Article Last Updated:
Tuesday, March 05, 2002 - 5:11:35 AM MST

Coach aspires to rule Greco-Roman Empire

All the news from the Winter Olympics is making Andrew Seras, of Newtown, think of what might be in store for him at the Summer Games two years away.

Seras, 39, a former national Greco-Roman wrestling champion, came to southwest Connecticut from upstate New York three years ago because of his wife's job transfer. Seras has a wealth of wrestling knowledge, and he might become the 2004 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling coach at the Athens Games.

He has landed a job as an assistant wrestling coach at Sacred Heart University. That's where he also runs his own off-season camp for young wrestlers through high school age.

And Seras, 39, is still much involved in world and national wrestling. He helped coach the U.S. Greco-Roman team at an Olympic-level tournament in Komotini, Greece, on Feb. 23-24, followed by another on March 2-3 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Greco-Roman wrestling, as many viewers of the 2000 Sydney Olympics remember, took a big rise in popularity due to the blockbuster upset victory of American Rulon Gardner over Russian Alexander Karelin. Up to then, Karelin had been undefeated in every international contest since 1988.

"That was huge," said Seras, who was not on the Olympic coaching staff then but has known Gardner for 10 years. "It was to be Karelin's final match. People like Henry Kissinger and Juan Antonio Samarach were there as kind of a coronation to Karelin's career. Then Rulon beat him. People in this country finally started to recognize Greco-Roman wrestling."

Greco-Roman style goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans and basically involves wrestling without the use of legs, or tripping or touching legs.

"There are old paintings and statues of Greco-Roman wrestlers with thorns around their legs just to make sure the legs aren't touched," Seras said.

His own wrestling career is distinguished, having come through a strong high school program in Niskayuna, N.Y., near Albany, becoming a four-time Division III All American at SUNY-Albany and emerging as the 1985 158-pound NCAA champion.

He joined a Greco-Roman club in college and got to like it. He landed a berth on the 1988 U.S. Olympic Greco-Roman team that competed at the Seoul Games, where he finished ninth. He tried but did not make the Olympic team in 1984 and 1992. But being named national Greco-Roman champion in 1989, 1993 and 1994 before retiring to coach in 1996 has been satisfying enough.

"I started working on the national elite level in 1997 after retiring in 1996," he said. "I was on the coaching staff 1997 to 1999. We got a bronze medal in 1998. I wasn't asked to coach at the Olympics in 2000 when Rulon won. I figure my time will come in 2004. The athletes like me, and I've built up seniority."

Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling special projects director, agrees.

"Andy stepped in when our head coach got sick, and we had our best team finish at third at the World Championships in Greece in December," Abbott said. "He's proven himself at the international level. He's earned the right to be in the running for head or assistant coach in 2004."

Seras is trying to help Connecticut raise its wrestling talent to be competitive with states such as Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania.

He baby-sits his 16-month-old daughter, Jacqueline, while working with SHU wrestlers during the day when his wife, Karen, works as a benefits compliance manager at General Electric corporate headquarters in Fairfield.

When winter wrestling season ends, he will be starting his Atlas Wrestling Camp at SHU on March 12 for ages 8-18.

"Connecticut doesn't have many off-season feeder programs, at least around here," said Seras, noting Milford has one, but the next stop would be Danbury, Bethel or New Milford.

"It's grown well," he said of his 3-year-old program. "Last year, I had 125 kids, mostly of high school age. I hope to take them to out-of-state tournaments, like New York and Pennsylvania, where wrestling is really strong, and give them exposure. This will give them a better chance to become national and world class athletes and maybe even make Olympics."

The Olympics have Greco-Roman and open wrestling competitions.

Darren Hayden has been helping at Atlas and just finished an inaugural 5-20-2 season as Masuk head coach.

"The (Masuk) kids were young, mostly sophomores, and obviously rusty at first," said Hayden, who coached a co-op Masuk-Barlow-Weston program last year. "We started 0-15 but ended the season with 5-5-2. Mat experience is so important. That's what programs like Andy's can do. Exposure like that with time on the mat can make you so much better."

Atlas Wrestling Club runs at Sacred Heart University's Pitt Center on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 6-7:30 p.m., March 12-June 11. The cost is $175. Call 270-1996 for information.