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Iran Wrestling

Iran's Tokyo Olympic Lineup Set

By Ali Feiz

TEHRAN, Iran (June 17) --- Iran finished the '16 Olympic Games with five medals (one gold, one silver and one bronze in freestyle and two bronze in Greco-Roman).  From the five Rio Olympic medal winners, superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) is the only returning Olympic representative. The other ten will experience their first Olympics in Tokyo. 

"The Greatest," Yazdani has the chance to make history in Iran by winning his second gold medal in Olympic Games.

Iran line-up for Tokyo Olympic Games:

ATRI

Men’s Freestyle:
57kg - Reza ATRI 
After the retirement of Hassan RAHIMI, Reza Atri became the number one wrestler in Iran at 57kg. Atri earned the Olympic spot for Iran after he placed fifth at '19 World Championships in Nur-sultan. The '19 Asian champion defeated youngster Rahman AMOUZAD KHALILI Khalili in the team trials and was selected for Olympic Games.

65kg- Morteza GHIASI 
Amir Mohammad YAZDANI secured Iran's ticket to Tokyo at the Asian Olympic Qualifier, but Yazdani lost to Morteza GHIASI and will miss the Olympic Games.  Ghiasi, a '21 Asian bronze medalist, beat Yazdani by fall in the team trials and earned the right to represent Iran at 65kg.

74kg- Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI 
Iran's coaching board decided to send two 74kg wrestlers to the Poland Open to determine their 74kg team member. Hosseinkhani, the '16 world bronze medalist and Younes EMAMI, a '19 world bronze medalist at 70kg, competed in Poland but didn’t meet each other.

It was Emami who earned the Olympic spot for Iran at the Asian Qualifier, but he fell to Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE) while Hosseinkhani succeeded to beat the Azeri, 3-0, in their semifinal mee

SIDE NOTE: Hosseinkhani holds five Asian medals -- including two gold (2014 & 2016) -- and one world bronze medal (2016).

yazdani

86kg- Hassan YAZDANI
Iranian superstar Hassan Yazdani has aimed to be the first Iranian wrestler in history to obtains two Olympic gold medals. But one of Yazdani's toughest rivals is not only inside of Iran -- but he's inside of his town, Juybar! Kamran GHASEMPOUR, the two-time Asian champion and two-time U23 world champion, competed against Yazdani in the team trials. But, like last year, Yazdani downed Ghasempour, 5-3, and will represent Iran at 86kg.

The 27-year-old Yazdani has five world and Olympic medals in his collection ('16 Olympic gold, two world gold medals ('17 & '19), one world silver medal ('15), and one world bronze medal ('18).

97kg- Mohammad Hossein Mohammadian
Earning the Olympic quote was only the start for Iran's 97kg wrestlers. They had a difficult national trial at the Poland Open to determine the spot. Three Iranian contenders were looking for that 97kg Olympic. They were '14 world bronze medalist Mohammad MOHAMMADIAN, three-time world medalist Alireza KARIMI and '21 Asian champion Ali SHABANI. 

Mohammadian grabbed the Tokyo ticket by defeating both of them and by winning gold in Poland.

125kg- Amir Hossein Zare
Like 74kg and 97kg, the same selection process was followed in Poland at 125kg between Amir ZARE and Amin TAHERI.

Zare, a U23 world champion, had a brilliant performance and captured gold while Taheri was eliminated after falling to the Egyptian wrestler. So, 21- year-old Zare received the Olympic spot and will represent Iran at heavyweight in Tokyo.

Nejati

Greco-Roman:
60kg- Alireza NEJATI 
Nejati, the 23-year-old, was a newcomer at the '19 World Championships but by winning the bronze medal, he introduced himself to the 60kg weight class. Nejati tightened his place in the Iranian GR lineup as captured gold medal in at the Ukranian tournament.

67kg- Mohammadreza GERAEI
Mohammadreza Geraei earned the 67kg Olympic spot for Iran by winning gold amongst a couple of past world medalists, RYU Hansu (KOR) and Armen VARDANYAN (ARM). The strong performance from the '19 U23 world champion convinced head coach Maohammad BANA to select him for Tokyo Olympic Games.

77kg- Mohammad Ali GERAEI 
The older brother is happy to see his younger brother beside him at the Olympic Games. Two-time world bronze medalist Mohammad Ali qualified for Tokto by winning a bronze medal in Nur-Sultan. Meanwhile, the trial for Iran 77kg Olympic spot was at the Ukrainian Tournament, where Geraei defeated Amin KAVIANINEJAD, 4-2, in the final match to receive a ticket to Tokyo.

Now, the Geraei brothers have the chance to make history by winning medal in Tokyo.

