Gray Grabs U.S.-Record 5th Women’s World Gold; Kawai Wins 57kg Showdown with Rong

By Ken Marantz

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (Sept. 19)---By winning a fifth world title, Adeline GRAY (USA) became sole holder of the record for American women. It wasn’t lost on her either that she did it with a victory over a Japanese in the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Number five,” Gray said, as if she needed to remind herself of the accomplishment. “Heading into the Olympics in Tokyo, beating Japan---man, that country is so good at women’s wrestling.”

Gray scored all of her points late in the first period and held on for a 4-2 victory over Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) in the 76kg final, one of four golds decided on Day 6 of the Nur-Sultan World Championships.  

In defending the title she won a year ago in Budapest, Gray also broke a tie with Trish Saunders for most world golds by an American woman. 

“It’s pretty awesome,” Gray said. “Sara McMann, Kristie Davis, Trish Saunders, they reach out to me every once in a while just to let me know they’re watching and excited about women’s wrestling, and it’s pretty special.”

The 28-year-old Gray had beaten Minagawa 6-1 at the Women’s World Cup in March 2018, but found the two-time bronze medalist more than a handful this time.

Adeline GRAY (USA) waves at photographers while standing on top of the world podium. (Kadir Caliskan)

“She was doing a great job,” Gray said. “She frustrated me. I have an attack hand and she wouldn’t let me tie up with it, and she’s so low to the ground and able to keep her legs back that I wasn’t able to get my reach. So I was having to adjust, and I finally made those adjustments.”

Minagawa earned the first point with Gray on the activity clock, but the American went ahead 4-1 with a takedown and tilt late in the first period. Gray said that she recalled advice she overheard from USA development coach Kevin Jackson.

“I was listening to coach Jackson yesterday talk to the men’s freestyle team and he said it’s important for world champions to go out there and score points at the end of the periods,” she said.

“I felt like I was really focused in that period, so I didn’t really know it was the end. But I definitely felt like we had been hand-fighting for a while. So I took some drive from that speech last night.”

In the second period, Gray held off the attacks of Minagawa, who scored a consolation stepout with :02 left. 

The two could face each other again at Tokyo 2020, as the top six finishers in each weight class secured berths for their country. Minagawa, by winning a medal, fulfilled the Japan federation criteria that allows her to automatically fill the spot without any further domestic qualifying process. 

Risako KAWAI (JPN) is carried around the mat after winning the 57kg world title. (Kadir Caliskan)

Joining Minagawa on the Olympic team will be Rio 2016 Olympic gold medalist Risako KAWAI (JPN), who captured her third straight world gold in her first foray in the Olympic weight class of 57kg. 

Kawai, the 59kg champion in 2018, dominated defending champion RONG Ningning (CHN) for much of the 57kg final before surviving a late comeback and holding on for a 9-6 victory.

Kawai, who defeated four-time Olympic champion Kaori ICHO (JPN) in a playoff that drew national attention to make Japan’s team to Nur-Sultan, took a 5-0 lead in the first period, than added a pair of takedowns in the second.

As Kawai pressed for the points to secure a technical fall, Rong used a headlock counter for 4 points, then rolled Kawai to cut the gap to 3 with a minute to go. But the Japanese remained out of danger the rest of the way to secure the gold.

“I got to 9 points and only needed one more to finish it off, but the Chinese wrestler is strong and I gave up 4 points,” Kawai said. “Part of me thought I was going to turned over at the very end, and that I’m glad this wasn’t [the] Tokyo [Olympics].”

Kawai broke down in tears after the win and was consoled by her coach at matside, a mixture of joy and relief for the long journey that she had taken to this moment. 

“It’s a point along the way, one step up toward my objective, although it is not enough of a step,” Kawai said.

Risako KAWAI (JPN) surrounded by members of the media after winning her third world title. (Photo: Kadir Caliskan)

There were also mixed emotions, as earlier in the day, younger sister Yukako had lost in the quarterfinals at 62kg. The two are extremely close and have a joint dream of winning Olympic golds together. Yukako can still clinch a spot by making in through the repechage and winning a bronze on Friday.

Risako said she did not see Yukako’s loss, and did not find about it until well later.

