Beleniuk Moves to Top of Olympic Podium; Geraei, Kawai Strike Gold

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 4) --- Zhan BELENIUK (UKR) likes to get more aggressive in the second period, figuring it might give him the last-point advantage in matches decided on passivity points. He didn't need that edge in winning his first Olympic gold medal.

Beleniuk scored four points out of the par terre in defeating Viktor LORINCZ (HUN) 5-1 in the Greco-Roman 87kg final on Wednesday night at Makuhari Messe Hall A, giving Ukraine its first Olympic gold in Greco since 1996.

In other finals on a night which featured wrestlers with siblings in the Olympics, Mohammedreza GERAEI (IRI) notched Iran's first wrestling gold with a solid victory at Greco 67kg, and Yukako KAWAI (JPN) did the same for the host country by taking the women's 62kg crown.

Beleniuk's victory was a repeat of the final at the 2019 World Championships in Nur-Sultan, in which Beleniuk won 2-1 with all points awarded for passivity. On Wednesday, the Ukrainian star put up technical points by rolling Lorincz twice from the par terre position in the second period.

For Beleniuk, it caps a crusade to the top of the Olympic podium after having to settle for the silver at the 2012 London Games, which he went into as reigning world champion.

"This journey has been bumpy and hard," Beleniuk said. "The Olympics were postponed. Practice was not ideal during COVID. A dream came true today and I don't believe it. It will take some time to realize but tomorrow morning I will wake up with a smile."

Beleniuk said he felt the pressure of giving Ukraine its first Greco gold since Vyatsheslav OLEYNIK (UKR) won the country's lone previous one at 90kg at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. It was the fourth wrestling gold overall won by Ukraine.

"Yes, of course I have felt all the tension and pressure," Beleniuk said. "I was the favorite and everybody was expecting and this is something that can not helped. I am a sports psychologist. My knowledge helps me with difficulties and focus on things."

The 30-year-old Beleniuk has one of the more unique background stories among Olympic wrestlers. He was born in Kyiv to a Ukrainian mother and Rwandan father, who was a pilot studying at the city's National Aviation University but would die in the Rwandan civil war.

While excelling as a wrestler, winning two world and three European titles, Beleniuk also got involved in politics and became the first Black member of the Ukrainian Parliament.

"I have won everything thanks to God," Beleniuk said. "I'm an MP [Member of Parliament] and I have been combining the two things. This has made life difficult. Anyway, now I'll rest, focus on work in Parliament."

Yukako KAWAIYukako KAWAI (JPN) became Olympic champion at 62kg. (Photo: United World Wrestling)

While Lorincz's loss kept him from joining older brother Tamas as an Olympic champion, after the latter won the Greco 77kg gold on Tuesday, that dream remained in tact for the Kawai sisters of the host country.

Yukako Kawai, the younger sister of 57kg gold medal hopeful Risako KAWAI (JPN), defeated rival and reigning world champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) 4-3 in the women's 62kg final, the first medal won by Japan's powerful women's team halfway through the six weight classes.

"I've faced her a number of times and I've won and I've lost," said Kawai, the 2018 world silver medalist and 2019 world bronze medalist. "This time it was at the Olympics hosted by Japan, so I really wanted to win no matter what. I wanted to show my best to everyone."

After giving up an activity point, Kawai successfully scored with a single-leg takedown to end the first period leading 2-1. It was the first points given up by Tynybekova in four matches.

"I don't remember why, I just did it without thinking," Kawai said of the takedown. "During the match, I just leave it up to what I've done in practice."

In the second period, Kawai padded her lead by spinning behind for 2 on a takedown counter. From that point, it was a battle against the clock as Tynybekova tried to find a way to break down her opponent's defenses.

She came close one time which ended in a stalemate, then got a takedown with 5 seconds remaining that left her one point short.

"This is a sport," said Tynybekova, who won her first medal in three Olympic appearances. "Allour life it's been wrestling and everybody wants to win. Everybody fights according to their style and I did like that. According to the results, Japan is the winner."

Kawai had lost to Tynybekova in their first two encounters, including a defeat by fall at the 2019 World Championships where Tynybekova became Kyrgyzstan's first-ever world champion--and raised hopes of become the country's first-ever Olympic gold medalist in any sport.

