Cirkunov's future appears limitless

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:35 AM ET

Some day, perhaps as soon as 2008, a dignitary will lower a ribbon holding an Olympic medal around Mikhail Cirkunov's thick neck. That medal will arrive with countless fingerprints.

Misha Cirkunov is just 19, a prodigy who resolutely marched through the OFSAA wrestling championships in Brampton. He won the gold medal yesterday, defeating Kelly Branton by pinfall.

A student at Western Tech in Toronto, he won seven tournaments earlier this season without surrendering a point. An opponent finally scored two points against him on Thursday in the OFSAA semi-final.

He wrestles in the unlimited, over 97-kg division.

He is also Canada's No.-1 ranked judo athlete in the men's under 106-kg bracket.

"My No. 1 goal is to bring Canada two gold medals, one for wrestling and one for judo," he said.

Misha Cirkunov is from Riga City, Latvia, where power lifting and combat sports are a local passion. His parents, Olga and Oleg, immigrated to Canada five years ago along with his older brother Vadim.

Cirkunov felt the loss of his training partners and friends more keenly than anything else.

"When I came to Canada, I didn't know anyone. I was sitting at home one day, and I saw an article, the first one I had ever seen about a judo club in Canada. Finally, it gave me something like I had in Latvia. It felt like a little piece of home for me. It kept me going."

The blending together of three styles -- Jiu Jitsu, judo and wrestling -- has fashioned a fighting hybrid in Cirkunov.

"What sets Misha apart is his focus," his coach Rob Nikiforuch said. "I've never seen anyone with his desire and commitment. A lot of times, he trains three times a day, once for wrestling, once for judo with weight training in between."

But it's the confluence of contributions that has allowed Cirkunov to thrive.

Nikiforuch has an extensive background in wrestling and martial arts. He agreed to work with Cirkunov when plans for a wrestling team for Western Tech evaporated.

JUMPED AT CHANCE

"When I heard he had no coach, I jumped at the chance," he said. "You don't get the opportunity to work with an athlete like Misha very often."

The problem, for Cirkunov, was never commitment or talent. It was means.

Toronto lawyer Peter Brauti, a partner in Brauti Thorning, heard about Cirkunov and offered to help out with his transportation and accommodation costs to tournaments.

"There had been a lot of publicity about helping athletes when they needed it most," said Brauti. "We're a small firm but we started looking around for ways to help. I heard about Misha through some mutual friends. Our athletes don't need the help a few months before the Olympics. They need it years before."

Aside from Nikiforuch, Cirkunov has been schooled by University of Toronto wrestling coach Mike Quinsey.

"What makes Misha so good is his approach. When he's not wrestling, he's working on his plans and his strategies.The only time he gets caught is when he hasn't seen a move before, but he incorporates it immediately into his style. He never makes the same mistake twice."

For Cirkunov, the next step is the junior national tournament March 18 in Regina. In June, he fights in the senior national judo championships in British Columbia.

Blessed with abundant talent, an insatiable work ethic and the grace of strangers and friends, Cirkunov seems destined for a future without limits.

"He can go as far as he wants," Quinsey said. "He's a special athlete."

"For now, the first goal is to become a carded athlete in Canada," Misha Cirkunov said. "That would mean a lot to me."


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