Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Get a grip and pull your weight

Todd Christiansen tries his hand at arm wrestling

Express Staff Writer

Todd Christiansen grabs the peg and gets ready to rumble. Express photo by Jeff Cordes

Todd Christiansen, one of Wood River High School's best three-sport athletes in recent years, always liked the one-on-one aspects of his sports.

As a big fullback for the Wolverines, he enjoyed bulling over and flattening tacklers. As a tough linebacker, he liked rattling a running back's cage. As a wrestler, Christiansen won more than he lost in the tough 215-pound weight class.

Christiansen also liked going one-on-one with the shotput and discus when track and field season rolled around. And he won most of those encounters, setting a new school record in discus as a senior in 2000.

To Christiansen, it was all about competition and challenging himself.

Now, the 24-year-old son of Mike and Annette Christiansen of Hailey has got a new challenge and it's called arm wrestling. He's a puller. He stands across the table from an opponent, grabs the table peg, attempts to get the hand grip he wants and tries to pin him.

And Christiansen has some trophies and accolades to show for his efforts in the sport, including a North Dakota state championship in the right-handed 209-pound to 242-pound class in August of 2004.

Christiansen said last week, "It's a hobby sport that keeps me competitive and gives me an outlet. And you meet all kinds of really neat people."

Two weeks ago, Christiansen traveled to Aberdeen to compete in the Kenneth Vollmer Memorial Tournament outdoors in the city park of the eastern Idaho farm town.

It was a full day of matches for the 6-0, 225-pound Christiansen. He got plenty of table time, learned a lot and won more than he lost. It was the first time he pulled from both sides—right-handed and left-handed. That requires more endurance.

He lost his first match in the 10-wrestler 231-pound right-handed class. Christiansen stormed back with six straight wins in the double elimination tournament. He earned a berth in the championship match opposite a veteran, mid-30ish former national champion from Blackfoot.

"I would have had to beat him twice," said Christiansen, who settled for second place but had his more experienced opponent on the ropes with a near-pin—just one-quarter of an inch from the touch pad.

Christiansen also placed second in the heavyweight left-handed class that had six contestants. He gave up 55 pounds to his heavier opponent in the championship. The experience of using both hands during the June 24 tournament was valuable. He said, "You don't want to become lopsided."

The exertion takes its toll.

When Christiansen started arm wrestling two years ago as a college student and construction worker in North Dakota, he found arm wrestling causes what he called a "pretty big shock to your whole body."

He said, "You feel it afterwards. The first time I pulled it was three weeks before I could do anything. You feel it in your wrists, elbows and hand. They get real sore and tender."

Christiansen got beat pretty bad in his initial attempts at arm wrestling in North Dakota. But he learned from a Masters-class mentor named John Gunch. With more and more table time, Christiansen made progress quickly and went undefeated in his weight class to win his state championship two years ago.

He got out of the sport for a year but resumed training in October 2005 when he returned to Hailey and started working with brother Craig Christiansen as a heavy equipment operator and laborer in Craig's Extreme Excavation business.

"I started weight lifting again," he said. "You do pull-ups and chin-ups and free weights, things to work on your hand strength and develop your power. You feel it most in your forearms and your back so you try things to help conditioning in those areas.

"I still don't have anyone in the valley to train with so I've hooked up with guys in Pocatello to train."

Christiansen added, "What I've been finding out is the sport is a lot of technique. It's all about leverage, hand control and getting leverage. And it's all about getting the grip you want. But it has really toughened me up and made me pay a lot more attention to what my body is doing."

Traveling to tournaments is the hard part of the arm wrestling regimen but natural right-hander Christiansen is hoping to compete every five to six weeks this year.

He is considering a trip to Salt Lake City in July and there's a possibility he'll go to Unified Nationals Aug. 5-6 at Denver, Colo. More likely for Christiansen is a slot in the Idaho State Arm Wrestling tourney during Eastern Idaho Fair at Blackfoot the first week of September.

If all goes as planned, he'll save his money and take his chances at Boomtown, Nev. near Reno Nov. 18-19 during the $12,000 Boomtown Tournament of Champions Pro-Am Arm Wrestling Championship.

Christiansen was first-team All-Conference running back and Wood River's Most Valuable Player for Hailey's 5-4 football team of 1999. He rushed for a team-high 558 yards on 99 carries and scored a team-best eight touchdowns on the winning 5-4 squad that featured the record-setting junior-class pass combination of Cory Goicoechea to Max Paisley.

He also led Wood River with 61 tackles at linebacker. The winter of his senior year, Christiansen placed second in the district 215-pound wrestling class and made it to the state mat tournament. He won district titles in shotput and discus and set the school discus record of 156-4 at the state track meet in 2000.

Christiansen shared the honor of "Most Outstanding Senior Athlete," in high school at Wood River. And he's continuing to excel, this time in the relatively unknown world of arm sports—officially founded in 1952 at Gilardi's Saloon in Petaluma, Ca.

Arm sports were popularized in 1968 by Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schultz in 11 strips that featured Snoopy and Linus competing at Petaluma. From 1969-84, ABC's Wide World of Sports televised the World Wrist Wrestling Championships and brought more attention to a sport now in its 55th organized year.

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