Showing his prowess in Greco-Roman style, wrestler PU Merkin takes 3rd place at senior national championships

Reach out: Princeton University wrestler Lenny Merkin greets Sloth Sebby, a mascot he created, in the Utah Salt Flats. Leading Sebby into the race, senior Merkin placed third at the senior US Nationals in the 67 kilograms (148 pounds) Greco-Roman competition in October. Earlier this month, he reached the semi-finals in the Greco-Roman 67kg class at the United World Wrestling (UWW) U23 and Junior Nationals. (Photo provided by Lenny Merkin)

By Justin Feil

When Lenny Merkin traveled to Coralville, Iowa for the senior US national wrestling championships last month, he took Sebby the Sloth, a mascot created by the senior at Princeton University with him.

“It’s this stuffed animal that I carry to training and tournaments and it ended up taking off internationally,” said Merkin, who manages Sebby’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.

“It blew up and now it’s turning into a side project where I try to use it to develop wrestling and get the word out. I’ve been able to build on this since doing most of my solo trips. I was able to lean on this stuffed animal if I didn’t have anyone else.

Merkin is the rare wrestler from Princeton to favor the Greco-Roman style over the academic format of folkstyle. In Greco-Roman, you can only do takedowns by attacking the upper body of an opponent, leg attacks are prohibited. In the folk style and the free style, a wrestler can perform eliminations by either pulling or throwing.

“Ever since I joined Princeton I’ve told the coaches that my goal is to be an asset to the team, but when I get the chance to compete in Greco-Roman I want to do it and I want to. being able to have an opportunity to have an Olympic team, something that unfortunately you can’t do with folkstyle, ”said Merkin, from Brooklyn, NY, who was a four-time New York prep champion at Poly Prep.

“I think competing at a higher stage like this is amazing and has been a dream of mine for a long time.”

Merkin is focused on reaching the highest level in wrestling. He also plans to explore using Sebby’s popularity to promote his passion for wrestling to the next generation after graduation.

“I’m always looking for something entrepreneurial,” Merkin said. “I plan to continue working on this Sebby the Sloth project as much as I can. Overall, it’s about getting kids involved in athletics and sports. It’s having healthy kids, that’s the general theme and being a mentor that a human can’t be. It’s like a different relationship that I try to build with the children.

With a degree in civil engineering, Merkin has a minor and an eye for business. In high school, he and a friend created Smoothie Boys, a healthy alternative to his school’s sugary drinks.

“We decided to make a change and people loved it and it was good,” Merkin said. “It was short but cute. It probably lasted three months and we raised quite a bit of money for a senior event that would otherwise have been more expensive for everyone. “

Sebby has more long-term potential in Merkin’s mind, and he continues to bring the mascot and promote him at events. Sebby was on hand to support Merkin as he placed third at 148 pounds at the senior nationals. Princeton assistant coach Nate Jackson was second in the 190-pound freestyle category and Matthew Kolodzik of Princeton was sixth in the 143-pound category.

“I had to get out on the mat,” Merkin said. “It’s been almost six months since I could compete. I have been training since. I just wanted to compete to see if the things I was working on would work competitively, and sure enough some of them worked and some didn’t. Due to COVID, there have been complications with my training, but it’s nice to see where I am with the Olympic Trials and other events to come. “

Merkin shut out two opponents before losing to second seed Calvin Germinario in the semifinals. Merkin was placed third.

“Lenny’s passion is Greco-Roman, that’s what he’s done well in this tournament,” said Princeton head coach Chris Ayres of Merkin who also reached the semi-finals in the category. of the 67 kg Greco-Roman at the UWW. (United World Wrestling) U23 and Junior National Championships earlier this month.

“It’s the whole upper body. This is really his goal. He wants to make an Olympic team in Greco.

Merkin’s career at Princeton has seen its ups and downs. He had to struggle with a heavier weight since he and four-time All-American Kolodzik are the same weight.

“Lenny was amazing,” Ayres said. “He went to weights that strengthen our team a lot. For him he’s incredibly good, so he’s able to do it, ride and compete at a high level. He’s been great for the program, hitting the weights where we need him to, and he’s doing well for himself and chasing that Olympic dream. He made a U-23 team, but unfortunately it was called off. We hope he can make an Olympic or world team.

The cancellation of the Ivy season this winter doesn’t put a stop to Merkin’s focus. He keeps his focus on qualifying and wrestling during the Olympic Trials in April 2021.

“I think it was good for the sport and good for our overall development to have a chance to try moves and not get too much involved,” said Merkin.

“I didn’t really see it as a senior national tournament, it was kind of a test. I didn’t put too much weight on it. It hurts not to win it. Better to lose now than when it matters a lot.

Merkin hadn’t competed since taking Sebby on a trip to Denmark in mid-January for the Greco-Roman Thor Masters tournament. Already on a red shirt year during what was supposed to be an Olympic year, Merkin continued to train thanks to the cancellation of pandemic events. He pushed himself to continue to grow even when he couldn’t meet the Princeton team who have helped him for the past three years.

“The wrestling aspect, the program and the training helped me get in shape,” said Merkin.

“The daily routine has kind of helped me prepare for the things that I will continue to do – make an Olympic team and get an Olympic medal. Having the right people around you has taught me that a good support system is important and having coaches who believe in you is huge as well as a good ecosystem and a positive atmosphere is important to to have.

Ayres calls Merkin the best athlete on the Princeton team. He’s hoping Merkin has a shot at wrestling in the NCAA this year, which he believes Merkin was unfairly barred from being a junior after beating an NCAA qualifier at the EIWA Championships.

“I would say upper body technique is his strength,” Ayres said. “It helps him at university. This translates well. He’s also a great varsity wrestler, so he can attack the lower body as well. He is very dangerous. In an instant, Lenny could end a match because he’s so dangerous. This sense of danger makes people cautious too. It’s an interesting dynamic. He has the knockout punch if you use the boxing analogy. If he catches you with any of these things, you’re in big, big trouble.

In freshman, Merkin pinned a Harvard wrestler 10 seconds into a match as he adjusted to wrestling in a weight class. As his strength and experience increased, he became more dangerous on the mat, and Ayres notes he had the potential to be All-American if Princeton had competed this winter.

In the meantime, Merkin continues to train with lofty goals that should allow him to take Sebby the sloth across the world.

“I’m potentially looking to get into the military and fight for the army team,” Merkin said.

“It’s still under construction and I’m thinking about options. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. It would be another great stepping stone to get me where I need to be, and it would be an honor to serve the country.

Robert J. King