There were two wrestling golds for Russia on day 9 at the Youth Olympic Games Buenos Aires 2018. Akhmedkhan Tembotov and Sergei Kozyrev dominated the 80kg and 110kg categories respectively, while Uzbekistan’s Umidjon Jalolov and Azerbaijan’s Turan Bayramov won gold in the 48kg and 65kg. However, the story of the day was USA’s Robert Howard’s sporting gesture after defeating local favourite Hernan David Almendra in the 55kg.
Howard defeated Argentine wrestler Almendra in the gold medal match before lifting his opponent’s arm at the end of the contest.
Howard had shown his class in the morning, beating Japan's Hayato Fujita (13-2) and Ukrainian Vladyslav Ostapenko (10-5). Yet it was his gesture after the 17-6 win in the final which led to a standing ovation from the crowd.
"He just wrestled in front of his whole country, poured his whole heart out and at the end of the day, it wasn't enough so to show class, it was needed," Howard said. "He deserved it too. That kid fought hard. He made it to the finals. His country's proud of him so to show him respect, it was needed,"
Almendra opened the day with a 4-0 victory over Guam’s Gavin Stefan Sablan Whitt, and later beat Algeria’s Oussama Laribi 5-4, securing his ticket to the final. "This medal has a lot of value to me. It's what I've been working for, for so long,” said Almendra. “When I first climbed the podium I got sad because I wanted to be in first place, but it was very moving and I ended up very happy.
"I got to enjoy the fruits of these past four years of preparation. I’m more than happy to have reached an Olympic final. Nothing is impossible. If you put effort into it, you can achieve anything that you set out to achieve."
The first final on a busy day of wrestling inside the Asian Pavilion had seen Uzbekistan’s Jalolov defeat Georgia’s Giorgi Gegelashvili. The 16-year-old Jalolov raced to a 4-0 after the first period, and he added a further four points in the second to win 8-2 to seal his gold.
In the bronze-medal match, Turkey’s Halil Gokdeniz defeated Colombia’s Diego Armando Zuluaga Cuevas by fall.
In the men’s 65kg category, Bayramov beat Iran’s Mohammed Baghi Karimiseifabad 6-1 to win gold. Seventeen-year-old Bayramov conceded just two points in his three matches as he dominated the category. Pakistan’s Inayat Ullah beat USA’s Carson Taylor Manville 6-2 for the bronze medal.
In the first of two successive gold medals for Russia, Tembotov defeated Algeria’s Fateh Benferdjallah with an emphatic 10-0 victory by technical superiority. A similar score earned Uzbekistan another medal as Mukhammadrasul Rakhimov beat Canada’s Carson Barry Lee to bronze.
Russia’s Kozyrev then dominated the 110kg category and after beating Mexico’s Luis Rodrigo Orozco Cortez in their first group B bout, he went on to win the class with a slender 6-5 victory against Iran’s Amir Hossein Abbas Zare.
Orozco Cortez was beaten by Egypt’s Ahmed Mahmoud Elsayed Khalil for the bronze medal, but the Mexican 17-year-old hopes that his journey from obese child to Youth Olympian will inspire overweight children to get into sport.
Despite missing out on a medal, Cortez said the Sunday had been “one of the best days of my life”, finishing fourth among the world’s best in a sport he took up four years ago because he was bullied for his size.
At 14, the 110kg Orozco Cortez weighed was largely due to fat rather than muscle. Now he is one of the world’s best 110kg freestyle wrestlers.
“I was a chubby, short little guy that nobody cared about in school,” he said. “I didn’t like to exercise and I also ate a lot - lots of burgers, pizza, fries. ‘Trash’ food. I came back from school and I stayed at home, doing nothing, sleeping. That was the only thing I did and at school my schoolmates made fun of me.”
The bullying led to his decision to take up a sport. He came across wrestling at an exhibition.
I was interested in it but neither my mum nor anybody else in my family supported me, so I started going to training (sessions) secretlyLuis Rodrigo Orozco Cortez Mexico
“It started as a way for me to release some of the stress that my schoolmates gave me. It really worked for me, but I never expected to be this good, and now I know that I made the right decision.”
Cortez hopes to be able to show some overweight children how physical activity can improve their lives.
“My advice for kids who are now the way I was is that they should embrace sports because there is a sport for each and every one of us. There’s always going to be something that you’d like.”