ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- In 1976, 16-year-old John Hanrahan visited Poland for the first time as a junior national wrestler to compete in an international wrestling tournament. The country, then called the Polish People’s Republic, was under the grip of Soviet communism, and the young Hanrahan received his first taste of international competition as he and his fellow American teammates were instructed on how to conduct themselves in the communist country.
Forty years later, Hanrahan returns from another trip to Poland, now a democratic nation, with the title of world champion.
Alpharetta’s Hanrahan won gold in the 85 Kg division at the United Word Wrestling (UWW) Freestyle Veterans World Championships held in Walbrych, Poland on Oct. 7-9, completing a four match sweep and outscoring his opponents 27-0, including two wins over former world champions.
Hanrahan said the title of world champion is the “culmination of a lot of hard work and dedication.”
“It allows me to inspire others, especially given the fact that I work in the health and wellness industry, to reach their dreams.”
With veteran wrestlers, all over the age of 35 representing 35 countries, the competition level was high at the tournament, and Hanrahan said his accomplishment of a world championship makes the title that much more meaningful.
“It’s the highest level in the sport,” he said. “Getting through the competition without being scored on with this level of competition is something I’m very proud of.”
After opening the tournament with a win in his first match, Hanrahan defeated a former Hungarian world champion in his second match, but was nearly disqualified before the match began.
Hanrahan said he was taking in fresh air and fluids after his first match when he heard his name called over the loudspeakers being called for the next match. Hanrahan said he had to hustle down to the stage and change his singlet to the proper color. In the melee, Hanrahan was just seconds away from being disqualified.
“Because I wasn’t able to prepare for the match like I normally would have, it kept me loose and that remained for the rest of the tournament.”
After defeating one former world champion, Hanrahan faced the 10-time world champion Willem Putter of South Africa in the gold medal match, a match he’d trained six months to enter.
“I had a sense that it would come down to Putter and me,” Hanrahan said. “I had been game-planning my match against him for six months.”
“I’ve competed internationally for a while, and a lot of us have never seen him lose. He’s always the talk of the tournament and people talk about him as if he walks on water, so it made it just that much more of a challenge and that much more exciting to compete against him in a gold medal match.”
Hanrahan’s strategy was to open up Putter’s strong, defensive-minded style. He did so through the match, earning himself the title of world champion with a 2-0 victory over the 10-time champion.
Hanrahan said he hopes to use his title to help inspire the next generation of wrestlers through his Alpharetta-based company, www.privatetraining.com, and to continue to maintain a high-level of training to defend his title at the world championships in Bulgaria next year.
Along with Hanrahan, three other local wrestlers from North Fulton and Forsyth County, dubbed the “Atlanta Five,” competed in the event.
Alpharetta’s Ed Paladino took silver in the 69 Kg division, Dan Studenic placed fourth in the 69 Kg division and Dean Barnard of Cumming took fourth in the 85 Kg division.
Eric Cluck was unable to compete due to medical reasons.