games,” Loewen recalled in an email. “During the Olympics, I was able to have the entire Canadian team autograph a Canadian flag.
“After Gia won the silver medal, he put this flag over his shoulders for his walk around the wrestling venue. I still have this flag and I am having this framed and will be presenting this to him at the special event. We are truly lucky to have him in our town.
“I still had it (flag) in my home and I thought it would be a nice memento of the event.”
Loewen said he was watching the Winter Olympics and saw athletes wearing their flags, “And I thought what is Gia doing?”
“So I just googled him on Facebook. I said, ‘Hi Gia, bonjour. Do you remember me? He said, “I remember you,” Loewen, who wrestled from high school through college, said. “We got talking very quickly, I found out he was the national coach in Montreal, which is very close to us and he found out I am in Maine and I had my son wrestling and says, ‘I am going to come do a camp for you. That was two months ago.”
“Loewen told me he has a son and he is part of the wrestling community here,” Sissaouri said. “He gave me a date and driving distance and I said it can be done.”
When Gia was handed the framed flag during a break in practice, he was taken aback and stared at it while Loewen relayed the history behind this unique flag.
“I met Gia at the ’96 Olympics,” Loewen, a former high school wrestling coach, said. “I was working in the wrestling pavilion, which is my background.
“I had the opportunity to escort him to the gold medal match. He is one of the most prolific wrestlers in the world.
Loewen said it a thrilling opportunity to be at matside and watch Gia’s gold-medal match with an American.
“I am not sure anybody of his caliber has been to this state before,” Loewen said. “I have been telling the kids this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity…for you.”
Becoming a Canadian
Sissaouri, who had been wrestling since he was eight years old, emigrated to Canada from Tbilisi, Georgia in the 1990s.
He traveled with various teams, including the Soviet National Team, to compete in Canada.
“I had that in my mind, but everything was going fairly good in Georgia — the state of Georgia out of the Soviet Union when in 1990, 1991 Georgia tried to be independent,” Sissaouri said. “Those are the times when I kind of made the decision to leave Georgia and go to Canada because it would be between three to five years before Georgia was recognized as a independent state or country.
“I have been the past eight years national coach for Canadian wrestling and now I am also wrestling coordinator in Quebec, where I am from.”
“I am also one of the coaches in my martial art wrestling club and other than that, I am very busy with that. Other than that, I do investments for my own things.”
“He (Loewen) told me he has a son and he is part of the wrestling community here. He gave me a date and driving distance and it can be done.”
Gia also keeps busy promoting wrestling in Montreal.
“I do a two-hour seminar free for every athlete, so I am a coordinator for that,” Sissaouri said. “I figured it would be a good idea to come down and help this area and to know them.
“I said, ‘Listen, we have a tournament like that and you can come up, too. Make each other better and have a relationship.’”
“I enjoy being around these youngsters being humble. They made commitment. Most of them are from away, like two hours. They came Monday and made an effort and I appreciate because they are committed and willing to get better.”
Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri stands with Evrit Roy at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington on Friday.A picture of the signed Canadian flag that was presented to Canadian wrestler Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri.
Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri and camp founder and coach Gregg Loewen pose with the Canadian flag signed by the 1996 Olympic Canadian Team.
Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri smiles after receiving a Canadian flag signed by the 1996 Olympic Canadian team as camp founder and coach Gregg Loewen. The flag was worn by Sissaouri in 1996.
Camp founder and coach Gregg Loewen watches wrestlers go through a drill at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington on Friday.
Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri demonstrates a hold at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington on Friday.
Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri explains a hold to a pair of wrestlers at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington on Friday.Canadian World Champion and Olympian Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri watches wrestlers go through a drill at the Western Maine Spring Break Wrestling Camp at the Cascade Brook School in Farmington on Friday.Coaches, volunteers and participants of the Western Maine Spring Break Camp pose for a photo at the Cascade Brook School.
Guivi “Gia” Sissaouri’s highlights
* Born in Tbilisi, Georgia, April 15, 1971
* Began wrestling at eight years old
* Became a Canadian citizen
* 1995 — Silver, World Championships
* 1996 — Silver, Olympic Games
* 1997 — Bronze, World Championships
* 1998 — Bronze, World Championships
* 2001 — Gold, World Championships
* 2002 — Gold, Commonwealth Games
* National Coach: Team Canada
* Olympic Coach: Team Canada