Champs, Challengers Arrive for Wrestling’s ‘Battle on the Baltic’
Sunday, March 6, 2016 - 15:02 By William May
RIGA (March 6) – World and Olympic Games medalists among an array of continental champions and challengers journey to Riga this week for the European wrestling championships, all with an eye on the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August.
The competition, opening Tuesday at Arena Riga, will feature freestyle and women’s wrestling sharing the mats for the first four days, concluding Saturday and Sunday with the focus on Greco-Roman.
More than a dozen Olympic Games medalists are on the entry lists, including London 2012 freestyle gold medalist at 84kg Sharif SHARIFOV (AZE) and Beijing 2008 Greco-Roman champion Islambek ALBIEV (RUS) at 66kg.
Among the world champions named on the preliminary rosters are Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) and Taha AKGUL (TUR) in freestyle with Oksana HERHEL (UKR) and Yulia TKACH (UKR) in women’s wrestling.
Herhel and Tkach headline a Ukraine women’s squad that features five world champions, including Aleksandra KOHUT (48kg), Anna VASILENKO (58kg) and Alina MAKHYNIA (69kg). And, for the curious, Ukraine’s other squad members, Yulia KHAVALDZHY (53kg), Tatyana KIT (55kg) and Alla CHERKASOVA (75kg), have all won bronze medals on the world stage.
In the classic style, current world champions include Frank STAEBLER (GER), Rasul CHUNAYEV (AZE), Zhan BELENYUK (UKR) along with two-time winners Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) and Riza KAYAALP (TUR).
Aleksanyan will be seeking his fourth European championships crown, after sitting out last year’s European Games, while Kayaalp try to make it five in a row for continental crowns.
A thumbnail sketch of each day’s action:
Tuesday, March 7
On the first day of wrestling, Azerbaijan sends out European Games champion Maria STADNYK (AZE) at 48kg, seeking her sixth overall European crown, while the Latvian loyal have a chance to cheer for local favorite Anastasija GRIGORJEVA (LAT) at 63kg.
Grigorjeva, a three-time European champ, however, will have her hands full with 2014 world champ Tkach and two-time world silver medalist Taybe YUSEIN (BUL).
On the men’s side, 86kg will be missing its biggest name in Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS) as Yarygin Grand Prix winner Shamil KUDIYAMAGOMEDOV (RUS) steps in to fill the void at middleweight.
The men’s lightest category, 57kg, could also be wide open without world champion Vladimir KHINCHIGASHVILI or European Games gold medalist Viktor LEBEDEV (RUS).
Wednesday, March 8
Although Chamizo slipped from the top of the rankings at the Medved Prizes last month, the world champ will seek to redeem himself at 65kg. Sharifov is Azerbaijan’s first choice at 97kg but European Games gold medalist Khetag GAZUMOV (AZE) is ready to go.
In the women’s events, all eyes will be on Sofia MATTSSON (SWE) as she attempts at 53kg to nail down her fifth European title. Herhel will try to headlock her way to victory at 60kg but world silver medalist at 58kg Petra OLLI (FIN) stands in way.
Thursday, March 10
Two-time world champion Haji ALIEV (AZE) is the class of the field at 61kg but European Games silver medalist Beka LOMTADZE (GEO) will dispute that. Games runner-up Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) and Golden Grand Prix Final winner Yabrail HASANOV (AZE) will try to rule at 74kg.
In the women’s events, Baku 2015 gold medalist Vasilisa MARZALIUK (BLR) reigns at 75kg but world bronze medal winner Epp MAE (EST) will challenge. Two-time world silver medalist Irina OLOGONOVA (RUS) goes for her first major title, but Kit wants to avenge a loss in Las Vegas to the Russian.
Friday, March 11
Taha AKGUL (TUR) seeks a fifth European crown at 125kg but world runner-up Jamaladdin MAGOMEDOV (AZE) and Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) will try to snap the streak. At 70kg, Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL) and Azamat NURIKOV (BLR) stand out in this non-Olympic weight category.
On the final day of women’s wrestling, Baku 2015 champion Emese BARKA (HUN) brings her hard-nosed style to 58kg where she could face London 2012 bronze medalist Yuliya RATKEVICH (AZE) or Grace BULLEN (NOR). Meanwhile, 69kg could see a rematch of the Baku 2015 final between Makhynia and Ilana KRATYSH (ISR).
Saturday, March 12
The first day of Greco-Roman will see two of the biggest names in action – as European and world champions Aleksanyan and Kayaalp take to the mats at 98kg and 130kg, respectively. Aleksanyan and Kayaalp are also London 2012 bronze medal winners.
At the other end of the scale, Beijing 2008 champion Albiev leads the charge at 66kg, with current world champion Staebler entered at 71kg. London 2012 bronze medal winner Mingiyan SEMENOV (RUS) is the early favorite at 59kg along with Baku silver medalist Soslan DAUROV (BLR).
Also competing on the first day of Greco-Roman will be two-time world champ Heiki NABI (EST) at 130kg and Nikita MELNIKOV (RUS) who defeated Aleksanyan for the 96kg world title in 2013.
Sunday, March 13
The final day of championship wrestling will see bouts in the two non-Olympic categories of 71kg and 80kg along with two of the most competitive categories in Greco-Roman.
At 75kg, 2014 world champ at 71kg Chingiz LABAZANOV (RUS) steps in for world and Olympic champ Roman VLASOV (RUS) and will be challenged by Baku 2015 finalists Elvin MURSALIEV (AZE) and Viktor NEMES (SRB).
At 85kg, Belenyuk comes to Riga off a triumphant showing at the Ukraine International in Kiev and looks now to European Games champion at 80kg Evgeny SALEEV (RUS) and two-time world bronze medalist Viktor LORINCZ (HUN) to throw down the gauntlet.
Monday, March 7
17:00-18:30 – Medical Examination & Weigh-in: FS 57, 86kg; FW 48, 63kg
Tuesday, March 8
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage: FS 57, 86kg; FW 48, 63kg
16:45-18:30 – Medical Examination & Weigh-in: FS 65, 97kg; FW 53, 60kg
18:30-19:00 – Opening Ceremony
19:00-21:00 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies: FS 57, 86kg; FW 48, 63kg
Wednesday, March 9
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage: FS 65, 97kg; FW 53, 60kg
16:45-18:30 – Medical Examination & Weigh-in: FS 61, 74kg; FW 55, 75kg
19:00-21:00 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies: FS 65, 97kg; FW 53, 60kg
Thursday, March 10
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage: FS 61, 74kg; FW 55, 75kg
16:45-18:30 – Medical Examination & Weigh-in: FS 70, 125kg; FW 58, 69kg
19:00-21:00 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies: FS 61, 74kg; FW 55, 75kg
Friday, March 11
10:00-14:00 – Qualification Rounds & Repechage: FS 70, 125kg; FW 58, 69kg
16:45-18:30 – Medical Examination & Weigh-in: GR 59, 66, 98 & 130kg
19:00-21:00 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies: FS 70, 125kg; FW 58, 69kg
Saturday, March 12
10:00-14:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: GR 59, 66, 98 & 130kg
16:45-18:30 – Medical Examination & Weigh-in: GR 71, 75, 80 & 85kg
19:00-21:00 – Finals & Awards Ceremonies: GR 59, 66, 98 & 130kg
Sunday, March 13
10:00-14:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: GR 71, 75, 80 & 85kg
18:00-20:00 - Finals & Awards Ceremonies: GR 71, 75, 80 & 85kg