Lopez Joins Icho as 4-time Olympic Gold Medalist; Fumita, Gray Fall

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 2) --- Mijain LOPEZ (CUB) joined the most elite club in world wrestling when the Cuban giant became just the second wrestler in history to win a fourth Olympic gold medal.

Lopez had little trouble forging a 5-0 victory over Iakobi KAJAIA (GEO) in the Greco-Roman 130kg final Monday night to join Kaori ICHO (JPN) as the only wrestlers with a quartet of Olympic gold medals.

Such legends as Alexander KARELIN (RUS) and Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) both came close, but both fell at the final hurdle, ending their careers with three Olympic golds and a silver. But the 38-year-old Lopez wasn't to be denied on the first night of finals at the Tokyo Olympics.


It was a good night all around for Cuba at Makuhari Messe Hall A, as Luis ORTA SANCHEZ (CUB) won the first gold on offer when he stunned world champion and local favorite Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) 5-1 in the Greco 60kg final.

The final match of the night provided another surprise courtesy of Aline ROTTER-FOCKEN (GER), who will exit the sport as Olympic champion with a well-earned 7-3 victory in the women's 76kg final that denied five-time world champion Adeline GRAY (USA) an elusive Olympic gold.

But the night belonged to Lopez, who had wrestled sparingly after his triumph five years at Rio 2016 before deciding to try for an historic fourth gold in five Olympic appearances.

He all but put the matter out of doubt in the first period, when in his first chance in the par terre position, he rolled Kajaia for a 3-0 lead. In the second period, he sandwiched a pair of stepouts around a passivity point, for which he opted to stay standing instead of going to par terre.

Lopez started his celebrations with 10 seconds to go, waving his fingers in the air and swaying his arms as Kajaia, a 2019 world bronze medalist, just looked on, knowing the battle was over.

Mijain LOPEZ GR 130kgMijain LOPEZ (CUB) with his gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Lopez and Icho are among just six athletes who have won four gold medals in the same event in Olympic history, joining athletics stars Al OERTER (USA) and Carl LEWIS (USA), swimmer Michael PHELPS (USA) and sailing's Paul ELVSTROM (DEN).

"It's incredible. I have sacrificed 20 years and I deserve the gold medals and I have achieved that with the help of my coaches," said Lopez, whose medal collection includes five world golds, the last of which came in 2014, and three silvers.

"I will enjoy the gold but any athlete in the world would enjoy it like me. I would like to tell wrestlers that they can reach their goals if they can work hard for it."

Lopez's last loss came at the 2015 World Championships to Riza KAYAALP (TUR), the reigning world champion whom he defeated in the semifinals on Sunday.

The question now is, will there be a try for a fifth?

"All of the wrestlers have asked me to stay and of course I am thinking about it," said Lopez, who will turn 39 on August 20. "I want to enjoy this and I will tell at the end of this year whether I will wrestle or not. It's obvious that it's incredible to win four medals. I am going to enjoy it."

Luis ORTA SANCHEZ (CUB)Luis ORTA SANCHEZ (CUB) won the 60kg gold medal in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In the 60kg final, Orta Sanchez effectively neutralized Fumita's attack, while getting the points from par terre that often make the difference in Greco to win his first major title.

It marks the second straight Olympics that a Cuban defeated a Japanese in the Olympic final of the lightest Greco weight class. At Rio 2016, Ismael BORRERO MOLINA (CUB) defeated Shinobu OTA (JPN) for the 59kg gold. Borrero Molina will be going for a second straight gold at 67kg.

"There was pressure on me to defend the gold of Borrero," Orta Sanchez said. "All I thought after winning the gold was about my new-born daughter. Participating in the Olympics was my dream. I wanted to do this for my wife and daughter."

For Fumita, the loss was devastating. Ever since Tokyo was awarded the Olympics, his dream was to win a gold there. Through all the uncertainty and one-year postponement, he was grateful that the Games ended up being held after all.

"All the people who helped in the organization in getting these Games to go on, and the people who supported me watching on TV, I am so grateful," Fumita said in tears in an interview with Japanese TV.

"My goal was always to get onto this stage. People will have their opinion on having it under these conditions, and I wanted to repay the organizers and volunteers who believed more than the athletes with a victory. But it ended with this shameful result, and I apologize."

Fumita has had a target on his back since winning his first world title in 2017 and repeating as world champion in 2019, and Otra Sanchez obviously did his homework, never giving the Japanese a chance to set up his trademark throws.

"I knew that they had studied my wrestling, that I still couldn't overcome that was due to my lack of ability," Fumita said.