97kg: Mohammad Hadi SARAVI
The Poland Open acted as a team trial for at 97kg and 130kg. At 97kg, Mohammad Hadi Saravi, the one who achieved gold at the Asian Olympic Qualifier, met Iranian rival Mehdi BALI in the Poland Open finals earned his spot in Tokyo with a 3-0 win.

Amin

130kg- Amin MIRZAZADEH
At heavyweight, Amir GHASEMI placed fifth in Nur-Sultan to earn Olympic spot, while Ali Akbari YOUSEFI succeed to win gold at the '21 Asian championships but none of them represent Iran in Olympic Games.

During the Poland Open,  Ghasemi was eliminated but Yousefi and Amin Mirazazadeh advanced to the final bout. 

Mirzazadeh, the young and motivated '18 junior world champion, celebrated his Olympic license by winning the match, 3-1.

#WrestleTokyo

Taylor Tops Yazdani in Olympic Clash of Titans; Kawai Completes Sibling Double

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 5) --- In a clash of the titans that will go down in the annals of Olympic wrestling history, David TAYLOR (USA) showed just why he is called "The Magic Man."

Taylor pulled out a victory for the ages with a late takedown to defeat superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) 4-3 in a nail-biting freestyle 86kg final on Thursday, preventing the Iranian from becoming the first two-time Olympic champion in his wrestling-mad country's history.

"I like to win 10-0, but getting it done in the last seconds feels pretty good, too," Taylor said following his triumph at Makuhari Messe Hall A.

Meanwhile, Risako KAWAI (JPN) became the third two-time Olympic champion in women's wrestling history, but more importantly for her, achieved the dream of a sibling double with younger sister Yukako.

And Zaur UGUEV (ROC) added an Olympic gold at freestyle 57kg to his two world titles by breaking the hearts of the world's second-most populated country India.

The 30-year-old Taylor has now won all three career meetings with Yazdani, the 2016 Rio Olympic champion at 74kg who had dominated at 86kg in recent years as the American recovered from knee surgery, .

“I don’t want to talk about wins over this guy because he’s helped me become a better wrestler," Taylor said. "For wrestling fans around the world, that we could wrestle in a gold-medal match was pretty special. We are both great representatives of the sport in the way that we carry ourselves and compete."

In the final, the first period was limited to an activity point awarded to Yazdani. In the second period, the Iranian received a penalty point after Taylor dropped to his knees at the edge and shuffled out of bounds, a tactic he used several times to avoid stepouts.

But it also seemed to light a fire in Taylor, who scored a takedown with a well-executed single leg, only to see Yazdani take back the lead with a stepout to make it 3-2.

With the clock ticking down, Taylor suddenly exploded with a double-leg takedown that seemed to take Yazdani off guard, giving the American the lead with 17 seconds left that he defended to the end.

“He didn’t want to get in scrambles, he didn’t want to shoot, he wanted to make it a push-out, shot-clock match," Taylor said. "He did a good job of doing that.

“I think he only tried three times to score. I always say that if you want to be the best in the world, you'll need to take people down twice. You need to get two takedowns. Tonight was a good example of that. I needed two takedowns.”

The 30-year-old Taylor won his first and only senior world title in 2018 in Budapest, where he defeated Yazdani in the first round. With his latest triumph, the American has finally reached the pinnacle of the sport that so many others had expected of him.

"You envision that so many times in so many ways, but nothing is like the real thing," Taylor said. "To be in the moment where the preparation and the hard work that you put in, the determination to want to win is really put to the test.

"You can easily say, 'Maybe next time,' or you find a way to do it. You can envision it over and over again, but when you’re there, there is nothing like that moment to be present in and seize that opportunity.”

Risako KAWAIRisako KAWAI (JPN) with the 57kg gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan

Kawai capped a years-long journey to the 57kg gold, in which she had to knock off two other Rio 2016 champions along the way, by posting a solid 5-0 victory over Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR) in the final.

Kawai scored with a spin-behind takedown in the first period, then added a stepout and defensive takedown in the second. Kurachkina launched a desperate attack at the end, and got a hold of Kawai's ankle at one point, but the Japanese escaped and held on for the win.

"I kept my eyes on her up to the last second," Kawai said. "Yukako had the match she had, so I felt like losing was not an option."

On Wednesday, Yukako Kawai won the 62kg gold in her Olympic debut, then watched from the stands to see her older sister's latest triumph -- just as Risako had done the night before.

With her second gold, Kawai joins compatriots Kaori ICHO (JPN) and Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) as the only multiple Olympic champions in women's wrestling. Icho won an unprecedented four golds and Yoshida three following the addition of women's wrestling to the Olympic program in 2004.

Icho, who won her final gold in Rio, had set out to win a fifth, but Kawai, who took the Rio 63kg title, dropped down to 57kg to set up a showdown between the two for the spot. Kawai won out, then clinched her ticket to the Tokyo Olympics by winning a third straight world title in 2019.

