Lopez-Kayaalp Setup Semifinal Showdown at #WrestleTokyo

By Vinay Siwach

In what will be their third meeting at the Olympics, Mijain LOPEZ (CUB) and Riza KAYAALP (TUR) set up a semifinal clash on the first day of wrestling at the Tokyo Olympics Sunday.

Three-time Olympic champion Lopez is in a quest to become the first male wrestler to win four gold medals at the Olympics but he has to beat three-time world champion Kayaalp in the semifinal at 130kg in the evening session at the Makuhari Messe Hall A, Chiba.

Sunday, the first day of wrestling at this Olympics, saw Greco-Roman wrestling at 60kg and 130kg while women's wrestling began with 76kg.

Lopez marked a return to international wrestling after a gap of two years with a stunning 9-0 win over Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU) and followed that with another technical superiority win over Amin MIRZAZADEH (IRI). Both his bouts ended before the allotted six minutes.

Kayaalp was little slower to begin with. He took his time in the first bout against Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU), winning 5-1 after six minutes. Eduard POPP (GER) scored two points against Kayaalp but that was not enough as the Turkey wrestler won 6-2.

In the other semifinal, Yasmani ACOSTA FERNANDEZ (CHI) booked up a bout against Iakobi KAJAIA (GEO), who stunned Sergei SEMENOV (ROC) 3-1 in the quarterfinals.

Both wrestler got one point each for passivity but Kajaia managed to score two points from the par terre position while Semenov did not.

Acosta handed a 2-0 defeat to Muminjon ABDULLAEV (UZB) in the quarterfinal and will now look to book his first-ever Olympic final spot later in the evening.

More upsets followed at the 60kg weight class as former world champion Sergey EMELIN (ROC) suffered a tight 4-3 loss to Luis ORTA SANCHEZ (CUB) in the quarterfinals.

He will face Victor CIOBANU (MDA) in the semifinal. Ciobanu was in some serious form Sunday as he took out U23 world champion Kerem KAMAL (TUR) 8-0 in the first bout. He followed that up with a 9-0 thrashing of another U23 world champion Zholaman SHARSHENBEKOV (KGZ) in the quarterfinal.

Home favorite Kenchiro FUMITA (JPN) made it to the semifinal as well and will face Lenur TEMIROV (UKR). Fumita had a close 1-1 win over Sailike WALIHAN (CHN) in the quarterfinal, winning on criteria as he had the last point.

Temirov defeated Armen MELIKYAN (ARM) 8-4 in the quarters after a powerful back-arch throw which gave him four points. Melikyan's loss ended the Olympics for second seed Ali Reza NEJATI (IRI).

In the women's matchups, five-time world champion Adeline GRAY (USA) is on her path for her first Olympic gold medal as she overcame Zaineb SGHAIER (TUN) with a first-period fall and survived a scare against Yasemin ADAR (TUR) in the quarters. Gray had three takedowns to lead 6-0 but gave up a takedown and leg lace which made it 6-4. Adar went for another lace but the referee called it out of bouds. Gray will face Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) in the semifinal.

Medet Kyzy had a dominant first session as he beat Rio Olympic medalist Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) 8-1 and then humbled Rio silver medalist Natalia VOROBIEVA (ROC) 12-0 in the quarterfinal with three four-point throws.

Vorobieva began her day with 16-12 win over Samar HAMZA (EGY) which left bout wrestlers out of breath. It need the ROC athlete a big four with less than 30 seconds left to win the bout.

On the other side of the bracket, defending Olympic champion Erica WIEBE (CAN) will go home withouta medal from Tokyo as Epp MAEE (EST) defeated her in the opening round before losing to world silver medalist and local wrestler Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN) 0-3 in the quarterfinal.

Minagawa will face Aline ROTTER FOCKEN (GER) in the semifinal as she put on a clinical performance to reach the last four. Focken used a takedown to win 2-1 against Vasilisa MARZALIUK (BLR) in the first round before handing an 8-3 defeat to Qian ZHOU (CHN).


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.