“I was back at the hotel until my final and had planned to watch it on TV, but they cut to another mat and I didn’t see it,” Kawai said. “Nobody contacted me, and I didn’t hear from anyone when Yukako was supposed to wrestle [her next match]. 

“I called my mother to ask her what happened. I thought, perhaps she lost, and that broke my heart. But my mother came by and said, ‘Risako, wrestle the way Risako knows how,’ which encouraged me.”

In the 59kg final, Linda MORAIS (CAN) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when she used an underhook pancake to pin Luibov OVCHAROVA (RUS).

Ovcharova stormed out to a 6-1 lead, scoring a takedown and two rolls before Morais slipped out of the second hold for a reversal. When the Russian came in on tackle, Morais got an arm over Ovcharova’s head and under an arm, then levered her to her back for a fall in 2:15.

The victory made Morais, a bronze medalist in 2016, the fifth Canadian woman in history to win a world gold.

In another final in a non-Olympic weight, 2018 European silver medalist Inna TRAZHUKOVA (RUS) made short work of Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) in the 65kg final, storming to a 13-0 technical fall in 4:12.

In the bronze medal matches, Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) earned her third world medal---each in an odd-numbered year---with a 10-0 technical fall of world junior silver medalist Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) at 57kg. 

The other bronze went to Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR), a 4-0 winner over Jowita WRZESIEN (POL).

China had wrestlers in each of the three other weight classes, and came out with two victories. 

PEI Xingru (CHN) denied Pooja DHANDA (IND) a second straight world bronze by beating her 5-3 at 59kg, while WANG Xiaoqian (CHN) rolled to a 10-0 technical fall over Forrest MOLINARI (USA) in just over a minute at 65kg.

Veteran Epp MAEE (EST) denied the Chinese trifecta by beating ZHOU Qian (CHN) 6-4 at 76kg for her third career world medal and first since 2015.

The other bronze medals went to Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL) at 59kg, Elis MANOLOVA (AZE) at 65kg and Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) at 76kg

Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) celebrates after defeating returning world silver medalist Bajrang PUNIA (IND), 9-9, in the semifinals. (Kadir Caliskan)

Niyazbekov ousts Punia to make 65kg final against Rashidov
In the semifinals in four weight classes held earlier in the session, Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) pulled off biggest surprise when he knocked off 2018 world silver medalist Bajrang PUNIA (IND), 9-9 at freestyle 65kg.

With the score tied 2-2 in the second period, Niyazbekov chalked up 4 points on a counter to a throw by Punia that could have gone either way, and got another point from an unsuccessful challenge. He then scored a takedown to make it 9-2.

But Punia, the Asian champion, has made a name for himself for dramatic comebacks, and he started one with a pair of takedowns to make it 9-6 with just under a minute to go. With Niyazbekov clearly running out of gas, Punia got another takedown, a penalty point and then a final takedown.

That tied the score, but the 4-point play earlier in the period was the top criteria, giving the win to Niyazbekov, who acknowledged he had felt worn out from his 6-2 win over Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL) in the previous round.

“Actually, I couldn’t even imagine I would win in the semifinal,” Niyazbekov said. “After my match with the Mongolian, I felt really tired.” 

The victory put him into the final against Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS), who will aim for his first world gold after winning silvers at 61kg the past two years before moving up to the Olympic weight class.

He advanced with a touch-and-go 3-2 win over Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN), after knocking off Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Haji ALIYEV (AZE) and defending champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) along the way.

“I have never wrestled him, but I know his style very well,” Niyazbekov said of Rashidov. “He doesn’t make any mistakes. I will try to wear him down.”

Zavur UGUEV (RUS) will try to defend his Budapest world title on Friday night when he wrestles Suleyman ATLI (TUR) in the 57kg finals.(Kadir Caliskan)

At 57kg, Zavur UGUEV (RUS) earned a shot at a second straight world title by advancing with a 6-4 win over a gutsy Kumar RAVI (IND), who fought back from a 6-0 deficit but just came up short.  

In the final, Uguev will take on Suleyman ATLI (TUR), who scored a 4-point move with :08 left to stun 2018 silver medalist Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) 5-3. That assures Atli of improving on his bronze medal from last year. 

In the women’s 62kg class, defending champion Taybe YUSEIN (BUL) will face Asian champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) after both won their semifinals with little trouble.

