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The last of the three wrestling competitions on the schedule at Rio 2016 (after the men’s Greco-Roman and women’s freestyle) the men’s freestyle events got under way with the lightest of the categories, the -57kg. Taking the gold medal was reigning world champion Vladimer Khinchegashvili of Georgia, who got the better of surprise finalist Rei Higuchi.
Ranked tenth in the world, the 20-year-old Higuchi had his vastly more experienced Georgian opponent on the back foot in the early stages of the final, moving into a 3-0 lead. Showing his reserves of willpower, Khinchegashvili clawed back the deficit for a 4-3 victory to improve on his silver from London 2012.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” said the Georgian. “My dream just came true.” Showing his admiration for his Higuchi, he added: “He’s a very strong guy, I’m sure in the future he will win many other titles. I have a lot of respect for him. It wasn’t a surprise to face him in the final because he beat such high level opponents.”
“I did my best, but the Georgian athlete was better at guarding and I have less power than him,” said the young Japanese with an air of resignation, though he could take a lot of pride from his surprise run to silver, the highlight of which was his 10-5 semi-final defeat of Iran’s Hassan Rahimi, the 2013 world champion.
Two-time world champion Haji Aliyev of Azerbaijan lost to the eventual gold medallist in the quarter-finals, but was able to regroup and win two repechage matches to claim bronze, while Rahimi recovered from his semi-final exit to beat Yowlys Bonne of Cuba and claim the other bronze on offer
The -74kg gold went to Iran’s Hassan Aliazam Yazdanichaarati, who edged a thrilling final with Russia’s Aniuar Geduev. Trailing 6-0 at one stage, the Iranian fought back and pulled level with a takedown eight seconds from the end of the bout. With that being the final score of the contest, it was enough to give him gold.
Yazdanichaarati’s victory brought Iran its first gold medal in a freestyle event since Ali Reza Dabir won the men’s -60kg crown at Sydney 2000. “I thank God for being here,” said the new champion. “It was really hard. I had to pass a lot of hurdles to be here. I just can thank God for what I’ve achieved.”
Geduev caused the upset of the day by eliminating world and Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs of the USA in the quarter-finals, with the American wrestler then losing his repechage match and missing out on the bronze-medal bouts. Prevailing in those were Jabrayil Hasanov of Azerbaijan, who beat Uzbekistan’s Bekzod Abdurakhmonov 8-7, and European champion Soner Demeritas of Turkey, a 6-0 victor over Galymzhan Usserbayev of Kazakhstan.
Two-time world champion Abdulrashid Sadulaev won the men’s -86kg final every bit as convincingly as his earlier bouts, the Russian producing his third shutout of the competition to beat Selim Yasar of Turkey 5-0, the man he overcame to win the world title in 2015. “It was my dream since my childhood to be an Olympic champion. I’m very happy and I want to thank everybody who supported me,” said the 20-year-old Sadulaev afterwards.
In the semi-finals, Sadulaev beat London 2012 Olympic Games gold medallist Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan, who later defeated Venezuela’s Pedro Ceballos to win his country’s sixth wrestling bronze of Rio 2016. Beaten 2-1 by Yasar in the other semi-final, J’den Cox of the USA saw off Cuba’s Renierais Salas to claim the second bronze on offer.
In the -125kg category, two-time world champion Taha Akgül picked up Turkey’s only wrestling gold in Rio, defeating London 2012 bronze medallist Komeil Nemat Ghasemi of Iran 3-1 in a repeat of the 2014 world championship final. Akgül was in commanding form on the mat at Arena Carioca 2, beating Mongolia’s Jargalsaikhany Chuluunbat, Belarus’s Ibrahim Saidau and Armenia’s Levan Berianidze in emphatic fashion en route to the final. For his part, Ghasemi earned a decision win over the USA’s Tervel Dlagnev to join the Turk in the battle for gold.
Delighted to add the Olympic title to his collection of career honours, Akgül said: “I’ve completed the whole series. I’m the last European and world champion, and now I’m an Olympic champion. I will try to do it again and keep going on to the next Olympics.”
European champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia overcame Dlagnev in just 30 seconds to land one of the bronzes, with the other going to Saidau, who won by decision against Berianidze.
Russia’s Soslan Ramonov defeated defending champion Toghrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan 11-0 on technical points to win the -65kg title. A comfortable winner against Canada’s Haislan Garcia, Cuba’s Alejandro Valdes, Mongolia’s Ganzorigiin Mandakhnaran and Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Navruzov in the earlier rounds, Ramonov had little trouble disposing of the Azeri in the final.
Revealing that the fight was much harder than it looked, the Russian said: “Actually Asgarov is very strong. The most important thing is to be focused in the right way, then everything falls into place.” Ramonov added that got himself into the mood ahead of the final by flicking through pictures of his family. “To focus, I like to go through photos on my phone. I can distract myself and my mood gets better right away. I’ve got a great family.”
Delighted to make the podium for the second time in two appearances at the Games, Asgarov said: “I’m glad to have won a medal. I competed in my second Olympics and it is good that I got another medal. Obviously, I really wanted to win in the final, but the fact I was tired after the semi-final, which was a hard match, played a part.”
The bronze medals went to Navruzov and Italy’s Frank Chamizo Marquez, who respectively beat Mandakhnaran and Frank Molinaro of the USA to earn their places on the podium.
In the last wrestling final of Rio 2016, 20-year-old Kyle Snyder became the USA’s youngest ever Olympic wrestling champion, defeating Azerbaijan’s Khetag Gazyumov in a hard-fought -97kg final. Snyder, who succeeded compatriot Jake Varner as the division’s Olympic champion, was a firm favourite heading into Rio, having enjoyed considerable success in recent years. A world junior gold medallist in 2013, he added the Pan American Games and world titles to his career honours in 2015.
A 7-0 winner over Romania’s Albert Saritov in the quarter-finals, Snyder then found himself in trouble against Georgia’s Elizbar Odikadze in the semi-final, trailing 4-0 at the end of the first period. The American stormed back in the second period, throwing his opponent to the floor on several occasions en route to a 9-4 win.
Snyder showed his strength and maturity once more in the battle for gold, not to mention his stamina, returning to the mat before the end of the break and then holding off his opponent to maintain a narrow 2-1 lead. Explaining his decision to cut short his break, the new Olympic champion said: “I didn’t need those 30 seconds. I was ready to get back out there. I can fight for six minutes straight.” The young American added: “I’m really grateful to be able to get to compete. My whole family is here, a lot of my friends and family, so it’s just an awesome opportunity. Gazyumov beat me a month ago so any time you can keep improving, it’s good stuff.”
Gazyumov had no complaints at coming off second best to Snyder. “It was very hard,” said the Azeri. “The American too strong. I wanted to win, but today he was the strongest.”
The bronzes went to Saritov and Uzbekistan’s Magomed Ibragimov, who was delighted to make the podium: “It’s an Olympic medal and it means so much. A lot of people went out in the opening rounds but I managed to get the bronze. Only the best athletes make it to the Games, so to get on to the podium is great.”