Russia Goes 3 for 3 to Complete Olympic Lineup; Mongolian Miracle Adds Another Full Team

By Ken Marantz

SOFIA, Bulgaria (May 7) -- Veronika CHUMIKOVA (RUS) was on her way to becoming the lone Russian to fail to qualify her weight class for the upcoming Olympics. Instead, she will be on her way to Tokyo as part of a full contingent thanks to a dramatic late victory.

Chumikova dug out of a six-point hole against Grace BULLEN (NOR) with a nifty lateral drop that led to a fall in the final minute of their thrilling 57kg semifinal at the final world Olympic qualifying tournament on Friday night in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Chumikova's win, combined with one-sided victories by Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS) at 53kg and Liubov OVCHAROVA (RUS) at 62kg, means that Russia has joined Olympic host Japan, China and the United States -- and moments earlier, Mongolia -- in fielding a full team in all six women's weight classes at the Tokyo Games.

"It's one of the happiest days for the Russian team as the whole team is going to the Olympics," Ovcharova said of the feat, which came a day after the men filled their final opening in freestyle.

Mongolia joined the elite group thanks to a second miraculous victory of the tournament by Bolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL), who filled her country's lone remaining open spot at 62kg.

"I am very happy and it's a great job for my Mongolia to qualify six out of six," Khurelkhuu said. "I will train hard and win in Tokyo."

Ecuador earned its lone Olympic place in any style from Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) at 50kg, as the South American nation was among 10 different countries that grabbed the berths that went to the two semifinal winners in each weight class at the last-chance tournament.

On a night of high drama, the clash between Chumikova, the newly crowned European champion at 59kg, and 2020 European gold medalist Bullen was of Olympic quality and intensity.

After Bullen came out firing and gained a quick stepout, Chumikova used an effective fireman's carry for a pair of takedowns and a 4-1 lead going into the second period.

But Bullen, who moved to Norway as a South Sudanese refugee at age four, showed her resilience and determination by coming back with a driving takedown, a pair of two-point gut wrenches and a four-point back trip to go ahead 12-6.

With time running out, Chumikova nailed a perfectly timed lateral drop to slam Bullen onto her back. Bullen bridged desperately, but Chumikova, who still trailed 12-10, pressed down and secured the fall at 5:28.

"The last period my coach just said that to trust myself and believe it doesn't matter if I am losing 6-12," a tearful Chumikova said. "I managed to perform the technique I had never done before.

"For me this is a huge moment to qualify for the Olympics. I missed the Russian Championships but I hope all the mistakes I did here will help me. I had a lot of emotions in the semifinals and I knew this is the reward if I win. This is unbelievable and that's why I am crying."

Bolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL) World Olympic Qualifier
Bolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL) won the Olympic quota for Mongolia at 62kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

A similar scenario played out a short time later at 62kg, when Asian silver medalist Khurelkhuu fell behind 9-1 against European bronze medalist Veranika IVANOVA (BLR), who had a pair of four-point moves in the first period.

In the second period, Khurelkhuu scored a takedown and 2-point exposure to cut the gap before applying a chicken wing to turn Ivanova over and win by fall at 4:44.

"I was losing during the bout, but before it I had only promised myself to win," Khurelkhuu said. "So I was just looking for a win despite the score being 1-9. That's why I got it by pin."

It was deja vu all over again for Khurelkhuu, who used the same technique in the quarterfinals to vanquish Nathaly GRIMAN (VEN) after trailing 6-1.

"That's my favorite move," Khurelkuu said. "It's 'tur-tur' in Mongolian. If you want to pin, it's the key to it."

In the other 62kg semifinal, Russia's Ovcharova cruised to an 8-0 victory over Luisa NIEMESCH (GER). Ovcharova, a 2020 European and 2019 world bronze medalist at 59kg, opened with a four-point back suplex, to which she added a 2-point roll, then topped with a second-period takedown.

"It was not easy at all for me because at the European [qualifier] I was able to win only one bout," Ovcharova said. "But my coaches believed in me. The Olympics is the dream of every athlete and I achieved mine today.

"The life of an athlete is not too long and we have only one chance to win and we can't miss it."

Andreea ANA (ROU) added to the drama -- unfortunately in a spectator-less Arena Armeec Sport Hall -- when she pulled off a last-second 4-2 victory over Samantha STEWART (CAN) at 53kg.

After the two traded first-period takedowns, Ana, a European bronze medalist at 55kg, trailed on last-point criteria when she caught Stewart with a driving double-leg takedown with just five seconds remaining to steal the victory.