Yusein needed just :39 to chalk up a 10-0 technical fall over Marianna SASTIN (HUN), while Tynybekova eased to a 7-0 win over KIM Jong Sim (PRK).

Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) picked up a stunning 10-1 win over two-time world and Olympic champion Sara DOSHO (JPN). (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

At 68kg Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) continued to have the tournament of her life, as the 2018 bronze medalist crushed Anna SCHELL (GER) by 10-0 technical fall. Her path to the final included a victory over Rio 2016 Olympic and two-time world champion Sara DOSHO (JPN).

Mensah Stock’s opponent in the final, Rio 2016 bronze medalist Jenny FRANSSON (SWE), gets the never-say-die award, as her 9-7 victory over Alla CHERKASOVA (UKR) marked her second straight victory by scoring in the final seconds.

The Swedish veteran, 32, is looking to add to her lone world gold---won back in 2012.

The competition continues with Day 7 on Friday, in which the qualification rounds will be held in freestyle 70kg, 74kg, 92kg and 125kg, as well as the repechage rounds for four divisions started Thursday. 

Day 6 Results


57kg (34 entries)
Semifinal – Suleyman ATLI (TUR) df. Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ), 5-3 
Semifinal – Zavur UGUEV (RUS) df. Kumar RAVI (IND), 6-4

65kg (44 entries)
Semifinal – Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) df. Bajrang PUNIA (IND), 9-9
Semifinal – Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) df. Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN), 3-2

Women’s Wrestling 

57kg (31 entries)
Gold – Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. RONG Ningning (CHN), 9-6
Bronze – Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR) df. Jowita WRZESIEN (POL), 4-0
Bronze – Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) df. Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) by TF, 10-0, 1:56 

59kg (18 entries)
Gold – Linda MORAIS (CAN) df. Luibov OVCHAROVA (RUS) by Fall, 2:15 (3-6) 
Bronze – PEI Xingru (CHN) df. Pooja DHANDA (IND), 5-3
Bronze – Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL) df. Anhelina LYSAK (URK) by Fall, 3;38 (10-0) 

62kg (34 entries)
Semifinal – Taybe YUSEIN (BUL) df. Marianna SASTIN (HUN) by TF, 10-0, :39
Semifinal – Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) df. KIM Jong Sim (PRK), 7-0 

65kg (17 entries)
Gold – Inna TRAZHUKOVA (RUS) df. Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) by TF, 13-0, 4:12  
Bronze – WANG Xiaoqian (CHN) df. Forrest MOLINARI (USA) by TF, 10-0, 1:07
Bronze – Elis MANOLOVA (AZE) df. Yuliana YANEVA (BUL), 3-1

68kg (32 entries)
Semifinal – Jenny FRANSSON (SWE) df. Alla CHERKASOVA (UKR), 9-7 
Semifinal – Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) df. Anna SCHELL (GER) by TF, 10-0, 3:00 

76kg (31 entries)
Gold – Adeline GRAY (USA) df. Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN), 4-2  
Bronze – Epp MAEE (EST) df. ZHOU Qian (CHN), 6-4 
Bronze – Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) vs Aline ROTTER FOCKEN (GER), 3-0


Sadulaev Still Reigns Supreme at 97kg with Win over Sharifov; Yazdani Regains 86kg Crown

By Ken Marantz

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan (Sept. 22) --- Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS) wasn’t surprised that his opponent in the final wasn’t the one everyone expected. He just went out and showed again he could dominate whoever stood between him and another gold medal.

Sadulaev captured his second straight world title and fourth overall with a rock-solid 4-o victory over Sharif SHARIFOV (AZE) in the freestyle 97kg final to bring the curtain down on the Nur-Sultan World Championships.

The victory establishes Sadulaev as the one to beat at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, where he will look to add to the 86kg gold he won at Rio 2016.

This year’s World Championships served as the first qualifier for Tokyo 2020, with the top six finishers in each of the Olympic weight classes securing berths for their country.

The pretournament hype at 97kg revolved around a potential rematch between Sadulaev and Kyle SNYDER (USA) of the 2018 final in Budapest, which the Russian won to avenge a loss to the American the previous year in Paris.

