China rebuilds women's team, one medal at a time

By Vinay Siwach

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (February 25) -- Over the two days of women's wrestling Alexandria, China took another step towards regaining its spot below Japan as the best country in the sport.

Having lost that place to the USA in the last three years and Ukraine on its heels, China needed to rebuild the team that can match, if not overtake Japan. It also included grooming younger wrestlers for international competition, the lack of which was evident at the World Championships last year as only Jia LONG (CHN) reached the final. Nine others did not even reach the semifinals.

Before Belgrade, the Chinese team traveled extensively in Europe to get back to the peak after being in China for more than a year. They camped in Germany, wrestled in Romania and Poland, camped in Serbia and participated in the World Championships. That is four months away from home.

Once they returned, a full lockdown was in effect in Beijing which meant being in the Olympic training center. No one was allowed to go out.

China flew to Iowa for the World Cup with little practice and made it to the final before losing to Ukraine. It was a big blow to the team which was considered second to Japan in the world. The wrestlers realized they have little time to regain their top form as the Paris Olympic qualifying World Championships was fast approaching.

The team began training together in Beijing in January and competed at the Zagreb Open in February. It won five medals but not a single gold as Japan continued its dominance in women's wrestling. The team flew to Hungary for the international camp before coming to Egypt for another competition.

In Alexandria, China ended the women's competition with eight medals including one gold and only three wrestlers out of 11 did not finish on the podium.

ChinaThe 50kg podium with three China wrestlers. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Moreover, the three 50kg wrestlers from China reached the podium for a second straight tournament. In Zagreb, Jiang ZHU (CHN) won silver while Ziqi FENG (CHN) and Meng FAN (CHN) won bronze medals. The latter two reached the final in Alexandria while Zhu won bronze.

The three wrestlers will add more Swiss Francs to the ones they won in Zagreb. Feng will pocket 1500 Swiss Francs for her gold while Fan will get 750 Swiss Francs. Zhu will get 500 Swiss Francs.

UWW began awarding prize money to Ranking Series medal winners this year and also allowed wrestlers to compete with a two-kilogram weight allowance at these tournaments.

Feng, a former U23 World silver medalist, is trying to fill the spot left vacant after Tokyo Olympic silver medalist Yanan SUN's (CHN) elongated break from international competition. Zhu, second fiddle to Sun for a long time, is in the same queue.

But Feng may well be the front-runner now as she defeated Zhu in the quarterfinals 12-2. She also defeated Oksana LIVACH (UKR), who had defeated Zhu in the World Cup, 15-4 in the opening round.

Feng wrestled Fan in the 50kg final and won that convincingly to all but seal her place for the Asian Championships. Fan defeated Feng in the final of the Ion Corneanu & Ladislau Simon Memorial in Bucharest, Romania last year.

Just before the end of the first period in the final, Feng stopped a right-side swing single and used a counter-offensive go-behind to pick up her first takedown. She quickly dropped below Fan’s knees, locked up an ankle lace and barrel-rolled her way to a staggering 10-1 lead. With a minute left in the second, Feng dumped Fan for the match-winning takedown, winning 50kg gold with 12-1 technical superiority.

While Feng emerged as the only gold medalist for China in Alexandria, Xiaojuan LUO (CHN) won silver at 62kg while Juan WANG (CHN) earned the same medal at 76kg after inspiring performances.

The other wrestlers with medals were Li DENG (CHN) with bronze at 53kg, Mengyu XIE (CHN) won bronze at 55kg, Qi ZHANG (CHN) won bronze at 57kg and ZHUOMALAGA (CHN) won bronze at 59kg.

At 53kg and 57kg, China will see the return of Tokyo silver medalist Qianyu PANG (CHN) and Ningning RONG (CHN) respectively as they continue to recover from injuries. At 68kg, veteran Feng ZHOU (CHN) is likely to make a return for the Asian Championships.

Yuliia TKACH (UKR)Yuliia TKACH (UKR) celebrates after beating world champion Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) in the 59kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Ukraine wins 2 golds

After a gold-less day on Friday, Ukraine returned to the podium with veteran Yulia TKACH (UKR) and Tatiana RIZKHO (UKR).

Tkach put on a special performance by winning the 59kg gold medal over world champion Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) in a close final. She came out with heavy hands, using a left-side collar tie to dictate the match's pace. Aware of Nichita's tactics of setting up her for the off-the-elbow duck-under, Tkach attacked her head-on instead of straying away from Nichita’s go-to offense.

The 33-year-old was the first to put points on the board with a shot clock point. She used an elbow-post high crotch with her head to the outside of Nichita’s left hip but ran out of time, ending the first period with a 1-0 lead.

When the second period started, Tkach got right back to the shot that she failed to finish on in the first period. But this time, she stayed persistent, fighting for 60 seconds to pick up the takedown. She surrendered a takedown with :19 seconds left but hung out to win the match, 3-2.

The loss to Tkach ended Nichita's run of five straight gold medals in one year. It all started with the gold at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series event in Istanbul exactly a year ago.

Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR)Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR), right, wrestles Emma BRUNTIL (USA) in their Round 2 bout at 65kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 65kg, European champion Rizhko put on a spirited show to win the gold in a five-wrestler bracket. She began with a victory via fall over BHATERI (IND) and followed that up with a 6-2 win over Emma BRUNTIL (USA) in what was her closest bout of the tournament.

Ayatalla AHMED (EGY) never came close to troubling Rizhko as she won 10-0 and Khadija JLASSI (TUN) managed one point in a 10-1 loss.

Lucia YEPEZ (ECU)Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) defeated Li DENG (CHN) in the 53kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In other gold medal bouts, former U23 world champion Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) was the standout performer of the day as she won the 53kg gold medal.

Yepez came out on the top in a weight class that included world champion Dom PARRISH (USA), European champion Emma MALMGREN (SWE), former U23 world champion Andreea ANA (ROU), Stalvira ORSHUSH (HUN), Nina HEMMER (GER) and Iulia LEORDA (MDA) among others.

In the final, she wrestled Deng and survived a scare before winning 9-4 for her first gold medal at a UWW event since the 2021 U23 World Championships.

After picking up the shot clock point, Yepez used a four-point double leg and a pair of gut wrenches to pick up the 9-0 lead. In the second period, Yepez gave up a four-point throw while trying to stay in bounds, cutting her lead to 9-4. It was here that Deng tried the fall as Yepez was on her back for 30 seconds. However, Yepez's one shoulder always stayed in the air.

Earlier in the day, Yepez combined aggressive wrestling with tight defense to reach the final. In the quarterfinals, she wrestled Hemmer and secured an 11-3 win before a 2-0 win over Ana as she completely shut off in the second period.

On the other side of the bracket, Malmgren eliminated Parrish but lost to Orshush who then suffered a 1-1 loss to Deng in the semifinal.

Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA)Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) and Bediha GUN (TUR) scramble in the 55kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 55kg, Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) had mentioned her World Championships rematch with Xie and she got that in the semifinal. In Belgrade, Winchester led 12-6 but suffered an injury and lost via fall.

But she avenged that loss to Xie, winning 4-0 and securing a place in the final against Bediha GUN (TUR). In the final, Winchester scored on an early stepout, followed by a head inside single leg to lead, 3-0.

Winchester remained the attacking wrestler throughout the bout and was rewarded when she pressured Gun, who fell in a clumsy manner and gave up four. In the closing seconds of the bout, Winchester went for the same move she began the bout and got a takedown which she tried transitioning into a fall but the time ran out.

Dalma CANEVA (ITA)Dalma CANEVA (ITA) secures a takedown against Alina LEVYTSKA (UKR) in the 72kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Dalma CANEVA (ITA) upgraded her silver from Zagreb Open to gold in Alexandria as she won the 72kg weight class over Alina LEVYTSKA (UKR) who had defeated her in Round 3.

After two dominating wins, Caneva wrestled Levytska in Round 3 and failed to break the Ukrainian's defense. Levytska got a point for Caneva's passivity and then a stepout which was challenged. Caneva scored a takedown but that was all as she lost 4-2.

Caneva defeated REETIKA (IND) via fall and got a chance to set the record straight with Levystka who clearly had the advantage after defeating her just hours before.

The lead switched hands three times in the final as Caneva picked up a shot clock point before the two traded takedowns. Caneva stopped a desperation shot attempt from Levytska and added two more points -- extending her lead to 5-2.

That was the final scoreline of the final as Caneva won the gold. She has now pocketed 2250 Swiss Francs, thanks to her two medals in three weeks.

Taha AKGUL (TUR)Taha AKGUL (TUR) launches a leg lace against Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL) in the 125kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

No surprises in freestyle

There were no surprises in freestyle as world champion Taha AKGUL (TUR) won the 125kg gold and World bronze medalist Batyrbek TCAKULOV (SVK) won the 97kg title.

Akgul was wrestling for the first time since winning the world title in Belgrade and showed no signs of rust, winning the gold in Alexandria with a 5-0 victory over Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL).

The 2016 Olympic champ did what he had to do in the first period before shutting things down in the second. After picking up the shot clock point in the first, the defending world champ scored a takedown from an underhook throw, then transitioned to a leg lace for a 5-0 first-period lead.

He sat on that lead with confidence, knowing that it was enough for him to claim the gold in his first competition in five months. Akgul was part of the rescue efforts after two devastating earthquakes hit Turkiye just 20 days ago.

Batyrbek TCAKULOV (SVK)Batyrbek TCAKULOV (SVK) won the 97kg gold. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Tcakulov too had a fruitful day as he captured his first gold medal of the season and warmed up for the April European Championships, in which he will be a returning bronze medalist, with a 7-1 win over Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL).

He was called passive in the first period but seemed more active in the second and picked up a three-point takedown, as he struck with a takedown just as Baranowski’s shot clock expired. With :10 left, Tcakulov stopped Baranowski’s desperation shot attempt and picked up one for the step out. But the Polish wrestler still had his challenge, so he threw the brick and won the challenge, keeping the Slovakian’s lead to 5-1. But as action resumed, Tcakulov halted Baranowski’s bull rush attempt and scored on an easy drop-level double leg, winning the bout, 7-1.

