The making of a wrestler
Written by Josephine Tolin
ANN ARBOR — When wrestler Stevan Micic was featured on the front page of a Serbian newspaper next to world-renowned tennis player Novak Djokovic, he knew he’d made it.
A Cedar Lake, Indiana native and a rising junior at the University of Michigan, Micic became the first-ever member of the Serbian national team to win a medal at the European Freestyle Wrestling Championships in late April, coming back to take bronze after a 6-4 loss to tournament champion and current World-No. 4 Zavur Uguev from Russia. Now, his sights are set on preparing for the World Championships as a member of the Serbian team—and, later, for the 2020 Olympics.
“It means a lot to me,” Micic said about the championship. “Serbia is strong in the traditional Greco-Roman wrestling programs, but they are not as strong in the freestyle programs. I’m excited to help build it for a country that has so much talent.”
Freestyle wrestling, Micic explained, translates well to his preferred style—he performs best when he’s ‘neutral’ or on his feet. The Greco-Roman style, an Eastern European favorite, is less popular on the global stage. Greco-Roman wrestling involves attacking an opponent’s upper body —in these matches, it’s impossible to score points with attacks below the waist.
“I prefer freestyle because it’s what I started wrestling when I was younger. I also really enjoy collegiate folkstyle.”
Though he has competed as a member of Team USA, Micic will now move forward as a part of Serbian wrestling team. His participation in the European Championships as a Serbian wrestler marks the debut of what will be a career-long commitment to the country.
“It took a couple of years to get my Serbian citizenship,” said Micic, “and the process wasn’t too hard, since my dad’s side of the family is from there. Even though my dad was born here, he grew up speaking only Serbian around the house.”
For never having been a wrestler himself, Micic’s father – also Stevan Micic – is an avid student of the sport, as well as a mentor, training partner, and coach to his son. “When I was 7 or 8, I brought home a wrestling flyer, and he just wanted to help me in whatever I did,” Micic said.
Micic’s dad recognized his son’s natural abilities almost immediately, so he began to intensely study the sport. Micic said his father watched videos on YouTube, visiting and revisiting wrestling techniques from decades past, scanning televised matches for tips and tricks he could pass onto his son.
“Everyone who has a name in the wrestling world knows my dad and has a lot of respect for him. So that sort of speaks for itself,” said Micic, the eleventh-ranked 57 kg wrestler in the world.
A wealth of wrestling knowledge isn’t the only thing Micic’s dad has passed onto his son. Deep cultural ties to Serbia have been a central part of his identity, allowing him to feel at home among fellow Serbian national team members.
He describes his upbringing as traditionally Serbian, and some of his favorite childhood memories revolved around Serbian holidays and gatherings—Serbian Christmas, Serbian Easter, Serbian food and Serbian dancing at weddings.
The world stage
Participating as a Serbian has opened the world stage for Micic. He will be able to compete in the World Championships and other avenues across Europe which were not available earlier.
Increased exposure to international competition will continue to shape Micic’s athletic career, the result of his decision to move forward as a Serbian wrestler. He’s not nervous, though—after all, it’s his ability to remain confident in the face of new challenges has molded him into the world-class wrestler he is today.
“I just like to have a good time, and as long as I’m in a good mood and I’m focused in, I feel ready to go,” he said.