American wrestler Amit Elor, just 18, has spent time training in Israel while visiting her late grandmother, before catapulting herself into international wrestling stardom, winning a gold medal as the youngest ever US wrestler last month at a Senior level competition in Belgrade, Serbia.
“My parents came to the US in the 1980s from Israel to go to school. But the rest of my family is in Israel. So I would always go during the summers to visit my grandma. "And whenever I was there I would wrestle in the local club, I also did some judo. I have been going to Israel pretty often,“ Elor told The Jerusalem Post in a Skype interview.
“I love Israel. And, in some ways, I feel like I am representing them also, but I was born in the US and raised there. I feel like I am more of an American than an Israeli” because, she noted, she was born in the US.
Elor covered her wrestling accomplishments, family history, training in Israel and in the USA, the survival of her grandparents during the Holocaust, and her athletic goals. The accolades for Elor have been widespread within the elite wrestling community as well as in major media.
Accolades in the press
Writing for USA Today about Elor’s performance at the world championships in Serbia, wrestling journalist Cody Goodwin noted “Elor was dominant this week. She outscored her four opponents 27-2, and registered wins over three past world medalists.”
"I did not really think about it until he said what I have done. I have been taking it one tournament at a time. I am pretty shocked that it has been going so well.”Amit Elor
Flo Wrestling’s Kyle Klingman wrote, “Elor tore through the 72-kg division with four wins, including two technical superiorities and a fall.”
Goodwin wrote “In the last 14 months, Elor has won a 2021 Cadet world title, a 2021 Junior world title, a 2022 Junior world title, and now 2022 Senior world gold. Across all four competitions, she’s 14-0 and has outscored her opponents 131-3.And, again, she’s just 18. She said she plans to stick around for a long, long time.”
Asked about Goodwin’s summary of her rapid-fire series of accomplishments, Elor said, “I did not really think about it until he said what I have done. I have been taking it one tournament at a time. I am pretty shocked that it has been going so well.”
Elor’s parents, Elana and her late father Yair, are both from Ashkelon. “I spoke only Hebrew until I was two-years-old. Now that I am older I am trying hard to learn it again. I took a Hebrew class to learn how to read and write. My mom speaks fluent Hebrew and she is always watching Israeli news. I am always hearing Hebrew everywhere around me all the time. I don’t have a lot of practice speaking it. Hebrew is such a cool language.”
Plenty of good connections
THERE IS NO SHORTAGE of Israeli wrestling connections within Elor’s milieu. Her coach, Valentin Kalika, is a decorated wrestler from Ukraine who moved to Israel in 1991 and lived in the Jewish state for a few years.
He coached at the Hapoel Wrestling Club and was a champion wrestler in the now-defunct Soviet Union and a national champion in Greco-Roman wrestling in Ukraine.
Greco-Roman wrestling involves only upper body attacks. Greco-Roman wrestlers are barred from leg shots. Elor competes in Freestyle wrestling, an Olympic style of wrestling that contains upper body and leg attacks.
The Soviet Union and now Russia have produced the world’s most decorated wrestlers.
Elor joked that although her Hebrew was her first language, Kalika ”speaks a little bit more Hebrew than I do.”
“I first heard about him in a USA wrestling news article… He has a Russian-style of coaching, which is very exciting for me because whenever I was in Israel I was always training with Russian coaches.” Kalika invited Elor to train with him. Elor said she trained with wrestling coach Anatoly Git, an Israeli of Russian origin who lives in Ashkelon.
She first met Git when she was seven-years-old and he played a role in her “love” for the “Russian-training style of wrestling.”
Elor trained with Anatoly every summer for three to four years. She said the “Russian style of wrestling is more fluid” and less physical than the American style.
The wrestler, who embraces the Russian style, uses “less strength” in general and tries to win through “technique, misdirection, speed,” said Elor. These elements of wrestling are also done in the US but she sees a more fluid posture in Russia. Georgia has “a similar style, so technical it is amazing,” she added.
She said she also loves the Iranian style. They do “pushouts and take them to the edge [of the mat]. I think this is really smart.”
Elor added that she trains at the New York Regional Training Center (NYC RTC) where US-born Israeli wrestler Mitch Finesilver also trains. Finesilver was one match away from securing a slot in the 2020 Olympics.
HER WRESTLING CAREER began at the age of four in her home state of California. Her older brother and sister competed in wrestling in high school; Orry, Elor’s brother, placed fourth in the Greco-Roman Olympic trials in 2016.
When asked about Judaism, Elor said, “I feel like my family is culturally religious. Growing up my mom and I would always make challah on Shabbat. Hanukkah we would always make sufganiyot and light the candles. I love the cultural aspect of it.”
Both of her grandfathers are Holocaust survivors. "They both had blond hair and blue eyes which we believed helped them survive the Holocaust by looking more like the German stereotype. That is where I get my features from.”
Elor is taking a gap year and plans to attend college. Amit is the youngest child of six children; there are 3 boys and three girls within the Elor family. When asked who are her role models, she cited Helen Maroulis, the first American female wrestler to win a gold medal at the Olympics, and Tamyra Mensah-Stock, the first African-American female wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal.
She said her “ultimate goals are to be a multiple-time world champion and an Olympic champion. There is so much more to do.”