Artjoms ready to rumble on the mat

Artjoms Jurkjans, British wrestling champion, at Middlecott School, Kirton.  ANL-140304-154557001
Artjoms Jurkjans, British wrestling champion, at Middlecott School, Kirton. ANL-140304-154557001
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It should come as no surprise that Latvian-born, Kirton-based student Artjoms Jurkjans (14) is a wrestler.

After all, his father and coach Sergei was a wrestler, his brother is a wrestler and, along with ice hockey, wrestling is Latvia’s national sport.

Artjoms Jurkjans with some of his wrestling trophies and medals. ANL-140304-154508001

Artjoms Jurkjans with some of his wrestling trophies and medals. ANL-140304-154508001

But even without knowing any of these facts, teachers at Middlecott School, a specialist sports college in Edinburgh Drive, Kirton, knew Artjoms was someone special when he joined the school in July 2013.

PE teacher Simon Chester said: “There’s a difference between someone who is good and someone who is elite.

“They seem to have an aura about them and everything comes very naturally to them.

“Artjoms is a good all-round sportsman and while he won’t be the strong man in any particular team, he’ll do a good job.”

Learning to wrestle under Greco-Roman rules from the age of four, Artjoms became both English and British freestyle champion for his age group and weight category in 2012.

A considerable achievement when you consider that he only moved to England three years ago.

Artjoms said: “I look up to my dad and when he asked me what did I want to do, I told him that I wanted to wrestle.

“I went to a club in Boston with a mate but when he stopped going, I carried on because when I start something, I like to finish it.

“I was a Greco-Roman wrestler in Latvia but when I came to the UK, I was told that wrestling wasn’t as popular here as it was before.

“People also told me that I had to do freestyle wrestling in the UK but I still won both the English and British Championships.”

Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling both involve grappling an opponent, but the main difference between the two is that wrestlers can use their legs as offensive and defensive weapons only in freestyle.

Another difference is that Greco-Roman wrestlers are not allowed to grab their opponents below the waist at all, but freestyle wrestlers can throw an opponent to the ground before regaining contact to apply a scoring hold.

Artjoms said: “When I won the British Championships, it was my first event and going into it, I just wanted to try my best.

“I had three fights and it was good to have my dad there as a coach because I could still talk to him as my dad.

“My toughest fight was against someone I met before at a wrestling event I went to with my dad.

“I didn’t know he was in the same competition as me when I met him, but then we had to meet each other in the final which I won and we’re still friends now.”

As with any elite sportsman of whatever age, sacrifices have to be made in nutrition, training and life, or the lack of one, outside the gym.

Artjoms said: “I train for three hours a day, six days a week, in Boston, Lincoln and Peterborough.

“My dad pays for everything, including wrestling leotards and shoes.

“He also takes me to training sessions and competitions, but he doesn’t force me to do it.

“As part of my diet, I eat pasta, meat and salad but sometimes my dad gives me some weird things to eat for breakfast and I don’t like to eat it.”

That may have played a small part in Artjoms adding both judo and mixed martial arts (MMA), where competitors can strike and hit their opponents, to his sporting pursuits.

As if to justify his PE teacher Simon Chester’s belief, Artjoms won bronze at last year’s National Judo Championships and earned a call-up to the England judo squad at pre-cadet level for boys born between 1999 and 2000.

“I’m better at wrestling because my dad was a wrestler, but I like judo more to be honest,” Artjoms said.

“It’s coming along and I’ve won a couple of competitions, as well as coming third in the East Midlands Judo Championships recently.

“You need speed to be a good wrestler and if your feet aren’t fast enough, you won’t get very far.

“It’s different in MMA where you need to be aggressive, but I was told that if you’re aggressive in wrestling or judo, you’ll make mistakes.”

Artjoms has plenty of time to think about his long-term sporting ambitions, including qualification for a future Olympic Games when the question of whether he competes for Great Britain or Latvia will arise.

But for now, the Middlecott School student has a juggling act to master involving his studies and sporting excellence.

Artjoms said: “I’d like to go all the way to the top.”

If Artjoms Jurkhans is a future sporting achiever, as teacher at Middlecott School hope, then he will join very select company.

Probably the most well-known Latvian sportsman is tennis player Ernests Gulbis who first came to the tennis world’s attention when reaching the quarter-finals of the French Open in 2008.

In athletics, Jelena Prokopcuka was a two-time winner of the New York Marathon in 2005 and 2006, while long jumper Ineta Radevica became European Champion in 2010.

But perhaps Artjoms’ inspiration for sporting success can best be found within his own school where a Year 11 rugby union team, with a back row made up almost entirely of students from Eastern European backgrounds, recently won a Boston Inter-Schools rugby tournament.

Artjoms said: “Nobody really knows what I do because my view is it’s sport and you just do it.

“I work hard in lessons and try to do as much as I can in school because when I come home, I just eat, sleep and go to training.

PE teacher Simon Chester said: “We have about three students at Middlecott School who are very talented in sports and they are all very similar.

“All three are very calm and composed and Artjoms is one of them.”