As Duke’s wrestling team was diving head first into its dual match season, freshman Alex Belaia-Martiniouk was 4,800 miles away honing his wrestling skills at the Junior Freestyle Wrestling Championships of Belarus. The competition, held in Stayki, featured 109 juniors, 198 cadets and 88 girls from different cities of Belarus, Russia and the United States.
Belaia-Martiniouk , a Belarusian citizen and the son of parents Vitalie Martiniouk and Svetlana Belaia who both immigrated to the United States and met after they both arrived, has been training with the Belarusian junior world team since late in his junior year at North Olmsted High School in North Olmsted, Ohio. He is a trainee of Alexander Medved whom he met in Ohio and developed a relationship.
“I had a really cool experience my junior year where I got to train alongside the Olympic team,” said Belaia-Martiniouk. “The U.S. Olympic team was there too so that was pretty cool. And ever since then I’ve developed connections with the coaches there.”
After continuing to build those connections over the next year, Belaia-Martiniouk was approached by the Wrestling Federation of Belarus to compete in the prestigious event Feb. 5-8. He spoke to his professors here at Duke and with their full support as well as the support of Duke head coach Glen Lanham, the rookie 184-pounder jumped on a plane.
Two days later, with an eight-hour time difference to adjust to, Belaia-Martiniouk was on the mat competing. While he says he did not wrestle up to his expectations, he enjoyed the experience and now knows what he needs to work on.
“One thing when I was wrestling over there I just have adjust my style a little,” Belaia-Martiniouk said. “One of the matches I lost was because I couldn’t defend leg lace which is a typical freestyle move they don’t do in folkstyle so I haven’t had any exposure to that in six months. So definitely before I go over there I need to work on freestyle because there is a significant difference.”
While he may not have put his best foot forward, Belaia-Martiniouk will head back to Belarus this summer to wrestle again for a spot on the junior world team with a preliminary goal of wrestling in the European Championships.
“Alexander demonstrated a good character and sportsmanship,” said The Wrestling Federation of Belarus in a letter to the Duke coaching staff. “Wrestling Federation of Belarusian is proud of his accomplishments. We believe Alexander is a very valuable wrestler and a good addition to Duke wrestling team.”
Belaia-Martiniouk, redshirting this season for the Blue Devils, finished with a 6-6 record and took fourth at the Appalachian State Open.