Azerbaijan Brings Olympic Bling to Inaugural European Games Wrestling

By William May

BAKU (June 10) – Azerbaijan sends an all-star squad featuring four Olympic Games medalists to the wrestling mats at Heydar Aliev Arena, hoping to kick off the inaugural European Games with a slew of medals in Baku.

For overall team strength, however, Russia may well set the standard with its coterie of world and continental champions, while wrestlers from a host of other European powers will battle for individual medals in the June 13-18 wrestling competition. 

Togrul ASGAROV (AZE) tops the list of entries for the Games hosts even though he has struggled since winning the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games at 60kg. The 2012 European champion is entered at 65kg in freestyle, which will be contested on the fifth day of competition.

Other London 2012 medalists joining the Azerbaijani juggernaut will be silver medalist Maria STADNYK (48kg), bronze medalist Yulia RATKEVICH (60kg) in the women’s events and two-time bronze medal winner Khetag GAZUMOV (97kg) in freestyle.

Russia, meanwhile, answers back with London 2012 gold medalist Natalia VOROBIEVA (69kg) and five-time world champion Khadshimourad GATSALOV (125kg), who owns a gold medal from Athens 2004.

Vorobieva comes to Baku as the two-time defending continental champion, while Gatsalov will be seeking his first European title since 2006 and his fourth overall.

Among the 2014 European champions seeking to repeat in Baku are world silver medalist Riza KAYAALP (TUR), seeking a fifth continental crown, and Zhan BELENYUK (UKR), who will try to undo a semifinal loss to Saman TAHMASEBI (AZE) at the world championships last September.

Along with Stadnyk in women’s wrestling, seven of last year’s eight European champions are back – including six-time European winner Stanka ZLATEVA (BUL).

Maria GUROVA (RUS), last year’s winner at 53kg, has been replaced by junior world and junior European champion Natalya MALYSHEVA (RUS).

Seven 2014 champions in freestyle also journey to Baku for a chance at European Games gold, led by world champ and three-time European winner Taha AKGUL (TUR). Haji ALIEV (AZE), Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS) and Abdusalam GADISOV (RUS) are also world and European champs.

At 65kg, defending champ Magomed KURBANALIEV (RUS) has been replaced on the Russian squad by national champion Ilyas BEKBULATOV (RUS).  Two-time European champion Aniuar GEDUEV (RUS) also steps in at 74kg for three-time world champion Denis TSARGUSH (RUS).

A total of 460 wrestlers representing 39 national Olympic committees, including Kosovo, are expected to take part in the six-day competition.

Greco-Roman (Saturday, 59-71-80-98kg; Sunday, 66-75-85-130kg)

Defending European champion Aleksandar KOSTADINOV (BUL) at 59kg kicks off the first day of matches but will be challenged by European under-23 winner and last year’s silver medalist Victor CIOBANU (MDA).

Junior world champion Elman MUKHTAROV (AZE) fills in for two-time Olympic Games silver medalist Rovshan BAYRAMOV (AZE), also at 59kg.

Riza KAYAALP (TUR) will try to cap two days of Greco-Roman with his fifth continental crown in the 130kg while defending champ Zhan BELENYUK (UKR) hopes to repeat at 85kg but will likely need to get by two-time world silver medalist Saman TAHMASEBI (AZE).

World champion at 71kg Chingiz LABAZANOV (RUS) is entered at 75kg where he could face world and European bronze medalist Elvin MURSALIEV (AZE) 

World champion at 85kg Melonin NOUMONVI (FRA) is also up one weight category at 98kg and could meet Ardo ARUSAAR (EST) in a rematch of their Paris Grand Prix final, won by Arusaar 2-1. Look for junior world champ Orkhan NURIEV (AZE) to challenge.

Hasan ALIYEV (AZE), Rasul CHUNAYEV (AZE) and Selcuk CEBI (TUR), all runners-up in 2014, appear to have clear paths to the top of the medals podium with the absence of defending champions Adam KURAK (RUS), Tamas LORINCZ (HUN) and Peter BASCI (HUN).