On Wednesday, Kawai won a semifinal clash with Helen MAROULIS (USA), who had beaten Yoshida in the 53kg final in Rio.

"To say there was no pressure would be a lie," Kawai said. "Compared to Rio, it was heavier for each and every match. But I had to become an athlete who can handle that pressure."

Zaur UGUEVZaur UGUEV (ROC) won the 57kg gold in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At freestyle 57kg, two-time reigning world champion Zaur UGUEV (ROC) spoiled India's dreams of having its first-ever Olympic champion when he scraped together a 7-4 victory in the final over Ravi KUMAR (IND).

In repeating his semifinal win over Kumar from the 2019 World Championships, Uguev started off with a pair of stepouts. The Indian responded with a duck-under takedown, but Uguev answered with a high-crotch takedown to end the first period leading 4-2.

Uguev added a stepout in the second period, followed by a shrug-go behind takedown that all but put the match out of reach. Kumar got a consolation takedown at the end.

"The medal is heavy, probably the heaviest of those that I have, and the most important," Uguev said. "Of course, medals from the World Championship are also important, but this one is special. I want to dedicate the gold medal to my father."

For Uguev, the toughest part of his road to gold was at the beginning, when he narrowly won his first two matches, needing to score late points in both to survive.

"The path was not easy," Uguev said. "Usually the finals are the most difficult, but here the first two meetings were not easy. I was losing and in the end I managed to show character. I didn't want to lose, and everything worked out for me."

Kumar was just the second Olympic finalist in Indian history, and like Sushil KUMAR (IND) at the 2012 London Olympics, he will be heading home with a silver medal. Not the color he wanted, but still well-earned.

Asked if he saw any difference in Kumar from two years ago, Uguev replied, "I can't say that during this time Ravi has changed--perhaps he got a little more endurance. But I went through such training that it was impossible to lose."

In bronze-medal matches, American-born Myles AMINE (SMR) gave the tiny European principality and land of his maternal great-grandfather San Marino its first-ever Olympic wrestling medal with a hard-fought 4-2 win over 2019 world silver medalist Deepak PUNIA (IND) at freestyle 86kg.

Amine, the 2020 European silver medalist, trailed 2-1 when he scored a spin-behind takedown with 10 seconds left, with the final point added for an unsuccessful challenge.

Amine, who holds dual citizenship and was the first wrestler to ever qualify San Marino for the Olympics, could have become the nation's first-ever Olympic medalist, but last week, the shooting team beat him to the punch with a bronze in the women's trap and a silver in the mixed team trap.

"It was funny, when they won, I was a little bit like, ‘Ugh, I wanted to be the first,'" Amine said. "But there was also a little sense of relief, no pressure now, I don’t have to be the first. It is actually, looking back now, I’m so excited that I get to share it with two other athletes."

The other 86kg bronze went to 2019 world bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (ROC), a 2-0 winner over Javrail SHAPIEV (UZB) after a stepout and activity clock point in the first period.

Rio champion Helen MAROULIS (USA) bounced back from her loss to Risako Kawai in the women's 57kg semifinals by rolling to a 11-0 technical fall over Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) to take home a bronze.

Maroulis said she has come to terms with missing out on a second straight gold, and is content with being a two-time medalist.

"I was thinking about it -- why am I not more sad?" Maroulis said. "I spent four years trying to get back my wrestling, the way that it felt and just being able to not have fear and be healthy. That is the biggest gift."

Rio 2016 silver medalist Valeria KOBLOVA (ROC) -- along with Maroulis, one of only three wresters on the planet who had ever beaten Japanese legend Yoshida -- lost her bronze-medal match courtesty of a nifty move by Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL).

Koblova had Nikolova's leg in the air, but the Bulgarian reached down to block Koblova's knee and tripped her backward, then scrambled on top to secure a headlock and win by fall at 2:49.

At freestyle 57gk, 2019 world bronze medalist Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) scored a takedown in each period to defeat Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 5-1, while 2017 world silver medalist Thomas GILMAN (USA) had two takedowns in each period in topping Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI) 9-1.

Steveson sets up showdown with Petriashvili

In semifinals in three other weight classes, American newcomer Gable STEVESON (USA) continued his amazing run at freestyle 125kg by making the final with a 5-0 win over Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL).

Having already beaten one of the weight class' top stars with a victory over Rio champion Taha AKGUL (TUR) in the quarterfinals, he now gets a shot at the other in the final.

Steveson, a world cadet and junior champion who is making only his second appearance on the international senior level, will go for the gold against three-time world champion Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO), who is gunning for a gold in Tokyo after taking a bronze at Rio 2016.

