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Greco-Roman Wrestling champion Rafal Cejrowski hopes he can still compete at the 2016 Olympic Games
9:00am Friday 1st March 2013 in Sport
They're not common in this country but you can always recognise them by their ears.
One ear is much more swollen than the other – like the ‘cauliflower ears’ rugby players sometimes have.
“You can recognise another Greco-Roman wrestler by one of their ears and there is immediately a feeling of respect because they know how hard it is,” said Rafal Cejrowski, the reigning English Greco-Roman wrestling champion, who lives in St Albans Road, Watford.
“I attack a lot on the right-hand side so it smashes up my ear. It’s part of the job,” he said.
Greco-Roman wrestling adopts the normal rules of wrestling except the lowest part of the body you can attack is the hips.
Points are scored for throws, take-downs or pushing your opponent out of the ‘zone’ and a round can be won instantly by ‘pinning’ an opponent’s shoulders to the floor.
Cejrowski has lived above a vitamin shop, of which he is the owner, for nearly three years after moving from Poland almost ten years ago.
Among a vast array of supplements in his shop is a trophy cabinet. Cejrowski has been champion of England, Ireland, Great Britain and Poland.
The 31-year-old was even on track to represent Great Britain at the London 2012 Olympics but suffered an injury to his ACL ligament in 2010 which took 16 months to recover from.
It’s still a sore point and Cejrowski is more determined than ever to make the team by the time the next Games come round in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
“I think for everybody, whoever takes their sport seriosuly, the Olympics is a dream,” he said.
But 2016 could be his last chance.
Wrestling as an Olympic sport, which combines freestyle and Greco-Roman events, goes back as far as the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896 but the IOC (International Olympic Committee) recently decided to remove it as an Olympic sport from 2020.
“Fingers crossed, hopefully the plans for the Olympics, they won’t happen, they won’t go ahead because that will definitely ruin my heart,” Cejrowski said.
“It’s ridiculous. If you are a wrestler, a young wrestler they don’t understand how fit you become.
“Then if one day you move into a different sport you are prepared for it because your body is fully grown.
“You’re fast, you’re strong, you’re flexible – most of these guys when they’re eight they can do back-flips and somersaults because they are so fit. They can do anything.
“I cannot figure out who picked this stupid idea – it’s very difficult to understand, I don’t get it.”
As well as the physical advantages, the 95kg father of two believes there are psychological lessons to be learned from the sport.
Cejrowski says wrestlers play chess every day when they are on training camps to improve their tactical awareness and insists many wrestlers go on to be very successful in later life.
“When I was a kid, wrestlng always kept me out of trouble,” he explained. “It’s a discipline, you have to respect different people and you pick things up quickly.
“Most of them, they become businessmen when they’re older – they do well in life because of wrestling, they have everything they need in their mind. They pick things up from the mat and they build character.”
There is also very little equipment required.
“It’s not an expensive sport,” Cejrowski said. “Anyone can do wrestling, all you need is a pair of trousers, some wrestling boots which aren’t expensive, a t-shirt – and maybe a chess board.”
Rafal is now preparing to compete in the Polish Championships in two months time when he wants to reclaim the crown he won when he was 18.
He trains twice, two hours a day and gets up at 6am to start his first session. He drinks alcohol “maybe once a year, a little bit, only on special occasions” and takes seven different types of supplement every day.
It’s not easy to find fellow wrestlers in Watford but Cejrowski is a member of London Streetfighters, a professional MMA club based in Park Royal.
Will Greco-Roman Wrestling ever be as popular in this country as in eastern Europe?
He replied: “Hopefully, it is such a good sport, there are so many different techniques. It is not violent – it is about respect.
“When I leave the mat at the end of a match I go to my opponent’s coach and shake his hand and my opponent will do the same.
“People here could love it.”