Women’s Wrestling (Monday, 48-55-60-69kg; Tuesday, 53-58-63-75kg)

Stadnyk leads off women’s wrestling with a bid for a fifth European title at 48kg while Ratkevich renews her rivalry with 2013 world champion Marianna SASTIN (HUN) at 60kg. Four-time European junior and U23 champ Petra OLLI (FIN) will seek her first senior continental crown at 60kg.

Vorobieva, who moved to the top of the United World Wrestling rankings in May, and world champion Aline FOCKEN (GER) are the top names at 69kg.  The champ, however, has struggled in 2015 and was knocked out of the recent German Grand Prix with a bruised hip.

Sofia MATTSSON (SWE) takes a break from her run a 53kg, where she is world silver medalist, and will seek a repeat at 55kg for a third Euro crown.  With Mattsson at 55kg, 53kg is wide open with Malysheva and U23 champion Liliya HORISHNA (UKR) leading the way. 

Defending champions Valeria KOBLOVA (RUS) and Stanka ZLATEVA (BUL) lead the pack at 58kg and 75kg, respectively, but world bronze medalist Elif Jale YESILIRMAK (TUR) and U23 runner-up Epp MAE (EST) will challenge.

The last time world champion Yulia TKACH (UKR) lost in international competition was in the quarterfinals of the Golden Grand Prix Final in Baku nearly one year ago. Tkach returns to Baku in search of a third senior European crown, but will have to get by defending champion Anastasija GRIGORJEVA (LAT) and U23 champ Maria MAMASHUK (BLR).

Freestyle (Wednesday, 57-65-74-97kg; Thursday, 61-70-86-125kg)&nbsp;<br />

European champion and world silver medalist Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO) and two-time former world champion Viktor LEBEDEV (RUS) lead the charge on the penultimate day of wrestling at 57kg.

Asgarov and Bekbulatov would appear to be the favorites at 65kg but they will have to beware of Borislav NOVACHKOV (BUL). The European bronze medal winner has stunned Asgarov and world champion Soslan RAMONOV (RUS) with upset triumphs over the last 15 months.

Geduev and Gadisov give Russia one-two punch to finish Day Five of the competition but Azerbaijan counters with 2014 runners-up Yabrail HASANOV (74kg) and Gazumov.

Aliev leads off the final day of wrestling with an attempt to repeat as the European champ at 61kg but top-ranked Aleksander BOGOMOEV (RUS) who has not lost since the quarterfinals of the world championships.

Sadulaev and Akgul look to repeat at 86kg and 125kg, but U23 champion Aleksander HUSHTYN (BLR) will try to reverse his loss by fall to Sadulaev at the Medved Prizes final and Gatsalov will try to make the Games’ wrestling finale a meeting of 2013 and 2014 world champions.


Friday, June 12
13:00-14:45 – Medical Exam & Weigh-in, Greco-Roman 59-71-80-98kg

Saturday, June 13
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage, Greco-Roman 59-71-80-98kg
17:00-18:45 – Medical Exam & Weigh-in, Greco-Roman 66-75-85-130kg
19:00-21:30 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies, Greco-Roman 59-71-80-98kg

Sunday, June 14
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage, Greco-Roman 66-75-85-130kg
17:00-18:45 – Medical Exam & Weigh-in, Women 48-55-60-69kg
19:00-21:30 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies, Greco-Roman 66-75-85-130kg

Monday, June 15
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage, Women 48-55-60-69kg
17:00-18:45 – Medical Exam & Weigh-in, Women 53-58-63-75kg
19:00-21:30 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies, Women 48-55-60-69kg

Tuesday, June16
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage, Women 53-58-63-75kg
17:00-18:45 – Medical Exam & Weigh-in, Freestyle 57-65-74-97kg
19:00-21:30 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies, Women 53-58-63-75kg

Wednesday, June 17
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage, Freestyle 57-65-74-97kg
17:00-18:45 – Medical Exam & Weigh-in, Freestyle 61-70-86-125kg
19:00-21:30 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies, Freestyle 57-65-74-97kg

Thursday, June 18
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage, Freestyle 61-70-86-125kg
19:00-21:30 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies, Freestyle 61-70-86-125kg