"To Kyrgyzstan, yes, I have won the first silver medal for women's wrestling," she said. "I wanted gold. I went to great lengths in my training and did not spare any opponent. Thank you to everyone who helped and waited for the medal. I did everything. But today I could not make history. For now, I have to be satisfied with this silver."

Kawai finally got the best of her rival at the 2020 Asian Championships, setting the stage for a high-level showdown at the Olympics. Kawai had used the one-year postponement of the Tokyo Games to work on building strength, and it paid off by her ability to fend off Tynybekova's attacks.

"In other sports that came before ours, I watched others win gold medals and I thought, 'That's cool, I definitely want one too.' I prepared coming into this, so I'm really happy to win a gold medal."

Earlier in the session, Kawai's older sister Risako earned a shot at a second straight Olympic gold by making the 57kg final. The two have long talked about winning Olympic golds together, and now they are one match away from having it come true.

"It's like a dream," Yukako said. "This was the stage I've always wanted to be on. I was able to get the ideal medal. I'm really happy....Up to now, I've always been second or third...To hear 'Olympic champion,' I'm happy, it's the best day ever."

For Tynybekova, she will have to wait another three years for the chance to earn that moniker.

"In general, my team, my coach and I prepared well," she said. "My coach did well to put me in the right mood. I felt very good in Tokyo. In the final match I could not do everything perfectly according to my coach's instructions."

Mohammadreza GERAEIMohammedali GERAEI (IRI) won the GR 67kg gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Geraei, who saw older brother Mohammedali lose in the bronze-medal match at 77kg the day before, gave the family something to celebrate by sweeping past Parviz NASIBOV (UKR) for the Greco 67kg gold with a 9-1 technical fall.

"I did my best to win the gold," said Geraei, the 2019 world U-23 and Asian champion at 72kg. "It was the dream of my life. Unfortunately, my brother could not because he had an injury fromIran. I hope he makes it in the next Olympics."

Leading 3-1 in the second period, Geraei scored 4 points off a driving tackle. An unsuccessful challenge of that call gave him another point, and then he finished off the technical fall at 4:09 by sidestepping a charging Nasibov and scoring a stepout.

Geraei said he expects to return to 72kg for this year's World Championships in Oslo in October, but is undecided beyond that.

"My future plan will be based on my coaches, weight category change as well," Geraei said. "In Norway I will fight at 72kg. For the next Olympics, I will do my best to win the next time with my brother. Hopefully the gold."

In bronze-medal matches, Germany came away with two medals, with 32-year-old Frank STAEBLER (GER) heading into retirement with a hard-earned and first Olympic medal at Greco 67kg to go with his three world titles.

Frank StaeblerFrank STAEBLER (GER) announced his retirement after winning bronze at 67kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Staebler, making his third Olympic appearance, chalked up a 4-point throw from the par terre position in the first period against Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) , then held off the 2018 world U-23 silver medalist for a 5-4 win.

World bronze medalist Denis KUDLA (GER) caught fire in the second period of his Greco 87kg clash with Mohamed METWALLY (EGY), gut-wrenching his way to a big lead before ending the match by fall at 5:36.

Egypt, however, will not leave Tokyo empty-handed as 2018 and 2019 world U-23 champion Mohammed ELSAYED (EGY) defeated Artem SURKOV (ROC) 1-1 at Greco 67kg. Both points were for passivity, and Elsayed fought off one final stint in the bottom of par terre to clinch the win.

The other Greco 87kg bronze went to Georgian-born Zurabi DATUNASHVILI (SRB), who gave his adopted country just its second Olympic wrestling medal ever by beating Ivan HUKLEK (CRO) 6-1.

European champion Datunashvili scored a takedown and a pair of gut wrenches in the first period to provide all the points he would need in denying Croatia its first-ever Olympic wrestling medal.

Taybe YUSEIN (BUL), the 2018 world champion, needed less than a minute to capture a women's 62kg bronze in her second Olympics. Yusein, who lost to Kawai 3-2 in the semifinals, gained a quick takedown against Liubov OVCHAROVA (ROC), then reeled off a combination of rolls and tilts for a 10-0 technical fall in :56.

Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) won the other 62kg bronze, scoring two stepouts in the second period of a 3-1 win over Anastasjia GRIGORJEVA (LAT), who had been aiming to win Latvia's first Olympic wrestling medal since 1936.

