He stood on the top step of the podium, hand over his heart as the national anthem played, beaming with pride.
Life is good for Nazar Kulchytskyy. A lot better than it was, anyway.
Eight years ago, the Ukrainian left his homeland with his parents and landed in Prairie du Chien, Wis. On Saturday in final-day action at the 20th Dave Schultz Memorial International at the Olympic Training Center, the recently minted U.S. citizen fought off a late charge from Russian veteran Rasul Dzukaev to win his first Schultz title.
“I love this country,” said Kulchytskyy, who was named the event’s outstanding wrestler at its outset. “I’m proud to be here. It’s the best feeling hearing the anthem playing because of me while the flag is being raised. It’s what we do it for. I was looking for a better life, a better opportunity. I wanted to go somewhere where I could wrestle and all my hard work was going to pay off. I found it in the USA.”
Kulchytskyy earned a 5-3 decision to win the title at 74 kg (163 lbs.), and he was one of six Americans to win titles on the finale of the four-day international tournament named in honor of the late Dave Schultz (1959-1996), a 1984 Olympic gold medalist who won 10 national senior titles before his untimely passing.
Joining Kulchytskyy as American champions were Joe Colon (134 lbs), Kellen Russell (154), Jon Reader (174), Nick Heflin (202) and Dom Bradley (275.5).
Reader, a college national champion at Iowa State in 2011 who hadn’t competed in a year, racked up 10 quick points in the 92 seconds to close out Matt Brown of the U.S. Army’s World Class Athlete Program.
“I just stuck to what I’m trained to do, which is being consistent and not detouring from what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Reader, a three-time Schultz champion and the assistant wrestling coach at South Dakota State since 2014. “Some of the best wrestlers in the world are here, and it can be chess match at the beginning. But I think the tougher guy wins a lot of matches. I tried to impose my will.”
While still living in the Ukraine, Kulchytskyy flipped his television to the world championships in 2009. He watched Dzukaev come up a bit short in the gold-medal match.
That actually helped him Saturday, when he took a late 3-2 lead on a front headlock with 1:20 left in the second period, then fought off a shot in the final seconds to get a takedown and another two points to ensure the victory.
“When I was a little kid, I watched him in the finals,” Kulchytskyy said. “I know him. I’ve studied him. I’ve watched a bunch of his matches. I knew what was coming. I strategized and wrestled smart. When I needed to score, I did, and when I needed to defend, I did. He waited for me to make a mistake, but I didn’t play that game.”