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Shannon Brownlee
March 20, 1989
The two leadoff wrestlers for Penn State may be small, but they're no lightweights
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March 20, 1989

A Bruising And Brainy Twosome

The two leadoff wrestlers for Penn State may be small, but they're no lightweights

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Jim Martin and Ken Chertow have met only twice in competition. Neither is looking forward to a third confrontation. Not that either wrestler shies away from a tough bout. But for each, it's a little uncomfortable facing another captain of the Penn State team.

In their first match outside the wrestling room, in 1986, Chertow defeated Martin 5-1 to win the 125.5-pound class at the Espoir Freestyle Nationals in Las Vegas. In the second, the 126-pound finals of the '87 Midlands collegiate tournament in Chicago, Martin won 1-0. Both times, says Chertow, "it was pretty awkward. We even had to room together at those tournaments."

The two have not been forced into more such meetings because they usually wrestle in different weight classes. In Chertow's case, that isn't entirely by choice. In 1987, when he was a sophomore, Martin finished second in the NCAA championships at 118 pounds. But the 5'6" Martin went up a class last season and the teammates staged a series of wrestle-offs. It was close, but Martin got the better of it. That result, plus the fact that Chertow is only 5'3" and therefore better suited to making the lower weight, meant that he would drop down and wrestle at 118. The arrangement worked out fine; Chertow went 17-1 as a 118-pounder, and Martin won the 126-pound national title.

Martin, who was undefeated going into the final week of the 1989 season, is again ranked No. 1 at 126 and expects to defend his title next week at the NCAA tournament in Oklahoma City. In the meantime, Chertow continues to wrestle at 118. "The fact is, Kenny doesn't have the choice," says Rich Lorenzo, coach of the Nittany Lions. "He can't beat Jimmy at collegiate wrestling, and he can't go up a class to 134."

But things aren't as lackluster for Chertow as that statement might make them seem. His first love is international freestyle wrestling, in which the emphasis is on aggressiveness and scoring (collegiate wrestling stresses controlling one's rival and more liberally rewards the wrestler who prevents his opponent from maintaining or gaining a hold). "I like freestyle more," Chertow says. "It encourages my kind of wrestling. It rewards you for trying things."

Chertow is an outstanding international freestyle prospect. In 1985, he won the 125.5-pound title at the Maccabiah Games in Israel. He was also the 1986 Pan Am Games champion, and a year later he won the 125.5 crown for wrestlers 20-and-under at the U.S. Olympic Festival. Last year Chertow was the only U.S. freestyler in the Seoul Olympics who was a full-time college student.

In fact, Chertow is a stellar scholar, with an average of 3.65 in a premed curriculum. But, again, Martin has him covered. He, too, is a premed student, and his average at the end of the first semester of his senior year was a dazzling 3.96. Says Lorenzo of his two leadoff wrestlers, "They're almost too good to be true."

He's right. Martin has the uncommon ability to control opponents from all positions. He's equally adept at taking down a rival from a standing position, pinning him from a superior position, and escaping and scoring a reversal from beneath. Though Chertow lacks Martin's all-around technique, he makes up for it with intensity. As a high school recruit from Huntington, W.Va., Chertow visited Penn State and bunked with Tim Flynn, then the Nittany Lions' 134-pounder. At 6 a.m. on the first full day of Chertow's visit, Flynn, who's now a Penn State graduate-assistant coach, was awakened by the sound of labored breathing. "I didn't know what the heck was going on," Flynn says. "When I opened my eyes, there's Kenny doing push-ups on the floor."

Such doggedness gives Chertow an edge in international competition. With his explosiveness and his wide, powerful hips, he is particularly proficient at the freestyle suplay—"the soup" as wrestlers call it—a move in which the wrestler uses a hip to pop his opponent into the air and flip him.

Martin came to Penn State having won three state high school championships while amassing a 159-2 record at Danville (Pa.) High. But he weighed only 112 pounds and redshirted his freshman year to bulk up. "Dorm food helped," he says. Still, he's no Hulk Hogan, and he has learned to rely on technique rather than strength to beat his opponents.

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