By JASON ELMQUIST
STILLWATER — It’s been three years since Oklahoma State heavyweight Alan Gelogaev got to compete in the Big 12 Conference Wrestling Championships.
With injuries ending his season the past two years, the second-ranked heavyweight in the country will get a chance to win his first Big 12 title when Gallagher-Iba Arena plays host to the conference championships this weekend — with dual competition being held throughout the day Friday and the individual tournament starting at 5 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m feeling great. I’m ready to go,” said Gelogaev, who is known more by his nickname ‘Z’, stemming from his middle name, Zelim. “The past two years were difficult, but just had to embrace it and work through it.
“It has definitely helped me be strong and see what I was capable of doing by going through those injuries. I’m just taking care of my body more. If something bothers me, I take care of it immediately rather than letting it linger — which is what led to my injury last year. You’ve just got to learn to take care of your body.”
Having a healthy, dominant Gelogaev is proving to be huge for the Cowboys, who are searching for the program’s 35th national championship — with the last coming in 2006. Whether it be in dual competition or individual tournaments, the fellow Cowboy wrestlers know what to expect from their heavyweight.
“It’s huge. Z is always capable of pinning an opponent, or getting bonus points. And if you take that away, it’s a toss up,” OSU senior Jordan Oliver said. “... A guy like Z is irreplaceable. He puts so many points up on the board and he’s almost, I don’t want to say a guaranteed win, but pretty close to a guaranteed win for us. So having him in is definitely a confidence booster and motivator for us.”
At 26 years old, Gelogaev is one of the oldest collegiate wrestlers Smith has worked with — behind former three-time All-American Randy Couture, who wrestled at Oklahoma State after serving in the United States Army.
“Couture was actually a year older than me when I was the head coach,” Smith said. “But Z is definitely the second oldest, but I think the journey with him has still been like with any other high school kid that you get, teaching him about folkstyle wrestling. ... It’s been a journey and I’ve needed every year with him, I’ll tell you that.”
Smith said the age of his heavyweight has actually helped his young squad, having a more mature leader on a team with high expectations every year.
Gelogaev is also serving as an example of how to respond to adversity when it comes to injury. Instead of pulling away from the sport at his age, he has embraced his role and become a force for the Cowboys at the back end of competitions.
“The one thing that I thought could happen was him deciding to just lay it down, move on,” Smith said. “He’s a great student and going to successful when he’s done wrestling and the thing I admire about him most is he’s never, for a second, thought about anything but getting healthy and getting another year, another shot.
“Those two injuries he had gave him plenty of reason not to do it, but he sure has found reason to do it. Rehab on both those tears were major rehabilitation programs that takes daily requirement and a lot of pain. Every year you have guys get injured and the more examples you can use and give them, the stronger tradition is built. I’m sure we’ll be able to use Z’s name around here for a long time with major injuries.”
Gelogaev’s top competition this weekend will be Iowa State’s Matt Gibson, who is ranked 17th in the nation. In OSU’s trip to Ames, Iowa, in February, Gelogaev held on for a 6-5 victory over the Cyclone heavyweight. Gelogaev may get a chance to face him in Friday’s duals, with OSU scheduled to open the day against West Virginia at 11 a.m., followed by Iowa State at 1 p.m. The day will be capped with the Bedlam dual at 7 p.m., which will be televised on FSN (Suddenlink channel 37).