Crafty Bullen returns to top of podium in Rome

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (June 24) -- Grace BULLEN (NOR) won her first senior European title in 2017, and since then, she reached the medal bouts at 16 out of 22 competitions she competed in till 2020. She won another continental gold in Rome that year. A medal at Tokyo Olympics and at the home World Championships in Oslo felt like reality.

But as luck would have it, Bullen failed to qualify for Tokyo. Actually, she did not finish on the podium at five different tournaments including two shocking losses at the Olympic Qualifying tournaments in Budapest and Sofia. She returned empty-handed in Oslo as well.

Just when it seemed that the prodigy from Norway was fading away, Bullen came up with a performance for the ages at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome. Bullen captured the gold at 59kg on Friday, outscoring her opponents 25-2, including a 12-2 win in the final against Jowita WRZESIEN (POL).

Bullen's gold might have come at the right time as she prepares for the World Championships and ultimately for the Paris Olympics. The confidence-boosting win will also serve as a great catalyst to help her return to the top form that she once was known for.

The former U17 world champ displayed high-quality wrestling, not only in the final but throughout the day.

Nikolett SZABO (HUN) was the first to get a taste of Bullen's crafty wrestling, as she got launched for five with a clean pick and throw. That gave Bullen a 13-0 start to the day. Abigail NETTE (USA) kept her quiet for a few moments but Bullen won the semifinal 10-0.

A final against Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) would have given her a chance to assess herself better but Wrzesien defeated the former world silver medalist 9-3 in the other semifinal.

Against Wrzsien, Bullen launched double leg attacks and transitioned to leg lace on one of them to lead 8-0. She went for a winning takedown but in the sequence, ended up giving up an exposure as well which was two points for each wrestler. But she got that final takedown with 3:43 left in the final.

This was Bullen's first major international gold since that European title which she won, incidentally in Rome.

Tetiana RIZHKOTetiana RIZHKO (UKR) won the gold at 65kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

After winning three gold medals on Thursday, Ukraine added two more through Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) and European champion Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR) at 53kg and 65kg, respectively.

Rizhko was the star performer of the day as she dismantled her opponents en route to the gold. In the four bouts, she won via fall in two, one by technical superiority and another 6-1.

She faced Emma BRUNTIL (USA) in Round 1 of the Nordic bracket and secured a fall inside the first period. Up against her teammate Kateryna ZELENYKH (UKR) in the next round, Rizhko scored two quick takedowns to open the scoring. Zelenykh kept trying to attack her senior opponent's legs but ended up giving points and eventually a fall.

In Round 4, she faced a familiar opponent in Kriszta INCZE (ROU). The bout was a virtual gold medal bout. Rizhko did not wait much and got an early exposure to lead 2-0. Incze's eyes lit up when she got behind Rizhko in a standing position and tried working a takedown but the Ukrainian tossed her for four. With a 6-1 lead, Rizhko played it safe and does not engage much in the second period.

Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR)Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) defeated Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) twice on Friday at 53kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 53kg, Malanchuk scored two wins over U23 European champion Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) to win the gold medal. The two first met in Round 2 in the morning session which Malanchuk won 3-2. Dragutan tried avenging that loss but a solid defensive performance from Malanchuk got her the gold with a 6-2 score.

In the final, the score was tied 2-2 when Malanchuk worked on a cradle to secure the fall. Dragutan survived the fall but gave up two exposures in the process and trailed 6-2.

The rest of the bout saw Dragutan trying to find an opening against Malanchuk who would not budge despite several attacks from the Moldova wrestler.

Ukraine could have won a third gold of the day but Mariia VYNNYK (UKR) came up short against Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL) at 55kg.

Krawczyk won the gold after finishing second at the Ranking Series event in Istanbul at the beginning of the year. She turned that into gold with a 7-2 win over Vynnyk.

