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Foreign wrestlers visit Forest Grove

Members of the Sakha Wrestling Federation come to town next week as part of a cultural exchange

When a group of wrestlers from the coldest place on earth arrive in Forest Grove next weekend for the first stop on their tour of Oregon, it will be for more than a friendly competition between athletes from different cultures.

The three-day visit will be an opportunity for members of

the Forest Grove community to return a favor to Russia's National Polytechnic Secondary School No. 2 by honoring the wrestling team with a first class welcome and giving them a taste of Forest Grove hospitality.

It will also be a reunion of sorts.

When the Sakha Wrestling Federation hosted the Oregon Wrestling Cultural Exchange team three months ago, they treated the Americans to an unforgettable experience. The OWCE team - which included three Forest Grove residents - visited Yakutsk, the capital city of the Sakha Republic. Located 3,000 miles east of Moscow in the heart of Siberia, the region is well known for its extremely cold temperatures.

Hall of Fame wrestling coach Mike Clock, who has taken more than 15 groups on overseas trips since 1975 and was one of the organizers for the venture, says this year's trip stands out in his mind as one of the best.

'In all my involvement with cultural exchange teams, no visiting team has ever been treated better than our team that was hosted by the Sakha Wrestling Federation and School No. 2 in Yakutsk,' Clock said.

The Oregon team was treated to an uncommon experience that consisted of joint training sessions and visits to remote villages, where the team witnessed ceremonies before every match that included gift exchanges, ritual blessings, music, and strikingly well choreographed dances with performers dressed in full native attire.

Forest Grove head wrestling coach Frank Johnson, who was one of the coaches traveling with the Oregon team, said the experience was like nothing he has ever seen.

'For a village in the middle of Siberia with less than half the population of Forest Grove to be able to field a full team of experienced wrestlers and pack the house with knowledgeable fans was pretty striking,' he said.

The visit to Oregon is the second half of the exchange between the OWCE and the Sakha Wrestling Federation.

In a wrestling exchange of this type, the goals of the hosting group include using sport as a vehicle to educate young people on how much they have in common, learning from each other in the matter of training techniques, and giving the Russian guests a taste of life in a more temperate environment (the average temperature in Yakutsk in November is minus-26 degrees Fahrenheit).

Johnson believes the Forest Grove community can greet the Russian visitors with a level of generosity that resembles what the Oregonians experienced in Yakutsk.

'We have an exceptional community here and we want their time here to be a reflection of that,' Johnson said. 'The delegation will enjoy Oregon, but we want them to have a memory of their time in Forest Grove that stands out.'

The best way for Forest Grove to do that, Johnson said, is by filling the stands on Saturday, Nov. 5. An Oregon All-Star team, including several state champions, will compete against the Russian team.

'Wrestlers are traveling from as far away as Hermiston and we have a great evening planned for them. If we can get lots of people to come watch the event, it will be great for all the kids involved,' he said.

The weekend festivities will include competition in Freestyle wrestling as well as exhibition matches in a style of wrestling known as Khapsagai, which is a traditional form of wrestling exclusively practiced in Yakutia.

The group will also spend a day at the coast before visiting Redmond, Sweet Home, Corvallis and Eugene, giving them a variety of cities to visit before returning to sub-zero temperatures on Nov. 14.