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The 66kg final was a battle of the underdogs as all the top contenders had fallen earlier at Carioca Arena 2. Armenia’s Migran Arutyunyan led Stepanek by one point after the first period but the Serb picked up a point and, as he was the last competitor to score, was declared the winner when the match ended 1-1.
After the dramatic finish Stefanek said his victory had been a team effort. “From the first moment I stepped into the competition, I felt like I would give all that I have. It’s so special. This is a gold medal for my hometown, Subotica, in wrestling. I am thankful to my coaches, the whole team, my parents, the Olympic Committee and the wrestling federation.”
As well as being Serbia’s first-ever wrestling gold medal Stefanek’s gold was Serbia’s first at Rio 2016 and their second in Olympic history after Milica Mandic won a women’s taekwondo gold at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Silver medallist Arutyunyan was crestfallen after his defeat, saying: “I am very disappointed. This was everything that I had fought for, for such a long time.” The bronze medals went to Shmagi Bolkvadze of Georgia and Rasul Chunayev of Azerbaijan.
In the 98kg category, favourite Aleksanyan impressed in all his matches and had little trouble controlling Cuba’s Yasmany Daniel Lugo Cabrera in the final to win 3-0 on technical points. Aleksanyan claimed bronze at London 2012 and became the first wrestler representing Armenia to win multiple medals.
Aleksanyan said he had got stronger since his third-place finish four years ago and that his development over the intervening period had been the key to his victory. “I came here for the gold and I’m proud that I got it. Since London, I’ve made the final at three world championships and won twice, so many considered me a favourite coming into this competition. There was a lot of pressure, but I was able to cope with it.”
On facing Lugo Cabrera, he said: “I’ve met him before and knew he was a strong opponent. He’s very good fighting upright and that’s how he usually scores, so I had to be careful. But I followed the advice of my coaches and it worked.”
Lugo Cabrera was magnanimous in defeat, saying: “Aleksanyan is a world champion so I knew it would be a hard fight. He is a consistent athlete and gets consistent results. But the silver is amazing for me because we’ve been working very hard and the whole team has had great results during the competition.”