Aline ROTTER FOCKEN (GER) Aline ROTTER-FOCKEN (GER) won the gold at 76kg. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

The 30-year-old Rotter Focken, a four-time world medalist who won her lone world title in 2014, had said before the final that this, her second Olympics, would be the final tournament of her career. What a way to go out.

Rotter Focken scored the bulk of her points with counters against Gray, who was looking for redemption after leaving Rio 2016 without a medal, although she was suffering from a shoulder injury at the time.

After gaining an activity clock point, Rotter Focken stopped a Gray single-leg attempt in which the American seemed to lose her balance, pushing her onto her back for a 3-0 lead.

In the second period, Gray came in high on a double-leg tackle and Rotter Focken unleashed a wicked whizzer that sent Gray flipping onto her back for a 4-point move. Gray fought desperately at the end, gaining a stepout and takedown, but time ran out on her Olympic dream.

"I will retire," Rotter Focken said. "I had always thought that if I become Olympic champion, I want to retire because I don't want to lose anymore."

The German said that winning the gold in Tokyo made it special, even though there were no spectators in the stands due to a recent surge in infections in Japan.

"Japan is not only the country where women's wrestling is popular, but sports is popular," Rotter Focken said. "I was looking for a full stadium but everything changed because of the pandemic, but the Olympic spirit is still there. People in Japan are enthusiastic about sports. It was incredible event even without the spectators."

130kg podiumThe four medalists at 130kg GR weight class. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Meanwhile, the the Russian Olympic Committee, China and Turkey split up the bronze medals on offer by winning two each.

Former world champion Yasemin ADAR (TUR) gave Turkey its first-ever women's Olympic medal while denying Kyrgyzstan its first by locking up Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) for a fall in 1:24 at 76kg.

"I am thrilled that I won the first medal for women’s wrestling for Turkey," Adar said. "I am very excited to be achieving a first, very honored to be representing my country and it just means so much more nowadays because my country is having a very difficult time with wildfires. The pain is burning inside me.

"I am not able to describe my emotions, but I hope from the bottom of my heart that my medal gives my people a glimpse of hope and joy in these difficult times."

The other bronze-medal match at 76kg also ended in a fall, with 2018 Asian champion Qian ZHOU (CHN) decking rival Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) in 2:30, avenging a loss to the Japanese in the 2019 world quarterfinals.

At Greco 60kg, 2019 world silver medalist Sergey EMELIN (ROC) started his bronze-medal playoff against Victor CIOBANU (MDA) with a 4-point throw, then ended it with another to cap a 12-1 technical fall in 3:53.

Sailike WALIHAN (CHN) added the Olympic bronze to his one from the 2018 worlds when he chalked up a 1-1 victory over Lenur TEMIROV (UKR) in which both points were awarded for passivity.

At 130kg, Riza KAYAALP (TUR) bounced back from his disappointing loss to Lopez by scoring six points off gut wrenches en route to a 7-2 victory over Amin MIRZAZADEH (IRI).

Yasmani ACOSTA (CHI), just the second Chilean wrestler to ever appear in the Olympics, came up just short of taking home a medal when he lost to Sergei SEMENOV (ROC) 1-1 after a trade of passivity points.

Nigeria assured of 1st-ever Olympic wrestling medal

Blessing OBORUDUDUBlessing OBORUDUDU (NGR) reached the 68kg finals Monday. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Four years ago, Blessing OBORUDUDU (NGR) was thrilled to see her "little sister" Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) become Nigeria's first-ever finalist at a World Championships.

On Monday, she secured her own place in the nation's history by being the first to make an Olympic final -- which also makes her the African country's first Olympic wrestling medalist.

Oborududu defeated Battsetseg SORONZONBOLD (MGL) 7-2 in the semifinals of the women's 68kg class, earning a place in Tuesday's final against world champion Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA).

"I feel so excited to get into the final of the Olympics," said Oborududu, who is competing at her third Olympics and has never placed higher than fifth in six trips to the World Championships. "It's not easy."

Oborududu scored all of her points in a whirlwind first period against the veteran Soronzonbold, a 2019 world bronze medalist who won a bronze at the 2012 London Olympics and was a world champion in 2010.

"I know she has been a world champion," Oborodudu said. "I lost to her in 2016, in the first round of the Olympics. When I knew I would meet her in the semifinal, I said to myself, 'This is your time. Go all out and wrestle. So that is what I did."

Asked about her historic clinching of a medal, she replied, "We have been working for the past two Olympics. We were not able to get any medal, but we keep working. We knew that one day we will get it."

Oborodudu said that Adekuoroye's success laid the foundation for Nigeria to further strengthen its program.