It was Vynnyk who got the first attack going and as she dragged Krawczyk towards the zone, the Poland wrestler used that momentum to hit a well-timed arm throw for four. Vynnyk seemed a little shocked after the throw but composed herself quickly.

She scored a takedown before the break to cut the lead to 4-2 but despite her several attempts to score more, she suffered a 7-2 loss in the final.

At 50kg, Madison PARKS (CAN) and Agata WALERZAK (POL) left everything on the mat in the gold medal bout.

Parks led 4-2 at the break before Walerzak made it 4-4 with a takedown at the restart. The lead went back to Parks with a stepout. But Walerzak scored a takedown and added two more to lead 8-5 with two minutes left. Parks, desperate to get on an attack, managed to score a takedown late in the match.

With the score reading 8-7 with just 20 seconds left, Walerzak kept her distance from Parks but in the final second of the bout, the Canadian used her strength to put down the Poland wrestler.

Walerzak was trying to escape a body lock from behind but Parks kept her hands locked and just before time expired, she managed to bring down Walerzak on her knee for a brief moment. But that was enough for her to get a takedown and the win.

Skylar GROTE (USA)Skylar GROTE (USA) won four bouts on Friday to capture the 72kg gold. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

A day after Yelena MAKOYED (USA) made a surprising run to the 76kg gold, another USA wrestler capture the gold on her debut in Ranking Series.

Pan-American champion Skylar GROTE (USA) dominated the field at 72kg to capture the gold a month after winning the continental title in Mexico.

After getting past teammate Marilyn GARCIA (USA) 11-0, Grote faced tough competition from former U23 world silver medalist Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU). But a good attack and defense combination gave a 6-3 win.

Two-time world medalist Anna SCHELL (GER) was dominating the field in a similar fashion. She had only conceded only against Anghel in three of her bouts.

Grote won her third bout against Aysegul OZBEGE (TUR) to set up a Round 5 bout against Schell. With the two wrestling being the only ones to remain undefeated at that point, it became a gold-medal match.

Schell tried getting on the scoreboard quickly but it was Grote who took the 2-0 lead. She then added another takedown and make it 4-0 at the break. In the second period, Grote kept her shots going and extended her lead to 6-0 despite Schell's repeated attempt to score from double-leg.

She managed to score one with 41 seconds left but Grote gave no other openings, winning 6-2.

"She [Schell] was the toughest opponent I faced," Grote said. "I don't have much experience internationally so the girls were new to me as I have never wrestled them before. But I began dominantly and then said to myself 'let's go.'"

Grote made her first national team ever after reaching the final at World Team Trials. She lost to U17 and U20 world champ Amir ELOR (USA) but did not let that disappointment come in the way of her future tournaments.

"I was disappointed after the loss but I told myself that I wrestle in two weeks," she said. "I need to be more calculated with my attacks, I could not win the hand fights. But I had spent a lot of time preparing so I came to Italy."

The learnings from that bout held Grote in Rome as she controlled her bouts with precision.

"I changed my mindset this year," she said. "Win or lose I am still Skylar and now I am more progressive in attacks than being a counter wrestler. I try to control the bout rather than wrestling as per my opponent."

Petriashvili wins gold

World and Olympic silver medalist Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) added a second Ranking Series title of his career, four years after he won the first with a clinical display of wrestling in Rome.

In the final, he faced his semifinal opponent from European Championships Robert BARAN (POL). While the bout in Budapest ran close, Petriashvili made sure it wasn't the case Friday.

After a slow start for which Petriashvili was awarded two points for Baran's passivity on either side of the break, Petraishvili successfully got one of his attacks to work and score a takedown and lead 4-0.

In the final few moments of the bout, Petriashvili scored another to win 6-0.

In the other freestyle weight that was in action Friday, Batyrbek TCAKULOV (SVK) collected a second straight Ranking Series gold at 97kg.

