Robert Howard (USA) steals the show with a gesture of sporting goodwill on the final day of the Buenos Aires 2018 wrestling competition.
When Robert Howard secured the biggest victory of his career on Sunday he clinched the USA's second wrestling gold medal. USA joined Iran, Russia and Japan with two titles each, reflecting how widely the medals were spread during three days of compelling competition that brought 27 nations onto the podium.
But if no country could claim dominance over the course of the 15 events, Howard’s celebration may be remembered as the moment that defines the spirit of the tournament.
The 16-year-old, competing in golden shoes, knew he had ruined Argentina’s hopes of a first ever Olympic Games wrestling gold as he beat Hernan Almendra (ARG) in the men’s freestyle 55kg category. So he chose to lift his opponent’s hand in a joint celebration. “I know he wanted to win it really badly. It sucks that I had to take it from him,” Howard said. “I tried to make it as nice for him as possible at the end. But it sucks that I had to be the one to ruin the party.”
Howard raised Almendra’s hand as the home fans sang football songs. “I was just giving them what they wanted - their champion,” he said. “I brought him to tears, I don’t know if they were happy tears or sad tears but it was a moment I’ll never forget and I don’t think that he’ll forget it any time soon, either.”
Mohammad Ghorbanali Nosrati (IRI) prays on the mat after winning the Greco-Roman wrestling 92kg gold (Alex D Addese for OIS/IOC)
When the USA wrestler joined a club in New Jersey four years ago, a coach told Howard that he needed to make sure he was No.1 in everything he did in life. It was advice that helped to transform the shy boy into a winner. “They just taught me how to be great, how to be a champion,” he said. “If I want it, go and take it. It’s not going to come to you.
“If I want to go on a date with that girl, I’m going to go and ask her. I’m not going to sit and wait for her to come to me. If I want an A on that test, I’m going to study. The mindset of being the winner, not just on the wrestling mat but everywhere in your life too, definitely comes into play.”
Even being a winner was not enough for his teammate Emily Shilson (USA), who struggled to smile after taking the women’s freestyle 43kg title with a win agains Simran Simran (IND). “I just wish the match had gone a little different. “It just wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be and I want to keep chasing perfection. I just want to be the best that I can be. I want to stay the best in the world. ” Shilson said after receiving her gold medal.
Iran emerged as the strongest team on the mat overall in the Asia Pavilion, with two silver medals in freestyle to add to two golds in the Greco-Roman wrestling (Amirreza Mohammadreza Dehbozorgi in the 45kg class and Mohammad Ghorbanali Nosrati in the 92kg) and two silvers in the men’s freestyle wrestling. Japan’s two titles were won by Wataru Sasaki in the Greco-Roman 51kg and Nonoka Ozaki in the women’s freestyle 57kg, and the country also claimed two bronze medals. Russia, meanwhile, took gold through Akhmedkhan Tembotov and Sergei Kozyrev in the men’s freestyle, in the 80kg and 110kg categories respectively.
In the women’s competition, the other titles went to Sweden’s Emma Jonna Malmgren (49kg), China’s Xinru Zhou (65kg) and Cuba’s Milaimys Marin Potrille (73kg). In the Greco-Roman wrestling, Georgia (Giorgi Chkkhivadze, 60kg) and Moldova (Alexandrin Gutu, 71kg) also celebrated victory. Finally, in the men’s freestyle, Uzbekistan’s Umidjon Jalolov took gold in the 48kg class.