Asked if he regretted not facing Snyder this time, Sadulaev replied, “No, because the most important final is still waiting for us, the Olympic Games.”

Sharifov, a former Olympic champion in his own right, spoiled the party in Nur-Sultan by beating Snyder in the semifinals.

Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS) shutout fellow Olympic champion Sharif SHARIFOV (AZE), 4-0, in the 97kg finals. (Photo: Gabor Martin)

“In our weight category, there are so many wrestlers with many titles,” Sadulaev said. “Even in the final, I met with an Olympic champion. His technique is very good. I wasn’t surprised that Sharifov reached the final because all wrestlers have equal chances.”

In the final---a battle between natives of the wrestling hotbed of Dagestan, a Russian republic situated on the Caspian Sea---Sadulaev gained a point with Sharifov on the activity clock, then added a single-leg takedown just before the first period ended.

In the second period, a stepout for Sadulaev was the lone point as the powerful Russian kept his Azeri opponent at bay.

Sadulaev said he never imagined himself winning the title before stepping on the mat. 

“I never think like that,” he said. “I know situations when sportsman becomes a champion in their mind, then they don’t have good result.”

Sadulaev said this gold will be special because of the warm reception he received in the former Soviet republic from the crowd at Barys Arena.

“I will keep this championship in my memory for a long time because the organization was of the highest degree and I was surprised that I have so many fans in Kazakhstan,” he said. 

“Even when I met with the Kazakh wrestler, I saw that many Kazakh people supported me.”

Sadulaev’s victory topped off a dominant tournament by Russia, which ran away with the team title with 190 points after medaling in all but one weight class  (125kg) and coming away with five of the 10 golds. 

Host Kazakhstan had no champions, but enough wrestlers in the medal matches to finish second with 103 points, while the United States edged Iran by 1 point for third place with 94 after each added a gold and a bronze on the final day. 

Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) won his second world title after Deepak PUNIA (IND) was forced to withdraw from the gold-medal match due to injury (Photo: Gabor Martin)

Iran’s title on Sunday came without a match, although Deepak PUNIA (IND) would have been hard-pressed to prevent Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) in the 86kg final from regaining the world title he won in 2017 after finishing third last year.

Yazdani was declared the winner when Punia defaulted due to a left ankle injury suffered in his opening match. While Yazdani would have preferred having to work for the victory, it capped a dominant run through the field in which he won three matches by fall or technical fall. 

“The level of this competition is high,” Yazdani said. “But I trained very hard and I was given the opportunity and the chance to win.”Yazdani, the Rio 2016 gold medalist at 74kg, minced no words in stating his determination to earn a second Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

“After a few days rest, I will start to become more prepared and get the best medal in the Olympics,” he said. “This medal was to raise the flag of my country and I want to raise the flag at the next Olympics and make the Iranian people happy.”  

Kyle DAKE (USA) defeated Jabrayil HASANOV (AZE) for the second year in a row in the 79kg finals. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

In the non-Olympic weight of 79kg, Kyle DAKE (USA) repeated his victory from the Budapest 2018 final over Jabrayil HASANOV (AZE), this time coming away with a 4-1 victory for his second world title.

“I did a lot better job this time,” said Dake, who won 2-0 a year ago. “I moved my feet, which has been a really big focus of mine this past eight months. I’m glad to see it’s coming together.”

Dake went on the offensive from the outset and picked up a pair of stepout points in the first period. He padded the lead in the second period with a single-leg takedown before Hasanov, with his back to wall, finally began launching attacks.

“There were some positions where he got in on my leg at the end, and he would never shoot if it was 0-0,” Dake said. 

“I knew I could not leave it in the hands of the refs. I couldn’t leave it up to cautions, I needed to go out and execute. I got the first pushout, second pushout, takedown and that was the difference.”

In the final minute, Hasanov’s efforts only resulted in a pair of stepouts as Dake forced stalemates from the Azeri’s takedown attempts to come up golden. 

“I was hoping they would have let those scrambles go a little bit longer,” Dake said. “I feel I was ready to score a couple of times, but it is what it is.” 

It was the latest major accomplishment for the 28-year-old father of two, who became the first wrestler in U.S. collegiate history to win four titles in four different weight classes, when he did it while at the Ivy League’s Cornell University.