Earlier this month, he had won the gold at the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup in Almaty and came up with a similar performance in Rome. He defeated Givi MATCHARASHVILI (GEO) 10-4 in a final which he controlled throughout.

The European bronze medalist led the bout 2-1 before adding a takedown late in the first period. He began with another takedown out-of-bounds to extend it to 6-1. Switching to defense, he countered a duck under attempt from Matcharashvili and scored. While the Georgian managed to score one, he lost the bout.

En route to the final, Tcakulov had defeated fellow European bronze medalist Zbigniew BARANOWSKI using a leg lace while Matcharashvili upset the European champion Magomedkhan MAGOMEDOV (AZE) in a minute and 10 seconds. He had earlier defeated silver medalist Vladislav BAITCAEV (HUN) 14-9 despite trailing 7-2 at the start.


Women's wrestling

GOLD: Madison PARKS (CAN) df. Agata WALERZAK (POL), 10-8


GOLD: Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) df. Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA), 6-2

BRONZE: Samantha STEWART (CAN) df. Szimonetta SZEKER (HUN), 10-0

GOLD: Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL) df. Mariia VYNNYK (UKR), 7-2 

BRONZE: Andreea ANA (ROU) df. Nina HEMMER (GER), 4-3

GOLD: Grace BULLEN (NOR) df. Jowita WRZESIEN (POL), 12-2

BRONZE: Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) df. Elena BRUGGER (GER), 5-1 
BRONZE: Abigail NETTE (USA) df. Nikolett SZABO (HUN), 13-2





BRONZE: Elizbar ODIKADZE (GEO) df. Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL), 9-3
BRONZE: Vladislav BAITCAEV (HUN) df. Erik THIELE (GER), 4-0


BRONZE: Kamil KOSCIOLEK (POL) df. Anil KILICSALLAYAN (TUR), via inj. def.


USA closes out U17 Worlds with 3 golds, historic FS title

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (July 31) -- James GREEN (USA) was part of the USA team which won the freestyle team title for the first time in 22 years at the 2017 World Championships. The two-time world medalist won a silver medal in that edition.

Five years later, Green got another chance to hold the team trophy, this time as the chief coach of the USA team at the U17 World Championships in Rome on Sunday.

USA won a historic first U17 freestyle world title in Rome with nine out of their 10 wrestlers winning medals including four golds. It finished with 190 points which was more than enough to exchange places with defending champions India which finished with 126 points.

Azerbaijan, a nation that won the European team title, finished third with 122 points.

USA became the fourth nation to win the U17 world freestyle title after Russia, Iran and India since the U17 Worlds were reinstated in 2011. Russia won the title every year until 2018 when Iran broke that streak.

Russia won again in 2019 before India became only the third country to win the title in 2021.

USAUSA coach James GREEN, center, with the team title trophy. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

"It feels like it's straight out of a movie," he said. "It's like a reminiscent of 2017 when I was part of the world team that won the title for the USA after 22 years."

After finishing with a gold, three silver and a bronze medal on day six, the USA rocked again on the final day with three gold and a bronze to close out the tournament.

"I know how these guys are feeling," he said. "I am so excited to win this on my first trip and looking forward to more coaching."

Since 2011, the USA finished in the second spot five times in nine U17 Worlds with the latest being to India at the previous edition. But this year, all the USA wrestlers won their head-to-heads against India which ultimately proved to be the difference between who became the champions.

"The draw kind of worked in our favor," Green said. "We definitely had a gameplan not just for India but for everyone else including the Europeans as well.  But I can tell you one thing that our wrestlers wanted to get a hand on Indian wrestlers because we lost to them last time."

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA)Luke LILLEDAHL (USA), blue, upgraded his '21 silver to gold. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) finished with a silver medal in 2021 after suffering a loss against Aman GULIA (IND) but there was no stopping Lilledahl this year as he upgraded to gold with a dominating 10-1 win over Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI).