"This was my dream and I am so happy to achieve it," said Ana, a two-time world U23 bronze medalist. "I hope I will fight good at the Olympics."

Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS) World Olympic Qualifier
Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS) after winning the 50kg semifinal in Sofia. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

European champion Khoroshavteva got the Russian juggernaut going in the second semifinal at 53kg, when she overwhelmed Betzabeth ARGUELLO (VEN) by 11-0 technical fall.

Khoroshavtseva, a 2019 world bronze medalist at 55kg, scored the majority of her points on counters to Arguello's attacks, which could not pierce the Russian's defenses.

At 76kg, revenge was on the menu and it tasted sweet for 2018 world silver medalist Yasemin ADAR (TUR) when she cruised to a 10-1 victory over 2019 European silver medalist Martina KUENZ (AUT).

Last month, Kuenz knocked Adar out of the European Olympic qualifying tournament in Budapest with a late fall in the quarterfinals. This time, Adar had the upper hand, and put the match away in the second period with a takedown and three rolls off a lace lock.

Yasemin ADAR (TUR)
Yasemin ADAR (TUR) qualified for the Tokyo Olympics at 76kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

"I am very proud of myself and the whole team," Adar said. "In Budapest, we had a problem that my coach was COVID positive and could not come and I missed him in the corner. I thought there was something missing. I was not 100 percent there. In this bout he was here and I am so proud."

In the other 76kg semifinal, Alla BELINSKA (UKR) gave Ukraine its fifth Olympic women's ticket when she outclassed Maria ACOSTA (VEN) 8-0 in the final match of the session.

Belinska, this year's European champion at 72kg, scored a driving takedown and two stepouts in the first period, then added a pair of takedowns in the second to deny Venezuela its last chance for a women's Olympic berth.

India will now have four women in Tokyo thanks to a solid effort from Asian bronze medalist Seema BISLA (IND), who edged Anna LUKASIAK (POL) 2-1 at 50kg.

Bisla scored a shrug-by takedown just moments after giving up an activity point, and that accounted for all of the scoring as she held on for the victory.

Seema BISLA (IND) after winning the 50kg semifinal in Sofia, Bulgaria. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

"This bout was very tough for me because this was my last chance. My coaches and everyone back home were waiting for me to qualify and they were confident as well," said Bisla, who came up short in the Asian qualifying tournament in Almaty.

"In Almaty, I was ready but I don't know [what happened], the travel and then I had reduced my weight to 50kg after a long time. Despite that I was trying to motivate myself that I will qualify but my body did not work there. But before coming here, I was confident that I will qualify."

Her coach, Kuldeep MALIK, said he was impressed with her performance.

"She had one of her best days, I have seen this type of defense from Seema after a long time and to counter and win two points was good," Malik said. "Her attack was good but defense was better."

Ecuador can certainly be proud of the effort turned in by Yepez, who held on for a nail-biting 6-6 win on big-point criteria over Patricia BERMUDEZ (ARG) in an all-South American clash in the other 50kg semifinal.

Yepez went ahead in the first period with a single-leg takedown and nifty 4-point reverse spin throw. Bermudez, a two-time Olympian, used an effective arm throw to tie the score with three 2-point moves, but it wasn't enough to trump the 4-pointer.

The other Olympic spot at 57kg was earned by Mathilde RIVIERE (FRA), who gave France just its second ticket to Tokyo by scoring a takedown in each period and handily defeating Giullia OLIVEIRA (BRA) 5-1.

Earning the berths at 68kg were 2020 European champion Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL) and Elis MANOLOVA (AZE), the 2020 European silver medalist at 65kg.

Hristova started off with four points off a cradle in a manhandling of Adela HANZLICKOVA (CZE), finishing off a 12-2 technical fall with :04 left in the match, while Manolova scored a takedown and roll early on before defeating Zhamila BAKBERGENOVA (KAZ) 5-3.

The tournament continues Saturday with the Greco-Roman competition.