“It’s a testament to the way I live, the way my wife and family support me, my friends, coaches, teammates, sponsors---I couldn’t do it without them,” he said. “It’s been a crazy road this past year to say the least, and I’m just really excited I was able to get it done again.

Beka LOMTADZE (GEO) scored a trio of takedowns and defeated Magomedrasul IDRISOV (RUS), 6-1, in the 61kg finals. (Photo: Tony Rotundo)

In the final at 61kg, also a non-Olympic weight, European silver medalist Beka LOMTADZE (GEO) relegated 2018 world U23 champion Magomedrasul IDRISOV (RUS) to second place by scoring three takedowns in the second period for a 6-1 win.

In the bronze-medal matches, Stefan REICHMUTH (SUI) became the first-ever world freestyle medalist from Switzerland when he chalked up three stepouts to defeat Carlos IZQUIERDO (COL) 3-1 at 86kg. 

History was going to be made regardless of the outcome as Colombia also has never had a freestyle medalist. Switzerland had previously won one world bronze each in the other styles---Kurt RUSTERHOLZ (SUI) in Greco-Roman 87kg in 1953, and Inge KRASSER (SUI) at women’s 57kg in 1989. 

Artur NAIFANOV (RUS) won the other bronze at 86kg with a 6-0 victory over Myles AMINE (SMR), the U.S.-born wrestler who clinched the first-ever Olympic berth for tiny San Marino, the birthplace of his grandfather.

At 97kg, Snyder gained some consolation from his semifinal loss to Sharifov when he grinded out a 5-0 win over Elizbar ODIKADZE (GEO) at 97kg to add a world bronze to his collection of two golds and a silver. 

Magomedgadji NUROV (MKD) captured a bronze medal with an 8-5 win over Alisher YERGALI (KAZ). (Photo: Gabor Martin)

Magomedgadji NUROV (MKD) became the first wrestler to win a world medal while competing for the newly named nation of North Macedonia when he rallied to defeat Alisher YERGALI (KAZ) 8-5.

Host Kazakhstan came up short in its other shot for a medal before the home crowd when Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) edged Galymzhan USSERBAYEV (KAZ) 3-2 at 79kg.

Gadzhi NABIEV (RUS) built up an 8-point lead against Rashid KURBANOV (UZB) and held on for a 8-3 victory for the other 79kg bronze.

Asian bronze medalist Rahul AWARE (IND) became the 10th wrestler in Indian history to win a world freestyle medal when he defeated Tyler GRAFF (USA) 11-4 at 61kg.

Aware, nursing a 4-2 lead, scored a takedown with a slick duck under, then padded his lead with a pair of 2-point exposures. 

Two days earlier, Kumar RAVI (IND) became the eighth Indian medalist when he won a bronze at 57kg, and Punia become No. 9 when he was assured of at least a silver by making the 86kg final.

The other 61kg bronze went to Behnam EHSANPOOR (IRI), an 8-0 winner over Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB).

Day 9 Results


61kg (25 entries)
Gold – Beka LOMTADZE (GEO) df. Magomedrasul IDRISOV (RUS), 6-1
Bronze – Behnam EHSANPOOR (IRI) df. Abbos RAKHMONOV (UZB), 8-0 
Bronze – Rahul AWARE (IND) df. Tyler GRAFF (USA), 11-4

79kg (23 entries)
Gold – Kyle DAKE (USA) df. Jabrayil HASANOV (AZE), 4-1
Bronze – Gadzhi NABIEV (RUS) df. Rashid KURBANOV (UZB), 8-3
Bronze – Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) df. Galymzhan USSERBAYEV (KAZ), 3-2

86kg (43 entries)
Gold – Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND) by Inj. Def. 
Bronze – Stefan REICHMUTH (SUI) df. Carlos IZQUIERDO (COL), 3-0 
Bronze – Artur NAIFANOV (RUS) df. Myles AMINE (SMR), 6-0

97kg (26 entries)
Gold – Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS) df. Sharif SHARIFOV (AZE), 4-0 
Bronze – Kyle SNYDER (USA) df. Elizbar ODIKADZE (GEO), 5-0 
Bronze – Magomedgadji NUROV (MKD) df. Alisher YERGALI (KAZ), 8-5