"We are like sisters on the team," she said. "She is like a younger sister to me. Seeing her do well at the World Championships inspired us to push harder."

Tamyra Mensah StockTamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) reached her first Olympic final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Mensah Stock, who had been a one-woman wrecking crew leading up to the semifinals, was pushed hard in her final-four clash with 2018 world champion Alla CHERKASOVA (UKR).

Stock Mensah fell behind 2-4 in the second period, but bounced back to post a a 10-4 win and advance to the final.

"I'm so excited that I'm getting better, that I'm able to inflict my will," Stock Mensah said. "It's a dream come true."

Musa EVLOEVMusa EVLOEV (ROC) made it to the final at 97kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At Greco 97kg, world champion Musa EVLOEV (ROC) and Rio 2016 gold medalist Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) set up the latest clash between the two in a global final, but how ready the latter will be for battle remains to be seen.

Aleksanyan appeared to strain his left hamstring trying to lift Mohammadhadi SARAVI (IRI) from the par terre as he trailed 1-1 on criteria. At the same time, the Iranian was assessed a two-point penalty for grabbing a leg, then lost a challenge of the call to give the Armenian a 4-1 victory.

Aleksanyan left the arena without commenting on his condition nor the impending rematch of his loss to Evloev in the final at the 2019 World Championships.

Evloev was rock solid in posting a 7-1 victory in the other semifinal over Tadeusz MICHALIK (POL), scoring with two rolls from par terre in the first period.

Artur ALEKSANYANArtur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) reached his second straight Olympic final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

ROC coach Gogi KOGUASHVILI said that only the result of the match mattered, not the content.

"Our tactics for the semifinals was to win whatever it takes," he said. "We weren't trying to make it look spectacular or something like that, the goal was to just win and qualify for the final."

The other world champion in action, Tamas LORINCZ (HUN), had his hands full in holding off two-time world bronze medalist Mohammadali GERAEI (IRI) for a 6-5 win in a 77kg semifinal clash between wrestlers who both have brothers in the Olympics.

Lorincz, looking to add to the silver medal he won at London 2012 in his fourth Olympic appearance, became the latest recipient of what would prove to be the winning point by an unsuccessful challenge.

Tamas LORINCZ (HUN)Tamas LORINCZ (HUN) will wrestle for gold at 77kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Lorincz went ahead 3-1 in the second period with a front lift, then was awarded two points for a leg penalty. The Iranians challenged the call, but it was rejected to give the Hungarian a five-point lead.

That was exactly what he needed when Geraei executed a pair of acrobatic lifts for two points each. But it was too little, too late.

In the final, Lorincz will face Akzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ), who put himself into position to become his country's first-ever Olympic gold medalist in any sport when he defeated Karapet CHALYAN (ARM) 6-2.

The big move for 2018 Asian champion Makhmudov, who missed all of 2019 after undergoing knee surgery following an injury suffered while playing football, came in the first period, when Chalyan had him in the air, cocked and ready to throw. But Makhmudov resisted and it was the Armenian who landed on his back, a 4-point move for Makhmudov.

Akzhol MAKHMUDOVAkzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) stormed into the 77kg final in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)



GOLD - Luis ORTA SANCHEZ (CUB) df. Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN), 5-1

BRONZE - Sailike WALIHAN (CHN) df. Lenur TEMIROV (UKR), 1-1
BRONZE - Sergey EMELIN (ROC) df. Victor CIOBANU (MDA) by TF, 12-1, 3:53

SF1 - Tamas LORINCZ (HUN) df. Mohammadali GERAEI (IRI), 6-5
SF2 - Akzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) df. Karapet CHALYAN (ARM), 6-2

SF1 - Musa EVLOEV (ROC) df. Tadeusz MICHALIK (POL), 7-1
SF2 - Artur ALEKSANYAN (ARM) df. Mohammadhadi SARAVI (IRI), 4-1

GOLD: Mijain LOPEZ (CUB) df. Iakobi KAJAIA (GEO), 5-0

BRONZE - Sergei SEMENOV (ROC) df. Yasmani ACOSTA (CHI), 1-1

Women's Wrestling

SF1 - Tamyra STOCK MENSAH (USA) df. Alla CHERKASOVA (UKR), 10-4
SF2 - Blessing OBORUDUDU (NGR) df. Battsetseg SORONZONBOLD (MGL), 7-2

GOLD - Aline ROTTER-FOCKEN (GER) df. Adeline GRAY (USA), 7-3

BRONZE - Yasemin ADAR (TUR) df. Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) by Fall, 1:24 (4-0)
BRONZE - Qian ZHOU (CHN) df. Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) by Fall, 2:30 (2-0)


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.