"I know the legend I'm stepping on the mat with, Petriashvili, but the first legend I wrestled today, I took care of business, second one tomorrow I'm going to try to handle the same thing," Steveson said. "It's just another day at the job. I live for moments like this."

Petriavshvili advanced by scoring three takedowns in the second period in a 6-3 win over Amir ZARE (IRI), avenging a stunning 15-11 loss to the young Iranian at the Iranian Pro League in 2019.

Petriavshvili and Akgul have combined to win every major global title dating back to 2014, but that streak could be ended by a wrestler named Gable with the middle name Dan, a tribute to U.S. wrestling legend Dan Gable.

"With little to no international scene experiences, it's crazy that a young cat like me will come in here and shock the world so quick, and have everybody on notice that a 21-year-old kid in college is maybe take a gold medal tomorrow," Steveson said.

Not to be outdone, Russian-born Mahamadkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR) collected another big-name scalp himself in completing a torrid run into the freestyle 74kg final, knocking off Rio Olympic bronze medalist Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) 9-7.

Having overwhelmed world 79kg champion Kyle DAKE (USA) by technical fall in the quarterfinals, Kadzimahamedau went toe-to-toe with the ever-dangerous Chamizo and never flinched.

Kadzimahamedau took a 5-1 lead early in the second period, then traded takedowns before a reversal that put Chamizo on his back gave the Belarussian a four-point lead that provided the necessary buffer when the Italian scored a late takedown.

"My mind is in shock," said the Cuban-born Chamizo, a 2015 world champion. "I really can't believe what is going on at this moment. The only thing I know is I lose. But I have to keep going, continue, not give up. It is what it is."

Chamizo also lost in the semifinals at Rio before coming back to win a bronze. "That's my bad luck in the Olympics, in the semifinals," he said.

Kadzimahamedau has one more mountain to climb, with reigning world champion Zaurbek SIDAKOV (ROC) awaiting in the final.

Sidakov dispatched 2019 world bronze medalist Daniyar KAISANOV (KAZ) with an 11-0 technical fall in which he scored five takedowns in the second period.

Two-time former world champion Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN), who has been regarded in Japan as the second coming of fellow Aichi Prefecture native Yoshida, kept alive her hopes of regaining for Japan the 53kg gold that Yoshida lost in Rio.

Mukaida chalked up 4 points with a takedown and lace lock to take a six-point lead, then held on for a 6-3 win over Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) in the semifinals.

"It was a tough match but I was determined to have my hand raised at the end," Mukaida said. "I could feel how every athlete feels so strongly about being at the Olympics. I trained for these Games and kept that feeling to the end."

Mukaida, who has a history of losing big matches in the final seconds, said she was concerned about being unable to score late while giving up a late takedown to Bat Ochir, a 2019 world bronze medalist at 55kg.

"I was able to get in during the match, but was stopped later on, so I need to reflect on what went wrong," Mukaida said.

Mukaida won world titles at 55kg in 2016 and 2018, but had to settle for silvers at 53kg in 2017 and 2019. In the final at the 2017 worlds, she gave up a last-second 4-point throw to Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR) in an 8-6 loss.

Mukaida was denied a chance to avenge that loss when two-time world bronze medalist Qianyu PANG (CHN) stunned Kaladzinskaya in the other semifinal 2-2 by scoring a takedown with 8 seconds left in the match.

Mukaida can go into the final confident while cautious. She has beaten Pang in all four of their previous meetings--in the 2015 Klippan Lady final, the 2017 Asian semifinal, the 2017 World Cup and the 2019 Asian semifinal.

Day 4 Results

Freestyle

57kg
GOLD - Zavur UGUEV (ROC) df. Ravi KUMAR (IND), 7-4

BRONZE - Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) df. Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 5-1
BRONZE - Thomas GILMAN (USA) df. Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI), 9-1

74kg
SF1 - Mahamadkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR) df. Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), 9-7
SF2 - Zaurbek SIDAKOV (ROC) df. Daniyar KAISANOV (KAZ) by TF, 11-0, 5:34

86kg
GOLD - David TAYLOR (USA) df. Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), 4-3

BRONZE - Artur NAIFONOV (ROC) df. Javrail SHAPIEV (UZB), 2-0
BRONZE - Myles AMINE (SMR) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND), 4-2

125kg
SF1 - Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) df. Amir ZARE (IRI), 6-3
SF2 - Gable STEVESON (USA) df. Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL), 5-0

Women's Wrestling

53kg
SF1 - Qianyu PANG (CHN) df. Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR), 2-2
SF2 - Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) df. Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL), 6-3

57kg
GOLD - Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR), 5-0

BRONZE - Helen MAROULIS (USA) df. Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) by TF, 11-0, 5:54
BRONZE - Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) df. Valeria KOBLOVA (ROC) by Fall, 2:49 (5-0)