Day 2 results

Women's Wrestling

SEMIFINAL - Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) df. Patricia BERMUDEZ (ARG), 6-6

SEMIFINAL - Andreea ANA (ROU) df. Samantha STEWART (CAN), 4-2
SEMIFINAL - Olga KHOROSHAVTSEVA (RUS) df. Betzabeth ARGUELLO (VEN) by TF, 11-0, 3:39

SEMIFINAL - Mathilde RIVIERE (FRA) df. Giullia OLIVEIRA (BRA), 5-1
SEMIFINAL - Veronika CHUMIKOVA (RUS) df. Grace BULLEN (NOR) by Fall, 5:28 (10-12)

SEMIFINAL - Bolortuya KHURELKHUU (MGL) df. Veranika IVANOVA (BLR) by Fall, 4:44 (5-9)

SEMIFINAL - Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL) df. Adela HANZLICKOVA (CZE) by TF, 12-2, 5:56

SEMIFINAL - Yasemin ADAR (TUR) df. Martina KUENZ (AUT), 10-1


#WrestleSofia: 22 continental champs headed to U20 Worlds

By Eric Olanowski

SOFIA, Bulgaria (August 11) -- Future stars of freestyle wrestling will head to Bulgaria’s capital in troves, as 22 reigning continental champions will be in action next week at the U20 World Championships.

That means there will be at least two continental champions vying for world supremacy in nine of the ten weight classes.

At 57kg, continental gold medalists Simone PIRODDU (ITA) and Merey BAZARBAYEV (KAZ) are the favorites to reach the finals of the 22-man bracket that features a total of four continental medalists.

Simone PIRODDU (ITA)Simone PIRODDU (ITA) won the U20 European Championships with a 26-5 scoring run. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Italy’s Piroddu won five matches at the U20 European Championships earlier this year and dominated in all matches but one -- his opening round bout -- where he eked out a 4-4 win over Seyfulla ITAEV (FRA). Outside of that match, the 2018 U17 world bronze medalist outscored his four remaining opponents 26-5 to win his second career age group European title. He also won the 2019 U17 European title.

His biggest test will likely be Kazakhstan’s 19-year-old Bazarbayev.

Bazarbayev has an impressive 6-2 record during his 2022 campaign, highlighted by his U20 Asian gold medal and bronze-medal finished at the senior-level Bolat Turlykhanov Cup Ranking Series event.

Other wrestlers to pay attention to are Harutyun HOVHANNISYAN (ARM) and Luka GVINJILIA (GEO) who won European silver and bronze medals respectively.

Nicholas BOUZAKIS (USA)Nicholas BOUZAKIS (USA) is the 61kg Pan-Am champion. (Photo: UWW / Osvaldo Aguilar)

Reigning continental champs Daviti ABDALADZE (GEO), Armin HABIBZADEH (IRI) and Nicholas BOUZAKIS (USA) are all looking to navigate the loaded 61kg bracket and win their first world titles.

There will be six U20 continental medalists wrestling on the 21-man 61kg chart.

Georgia’s U20 European gold medalist Abdaladze will be wrestling in his third age-group World Championships. He fell one match short of medaling at the ’18 and ’19 U17 World Championships, finishing in fifth place in both Championships.

Habibzadeh will be competing on the international scene for the second time in his career. The first came in Manama, Bahrain, where he won three matches and claimed the U20 Asian title.

Bouzakis, this year’s U20 Pan-American champion, will be looking to improve his 8th-place finish from last year’s U20 World Championships. But in Ufa, the 19-year-old American competed in Greco-Roman but will switch styles and try his hand at freestyle.

Outside of the trio of champs, other 2022 continental medalists to be on the lookout for are Khamzat ARSAMERZOUEV (FRA), Maiis ALIYEV (KAZ), Mohit KUMAR (IND) and Hayk ABRAHAMYAN (ARM).

Arsamerzouev and Aliyev were continental silver medalists while Abrahamyan was a European bronze medalist.

SUJEET (IND)SUJEET (IND) is unbeaten in three international tournaments. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

At 65kg, Mykyta ZUBAL (UKR) and SUJEET (IND) are the favorites to tussle for gold.

Zubal is one of the most offensive guys entered in the competition. The 19-year-old Ukrainian scored 42 points in his four matches en route to winning the U20 European title earlier this year.

His biggest test will likely be India’s Sujeet who dominated his way to the U20 Asian title last month. He picked up four wins – including three shutout wins totaling 28-0. He also won the senior-level Ranking Series event in Tunis and claimed the gold medal at the U23 Asian Championships.

Other guys looking to disrupt the party will be continental silver medalists Ayub MUSAEV (BEL) and former U17 world champion Umidjon JALOLOV (UZB) and bronze medalist Olzhas OLZHAKANOV (KAZ).