Elder Kawai holds off Maroulis in clash of Rio champs

Risako KAWAI Helen MAROULISRisako KAWAI (JPN), left, and Helen MAROULIS (USA) acknowledge after semifinal at 57kg. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Earlier, Risako KAWAI (JPN) emerged victorious in a highly anticipated clash of Rio 2016 champions, holding off Helen MAROULIS (USA) 2-1 in the semifinals of the women's 57kg class.

Kawai was the Rio gold medalist at 63kg and Maroulis took the 53kg gold with her historic victory over Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) which made her the first American woman to win an Olympic wrestling gold.

At the Tokyo Olympics, they split the difference and met in the middle, aiming for the gold in the weight class in which Kaori ICHO (JPN) won in Rio her unprecedented fourth gold medal.

Icho had actually aimed for a fifth, but lost out in Japan qualifying to Kawai.

In their first-ever meeting, neither Kawai nor Maroulis could break through the other's defenses. In the end, all of the points were scored on the activity clock, with Kawai, regarded as the more aggressive, gaining two.

"The result is the most important thing," Kawai told Japanese TV. "The issues that came up in the morning I talked over with my coach and resolved."

Kawai said she was prepared for the showdown. "She applies a lot of pressure. I had never faced her before, but I saw videos. When we tied up, I felt right away that it was different from those I practiced with and I felt I could handle it."

For Maroulis, the journey to the Tokyo Olympics was a challenge in itself. She had suffered from concussions and a knee injury, and might not have even given it a shot had the Games not been postponed for a year.

"In that year my health actually started getting better, so that was just a blessing," Maroulis said. "If you told me a year ago that I was gonna feel this healthy today and be like 100 percent, I would have probably not believed you. So to be here like this, I'm so grateful."

With the seconds ticking down, Maroulis desparately launched attacks, but was repelled each time.

"In those last 30 seconds, 40 seconds, I really felt like I pushed the pace, but I felt like I got out-positioned," Maroulis said. "I felt like I would be really close to getting her to maybe open up so I could get a takedown, but it just didn't happen."

Hassan YAZDANICHARATI (IRI) df. Artur NAIFONOVHassan YAZDANI (IRI) wrestle Artur NAIFANOV (ROC) in the 86kg semifinal. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Another match for the ages was set up in Thursday's freestyle 86kg final, where Rio Olympic and reigning world champion Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) will battle it out with David TAYLOR (USA) in a long-awaited rematch of the 2018 world final won by the American.

Yazdani, who won the 74kg gold in Rio before moving up to the next Olympic weight class and winning the 2017 world title, scored a takedown and a 4-point counter lift in the second period to oust 2019 world bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (ROC) 7-1 in the semifinals.

Taylor stormed into the final with his third technical fall of the day, manhandling world silver medalist Deepak PUNIA (IND) 10-0 in 2:49.

"I am excited for the final," Taylor said. "Yazdani is a great competitor, we’ve had battles, one of the best wrestling stars out there. For wrestling to grow you need stars to wrestle each other."

Yazdani is aiming to become the first-ever two-time Olympic champion for wrestling-mad Iran, while Taylor is shooting for a gold medal in his Olympic debut.

"I have to go out there and get it," Taylor said. "It’s not gonna be given to me at all."

Taylor missed the 2019 World Championships after undergoing knee surgery, while Yazdani has been unbeaten since that loss in Budapest in 2018, including winning a second Asian title this year.

Taylor won their two previous meetings, a victory by fall in the 2017 World Cup in Iran and an 11-6 win in the first round at the 2018 worlds.

In the freestyle 57kg semifinals, favorite Zavur UGUEV (ROC) looked more like the two-time world champion than he did in two close victories in the early rounds, notching an 8-3 victory over 2019 Asian champion Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI).

Uguev gave up a roll early on, but came back with a takedown to make it 2-2 going into the second period. A stepout and a pair of takedowns put him in control as he repeated his victory over the Iranian from the quarterfinals at the 2019 World Championships.

In the final, Uguev will face Ravi KUMAR (IND), who rallied from the brink of defeat for a stunning victory by fall over fellow 2019 world bronze medalist Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ).

Kumar never gave up after falling behind 2-9 in the second period, going on the attack to score two takedowns and clamping down for a fall at 5:21 after the second.

