David Zilberman is beyond thrilled. On Aug. 21, the 25-year-old Montrealer will be in Beijing, competing in his first match there and hoping to be on his way to a medal as a freestyle wrestler at the Olympic Games.
Wrestler David Zilberman, right, is named victor of a match against Khetag Pliev of Toronto at the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team Trials last December in Toronto.
He is one of only 20 freestylers from around the world in his weight class – 96 kilograms – getting the nod to go to China.
It’s select company, and Zilberman, who stands five-foot nine-inches tall and is all lean muscle, knows it and appreciates it.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to go to represent my country, something I’ve wanted to do from the moment I started wrestling,” he said in a telephone interview. “The selection was very tough, very tough. Everyone was fighting for those last few spots.”
They were fighting at the three-day Swiss Grand Prix Selection Tournament in Martigny in mid-April, the first wrestling selection meet for Beijing, where wrestlers from the more than 40 countries competed.
Zilberman came home with a bronze medal, and that was enough, since the top four wrestlers from each weight class in Switzerland were picked for Beijing.
Getting there was worth the wait, he said.
“Everyone is really happy, really excited for me. It’s a great thing to have my friends and family behind me, the people that I train with to be so positive and supportive of it all. It’s really special, really an emotional thing.”
Zilberman will also go as a member of the famed Montreal Wrestling Club based at the YM-YWHA. The club was set up at the Y more than 20 years ago by Zilberman’s coach and dad, Victor, who has an established reputation as one of Canada’s finest – and toughest – coaches, and who is leading the Canadian team to China.
Victor Zilberman trained Montreal’s best wrestlers at the club, as well as at Vanier College and Concordia University. For a number of years, the club left the Y in the late 1980s, before eventually returning in the 1990s and developing a new generation of talent under Zilberman. At least one other Montreal Wrestling Club wrestler, Martine Dugrenier, is a sure thing for Beijing and another, Cleo Ncube, is a definite possibility, David Zilberman said.
“Yeah, he’s a good coach, a very good coach,” he said with a laugh. But having his own father oversee him makes no difference, Zilberman insisted.
“It’s no different with the Olympic Games than it is with the World Championships or World University Championships or the Nationals,” he said. “He’s my coach, he’s my father, but we’re past all that now. It doesn’t change a thing.”
With his selection, David Zilberman joins a not-so-long list of other Jewish Canadians who have also gone for gold at Olympic Games of the past, among them Phil Oberlander (1964), Garry Kallos (1984) and Andy Borodow (1996), the latter two having also trained under Victor Zilberman’s wing.
Still, it’s all a far cry from where David was about a decade ago, when he finally agreed to take up wrestling at his father’s urging, even though he was mostly a baseball and hockey fan.
Zilberman has been hitting the mats ever since, getting huge support from Canadian wrestling figures like Montreal’s George Reinitz, a former national champion who has picked up the tab for the Y’s modern wrestling facilities and has been a longtime booster.
Zilberman, who majors in leisure sciences at Concordia University, has racked up scores of wrestling medals and titles over the decade, including athlete of the year at Concordia, being named an “all-Canadian” and senior nationals champion several times, and been at or near the top other times at the World University Wrestling Championships and Seniors World Championship. Zilberman started his wrestling career competing at 74 kilos, but moved up little by little until hitting the 96-kilo mark in 1996.
Zilberman said he has another tournament coming up in Sardinia on May 25, but in general, tries not to get nervous prior to the weigh-in, an approach he will no doubt take to Beijing, since “it wastes my energy.”
Zilberman also said that the draw will be important. “The draw is always important, but since they’re only taking 20 wrestlers from each weight class, it means they’re the best wrestlers in the world. So there’s no easy draw at the Olympic Games.”