The 51kg final, pretty much controlled by Lilledahl, began with two exchanging stepout but then the USA wrestler switched levels after the break and scored takedowns whenever he found Asadi going for a half shot. He countered two of Asadi's attacks while he scored a takedown and added a leg lace in his 12-1 victory for the gold medal.

"Luke wrestlers at a hard pace," Green said. "He keeps a low head but is always moving and engaging. He takes the points as they come and doesn't rush into attacks."

Two other gold medalists for the USA on Sunday, Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) and Joseph SEALEY (USA), also impressed Green.

Munaretto won the 45kg gold medal by beating Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0 in the final. Overall, the champion outscored his opponents 30-2 in the tournament.

Joseph SEALEY (USA)Joseph SEALEY (USA) outscored his opponents 55-1 in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 71kg, Sealey dashed local hopes to see a home champion by decimating Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0, in the gold medal bout.

Sealey, like his all other bouts, was wrestling at a completely different level and pace which Caso had no answer to. When Caso tried to engage in underhooks, he would get tripped by Sealey and when he tried to score a takedown, Sealey would easily stop any such attempts.

His two inside trips and two takedowns were enough to help Sealey win the crown and get some praise from coach Green.

"Sealey was very impressive," he said. "He wrestles like a senior athlete and can wrestle someone from that level. He conceded the least points in the whole tournament."

Sealey wrestled five bouts to win the gold and in an impressive record, scored 55 points and conceded only one.

Drawing experience from the title-winning run in 2017, Green had communicated to his team to 'have fun' during the tournament.

"I just told them that you are capable of being world champs and future Olympic champions," he said. "But more importantly I told them to have fun at this tournament. Most of these guys are wrestling for the first time and they can be hard on themselves so I didn't want that. And once we all met, they had the team chemistry and it clicked right away."

Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI)Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI), blue, pulled off a 5-4 win against Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ) in the 60kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

The other gold medals of the night were shared between Iran and Kazakhstan.

At 60kg, Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) defeated U17 Asian champion Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4 to win the gold after trailing 3-1 at one point. Sharip Uulu scored the first points with a duck-under during the activity period against Elahi. It was initially awarded as four but Iran challenged the call and it was reversed to two points only.

But Elahi's constant moves towards Sharip Uulu's legs paid dividends as he leveled the score 3-3 and led on criteria. He then added a takedown against the tiring Kyrgyzstan wrestler to extend his lead to 5-3. He was warned for fleeing during the final 10 seconds which made the score 5-4 but did not change the result.

Elahi's gold was Iran's first of the tournament as it finished fifth in the team rankings.

Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ)Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) won the 92kg gold, the second of the tournament for Kazakhstan. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Returning bronze medalist Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) went all the way this year and captured his maiden world title, a month after he had won the U17 Asian title.

Musza ARSUNKAEV (HUN) had no answers to Kurugliyev's style of wrestling, inspired by his former world bronze medalist father and cousin-brother, European champion Duaren KURUGLIEV (RWF).

After a 3-0 lead in the first period, Kurugliyev began the second with a huge double-leg for four and then added two takedowns to close out a statement win in Rome.

The World Championships season will now move to Sofia, Bulgaria with the U20 Worlds beginning August 15.




GOLD: Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) df. Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0

BRONZE: Arman HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) df. Amirmohammad NAVAZI (IRI), via fall
BRONZE: Nikoloz BOTCHORISHVILI (GEO) df. Constantin RUSU (MDA), 5-4

GOLD: Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) df. Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI), 10-1

BRONZE: Nurdanat AITANOV (KAZ) df. Ben TARIK (MAR), 1-1

GOLD: Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) df. Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4

BRONZE: Taiga OGINO (JPN) df. Alessandro NINI (ITA), 3-1

GOLD: Joseph SEALEY (USA) df. Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0



BRONZE: Maxwell MCENELLY (USA) df. Sahil JAGLAN (IND), 2-1