Kumar, looking to avenge a loss to Uguev from the semifinals at the 2019 worlds, will get a chance to become India's first-ever Olympic wrestling champion, after becoming just the second in history to make an Olympic final. Sushil KUMAR (IND) took the freestyle 66kg silver at the 2012 London Olympics.

Day 4 Results


SF1 - Ravi KUMAR (IND) df. Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) by Fall, 5:21 (7-9)
SF2 - Zavur UGUEV (ROC) df. Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI), 8-3

SF1 - Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) df. Artur NAIFONOV (ROC), 7-1
SF2 - David TAYLOR (USA) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND) by TF, 10-0, 2:49


GOLD - Mohammedreza GERAEI (IRI) df. Parviz NASIBOV (UKR) by TF, 9-1, 4:09

BRONZE - Frank STAEBLER (GER) df. Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO), 5-4
BRONZE - Mohammed ELSAYED (EGY) df. Artem SURKOV (ROC), 1-1

GOLD - Zhan BELENIUK (UKR) df. Viktor LORINCZ (HUN), 5-1

BRONZE - Denis KUDLA (GER) df. Mohamed METWALLY (EGY) by Fall, 5:36 (8-1)

Women's Wrestling

SF1 - Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. Helen MAROULIS (USA), 2-1
SF2 - Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR) df. Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) by TF, 11-0, 4:42

GOLD - Yukako KAWAI (JPN) df. Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ), 4-3

BRONZE - Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) df. Anastasjia GRIGORJEVA (LAT), 3-1
BRONZE - Taybe YUSEIN (BUL) df. Liubov OVCHAROVA (ROC) by TF, 10-0, :56


Snyder Takes Olympic Loss to Sadulaev in Stride

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 7)---The competitor in Kyle SNYDER (USA) hated the defeat. The wrestler in him loved the battle.

Snyder took his loss to rival Abdurashid SADULAEV (ROC) in the final of the freestyle 97kg class on Saturday night at the Tokyo Olympics in stride, already looking forward to the next chance for the two titans to clash.

"It is still exciting," Snyder said. "I love competition, I love wrestling, and I'm thankful to be able to compete." About facing Sadulaev again, he said, "I'd love it."

In the third meeting between the two since they both won gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics in different weight classes, Sadulaev beat the American for the second time with a 6-3 victory at Makuhari Messe Hall A to add a second Olympic gold to his four world titles.

Sadulaev, who had an activity point and a stepout in the first period, built up a 6-0 lead with a pair of tilts in countering Snyder's single-leg takedown attempts. On the first one, the wrestler known as The Russian Tank at one point lifted a prone Snyder completely off the mat, but not enough for a throw and instead settled for angling him over.

"There are definitely some positions that I have got to get better in," Snyder said. "That is what I'm thinking about. I have got to finish those attacks, so that is what I'm going to do. We had an idea of what it would be like."

Snyder, a two-time world champion, never gave up the fight, and came back to score a takedown and stepout in the final minute before Sadulaev ran out the clock.

"I'm a competitor so I hate to lose," Snyder said. "It's the spirit of Jesus that is strong in me. I'm not that strong as a guy, but Jesus is really strong and his spirit keeps me moving forward."

In the series dubbed "Snyderlaev" that drew worldwide attention, Snyder came out on top in their first clash in the final at the 2017 World Championships in Paris, Sadulaev's first after moving up to 97kg. Sadulaev had won the gold in Rio at 86kg, while Snyder had triumphed at 97kg.

Sadulaev gained his revenge at "Snyderlaev II" at the World Championships the next year in Budapest. He has not tasted defeat on the mat since that loss in Paris.

While it is uncertain what Sadulaev's plans are at the moment, Snyder would welcome a "Snyderlaev IV" at this year's World Championships in Oslo in October. Anyway, he intends to be there.

"Lord willing, I will be at the world championships," he said.

Like all American wrestlers, Snyder needs to constantly earn his spot on the national team to major tournaments. Having set the record as the youngest-ever US champion at both the worlds and Olympics, he knows there are always new faces coming along ready to knock him off.

"Guys are getting better and better," he said of prospects for U.S. wrestling. "Everybody is doing the right stuff. We have great coaches, support staff and training environments.

"I'm really happy for all my teammates who did a great job here, and all the coaches because they work so hard. I think we're going to dominate and keep getting better."

With Snyder's silver, the United States finished the Olympic wrestling tournament with nine medals overall, the most of any nation, including three golds.