Hayk PAPIKYAN (ARM)Hayk PAPIKYAN (ARM) is the 70kg U20 European Championships. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Another weight class that’ll house a trio of continental champs will be 70kg. Hayk PAPIKYAN (ARM), Hossein MOHAMMAD (IRI) and Mitchell MESENBRINK (USA) are champions in Europe, Asia and the Americas respectively. Each guy will be competing on the world stage for the first time in their career.

Other guys who have set the bar high for themselves are Asian silver medalist Mulaym YADAV (IND) and European bronze medalists Muhammad ABDURACHMANOV (BEL) and Pavel ANDRUSCA (MDA).

The most intriguing weight in Sofia will undoubtedly be 74kg as it has three top contenders, with the front runners being returning world champion Erfan ELAHI (IRI), Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE) and Alexander FACUNDO (USA).

Depending on how the bracket plays out, there’s the potential to see a rematch from last year’s U20 world finals at 70kg between Elahi and Gadzhiev, where the Iranian snuck out the 6-5 victory over the four-time age-group European champion to win his first world title.

But Facundo will look to stop either guy if they step in his path of winning a third age-group world medal. He won U17 world bronze medals in 2018 and 2019 but has his sights set on reaching the world finals and claiming gold for the first time in his career.

Sagar JAGLAN (IND), the U17 world champion from 2021, will also look to finish among the medalists.

Mushegh MKRTCHYAN (ARM) and Sobhan YARI (IRI), the pair of 2022 continental champs, are the betting favorites to vie for the 79kg gold medal.

Mkrtchyan will be making his first appearance on the world stage, while Yari is undoubtedly heading to Bulgaria with a chip on his shoulder. He lost his only match to Stambul ZHANYBEK UULU (KGZ) and finished in a disappointing 11th place at last year’s U20 World Championships.

Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA)Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) is a returning silver medalist. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 86kg, Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) will look to become the second-ever French freestyle wrestler to win a U20 world title. The defending U20 European champion fell one match short at last year’s U20 World Championships after dropping his finals bout to Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI).

His biggest test will be reigning Asian champion Aref RANJBARI (IRI). This will be the Iranian’s first-ever trip to the World Championships.

A few guys who could disrupt the bracket are continental runner-ups Daviti KOGUASHVILI (GEO) and Batbilguun NAADAMBAT (MGL), and continental bronze medalists Nazar DOD (UKR), Jointy KUMAR (IND) and Cesar ESTRADA (GUA).

At 92kg, outside of betting-odds favorite and reigning U23 world champion Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI), there are six guys with continental podium finishes in 2022, with the biggest star being European champion Ion DEMIAN (MDA). There are nine weights with at least a pair of continental winners, with Demian having the luxury of being the lone ranger in the weight.

His biggest competition will likely come from Europe, as the other three guys who shared the U20 European podium -- Andro MARGISHVILI (GEO), Adlan VISKHANOV (FRA) and Denys SAHALIUK (UKR) – are all looking to put an end to Demian’s hot-streak.

Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI)Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI) is the U20 Asian champion. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

The favorites to clash for world supremacy at 97kg are Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI) and Benjamin KUETER (USA).

Azarpira heads into Bulgaria with an unblemished 8-0 international record and is looking to add a second world title to his resume. Last year, he claimed gold in Belgrade at the U23 World Championships.

This will be Pan-American champion Kueter's first showing at the World Championships.

Other hammers with a shot at winning a world medal are continental bronze medalists
Georgian TRIPON (ROU) and Zelimkhan MUSSIKHANOV (KAZ).

Nicholas FELDMAN (USA)Nicholas FELDMAN (USA) is the U20 Pan-Am champions. (Photo: UWW / Osvaldo Aguilar)

In addition to reigning U17 world champion Amirreza MASOUMI (IRI), Lyova GEVORGYAN (ARM) and Nicholas FELDMAN (USA) are the pair of guys with the most significant upside at 125kg.

Gevorgyan, the reigning three-time age-group European champion, is looking for his third world medal. He finished with a bronze and silver, respectively, at the 2019 and 2021 age-group world championships.

This will be Feldman, the reigning Pan-Am heavyweight champion’s first appearance at the World Championships.

Other continental medalists to keep an eye on are: Merab SULEIMANASHVILI (GEO), Adil MISIRCI (TUR), Georgi IVANOV (BUL), Mahendra GAIKWAD (IND), Bekzat TAZHI (KAZ) and Roger LI (CAN).

Freestyle action gets underway in Bulgaria on Monday (August 15). You can watch all the action live on uww.org.