The remaining eight freestyle weight classes will be in action Sunday, the final day of the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking series.



GOLD -  Ziqi FENG (CHN) df. Meng FAN (CHN), 12-1

BRONZE - Alyssa LAMPE (USA) df. Madison PARKS (CAN), via inj. def.
BRONZE - Jiang ZHU (CHN) df. Oksana LIVACH (UKR), 4-1

GOLD - Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) df. Li DENG (CHN), 9-4

BRONZE - Andreea ANA (ROU) df. Nina HEMMER (GER), 11-2
BRONZE - Stalvira ORSHUSH (HUN) df. Anastasia BLAYVAS (GER), 9-4

GOLD - Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) df. Bediha GUN (TUR), 9-0

BRONZE - Marina SEDNEVA (KAZ) df. Sushma SHOKEEN (IND), via inj. def.
BRONZE - Mengyu XIE (CHN) df. Tatiana DEBIEN (FRA), 7-4

GOLD - Yuliia TKACH (UKR) df. Anastasia NICHITA (MDA), 3-2

BRONZE - Yuliia LESKOVETS (UKR) df. SIMRAN (IND), via fall


Key match: Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR) df. Emma BRUNTIL (USA), 6-2

GOLD - Dalma CANEVA (ITA) df. Alina LEVYTSKA (UKR), 5-2



GOLD -  Batyrbek TCAKULOV (SVK) df. Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL), 7-1

BRONZE - Vladislav BAITCAEV (HUN) df. Benjamin HONIS (ITA), 8-0
BRONZE - Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI) df. Murazi MCHEDLIDZE (UKR), 7-0

GOLD - Taha AKGUL (TUR) df. Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL), 5-0

BRONZE - Khasanboy RAKHIMOV (UZB) df. Benxin DUAN (CHN), 6-0


Shikhdzhamalov explains the mystery move in Alexandria

By Vinay Siwach

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (March 5) -- Iakub SHIKHDZHAMALOV (ROU) is looking for a name for his move that broke the internet.

At the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series tournament in Alexandria, Egypt last week, Shikhdzhamalpv won his 74kg semifinal against Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) after trailing 3-0. Nothing was working for him until he hit a "scoop", an unofficial name for the same in the wrestling lingo.

However, Shikhdzhamalov says that he does not know what to call the move which has been shared and viewed by millions on social media.

"There is no name for this move," Shikhdzhamalov said. "I am now thinking of a name for this move. I guess it will be my personal move."

It is not the first time Shikhdzhamalov has performed the move, a mix of cut-back and outside trip. Over the years, he has used it in various competitions and even during training but Shikhdzhamalov says one cannot prepare to execute it.

"I’ve been using this move for quite a long time," he said. "Nobody showed it to me. I managed to do it once at the training around 7-8 years ago. My coach noticed that I was good at doing it, and we tried to practice it together, but it was not even possible to do it during the training bout. It only works during the real match when you are concentrated."

Shikhdzhamalov explained the setup and execution of the same. He stressed that a wrestler should perform it at a very high speed to catch his opponent by surprise.

"When the opponent is pushing you and putting his hand underhook, that’s the right moment to do it," he said. "It’s very difficult to explain the technical part of it and also difficult to show how to do it, but it really works well. The most important is the high speed while making the move." 

After the tournament, Shikhdzhamalov opened his social media and to his surprise, he received praise and feedback about the skill which he is proud of.

"Since I performed it at this tournament, there were so many comments and feedback about it," he said. It wasn’t just an occasional move. Yet, no one can do it. Even in my wrestling gym, the guys know that I can make this move, but no one can repeat it. If someone learns to do it, I would be really glad."

Training in Dagestan has helped Shikhdzhamalov improve his skills with the guidance of Gamid GAMIDOV and his personal coach Anvar MAGOMEDGADZHIEV.

After struggling at 79kg weight class last year where he failed to win a gold medal, Shikhdzhamalov has emerged as a contender for the gold at the European Championships.

"The 74kg weight class is preferable for my body," he said. "Last year I wrestled at 79kg because I had some health issues, I had to figure out what the problem was. The doctors advised me not to cut my weight at all. Last year my weight was about 77-78kg, although I wrestled at 79kg. This year I’ve solved all the problems and I went down to my weight class, since it’s more comfortable for me.

"I will wrestle for gold at the Europeans and the World Championships. I know most of the leaders in this weight class."

The European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia next month will be the first big test that Shikhdzhamalov will face before the World Championships. But after the gold medal in Alexandria, he hopes he can create more upsets in the weight class as the Olympics approach.

"Next tournament for me is the European championships," he said. "I don’t want to mention specific names that I would like to wrestle at 74kg, but for later tournaments, I am getting ready for the American, Iranian, Italian and all other leaders. I am getting ready to wrestle anybody and win. It's certainly interesting to wrestle against the top guys."