Stadnik, 34, remains unbeaten in Europe

By Vinay Siwach

ZAGREB, Croatia (April 20) --  The cornrow braids and the focused scowl on her face may be absent on Thursday but the 'endless will' to win is still present in Mariya STADNIK (AZE).

As the four-time Olympic medalist stepped on the mat in the Zagreb Arena for her European Championships gold medal bout against Oksana LIVACH (UKR), there was only one way the final could have ended. The 34-year-old wrestler posted a controlled win over Livach for her ninth European title, 14 years after she won her first title in Vilnius, Lithuania.

"I always have the motivation and will to win," Stadnik said. "I have had this will since early childhood, and this is endless."

The result was hardly a surprise given Stadnik came into the final on a 33-bout winning streak at the European Championships dating back to 2009. She extended that streak to 34 after winning the final 9-4.

Returning to the tournament after skipping the last edition, she won the title in 2008, '09, '11, '14 to '18, '21 and '23. In 2015, the European Championships were replaced by the European Games. However, that was not the case in 2019 when both tournaments were held.

With her career stretching over two decades, Stadnik has faced a wrestler from almost every European country. Livach was just one of them and like all others before her, she too fell to Stadnik's highly technical and counter-attacking wrestling.


Stadnik, who was born in Ukraine and has trained with Livach, opened the scoring with a counter on Livach's double-leg attack. She used her high gut wrench to score two more points and make it 4-0. The second time Livach tried a double-leg attack, Stadnik ducked and picked Livach's left leg for a takedown. She once again used the high gut wrench to score two more points and led 8-0 within two minutes of the bout. Livach cut the lead to 8-2 at the break when Stadnik was trying to reach her legs but Livach moved back and came behind to score a takedown.

The second period also witnessed Livach trying to attack but either her throws were slips or Stadnik would defend them with ease and happily engage in standing. Stadnik scored a pushout to make it 9-4 but she was clearly tired after five minutes of pacey wrestling. She tried to counter Livach's double-leg attempt like she did in the first period but had no energy to grab it with force. Livach scored a takedown but Stadnik was happy to be on the mat for the final 20 seconds even as Livach tried to get a lace going.

"We were training with Oksana back in Ukraine," she said. "She is like my little sister. Every year she gets stronger. We don’t train together anymore, but she has a very good perspective. Hopefully, she will make it to Paris [Olympics]."

A visibly relieved Stadnik did not celebrate like she did after winning the first European title but put a smile on her face as she walked back. It was a flashback to 2009 when she won her first title. Those days the flag celebration was not customary and Stadnik just walked off the mat with a smile on her face. However, she says that wrestling now is a habit.

"Honestly speaking, this tournament wasn’t much fun for me," she said after her final. "But the most important is the result. After the [Tokyo] Olympics, I had a little break. I was thinking if I should keep wrestling or retire because of age. I didn’t know if my physical shape would be okay or not. But as you can see I am still wrestling. I started  training in January, so I am not in my best shape."

With the exception of a short appearance at the Islamic Solidarity Games in Turkey last year, Stadnik did not compete after the Tokyo Games. However, she made a comeback in February of this year at the Zagreb Open Ranking Series, where she won two matches before withdrawing.

The European Championships was her first top-level competition in a while and there is no denying that age has caught up. Even she agrees with the fact.

"When I was 18 years old, I had more excitement and motivation," she said. "Now it’s all kind of habitual to me, but I still don’t wanna lose."

Stadnik has had her share of heartbreaks as well. She lost two Olympics finals and is still trying to find a way to beat the world and Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN) who has a 4-0 record against her.

"I still have one year to think how to wrestle her. I’ll make it up," she said.

While she would previously stress about winning the Olympic gold, Stadnik's obsession with the top medal has toned down, especially after finishing with a silver medal in the 2016 Rio Games.

Five years later in Tokyo, a beaming Stadnik, with the bronze medal around her neck, looked at the medal and a photo of her family on her phone and said, "these are my medals."

StadnikMariya STADNIK (AZE) with her two kids -- Igor and Mia. (Photo: Mariya Stadnik)

Her two children, Igor and Mia, have been staying with Stadnik in Baku, Azerbaijan after they were forced to move out of their home in Ukraine due to the current situation. She, along with the kids, shifted to her father's house, 60 kilometers from Lviv before traveling to Baku.

Igor, 13, has been one of Stadnik's biggest supporters in recent times. A keen footballer, he tries his hand at wrestling. Mia, on the other hand, is a prolific gymnast and is actively practicing wrestling. The two even had the 'retirement talk' with their mother after the Tokyo Games.

"I remember I told them I would like to retire," she recalled. "When my son was little he kept telling me, 'Mom, please, don’t go away to the tournaments'. Now he says, 'Mum, you are so strong, don’t stop.' They are my biggest fans now. When they were little, they didn’t realize where I was always going away. But now they are my biggest fans."

Fuelled by the happiness of her children and the will to win again, Stadnik will aim to become the first wrestler to win five Olympic medals in Paris next year. She also wants to win another European title.

"I would love the national anthem to be played for the 10th time. Ten is a nice number," she said. "I would also like to say that I dedicate this win to my motherland - Ukraine."

At the medal ceremony in Zagreb, Stadnik clicked a selfie with other medal winners. She did not care if she had a bruised eye, a patent for Stadnik. Even her 10-year-old daughter knows it

"My daughter told me today, 'It wouldn’t have been you if you hadn’t got this makeup [the bruise].' They are happy."

Yasemin ADAR (TUR)Yasemin ADAR (TUR) won the European gold for the sixth time after beating Martina KUENZ (AUT) in Zagreb. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

While Stadnik added to her record number, Yasemin ADAR (TUR) managed to equal the second-best record of six. Two-time Olympic silver medalist and five-time world champion Stanka ZLATEVA (BUL) also has six titles.

Adar defended her European title from Budapest with a tight, hard-fought 2-2 win over Martina KUENZ (AUT).

In what was the fifth meeting between the two, Adar scored a takedown in the first period and waited on that lead in the second. She was put on the activity clock and Kuenz scored a stepout during that time. With the score tied 2-2, Adar led on criteria owing to her takedown against Kuenz's one-point moves. Kuenz tried hard to break the criteria with 34 seconds left but Adar stood firm, winning her sixth European title.

This was the second time the two wrestlers met in the final of a European Championships as Adar had beaten Kuenz 6-1 in the 76kg final at the 2019 edition in Bucharest, Romania. Overall, Adar leads the head-to-head record 4-1.

After that final in Bucharest, Kuenz and Adar met at the 2019 Yasar Dogu. Kuenz led 5-0 when Adar threw her for a four and got the fall in that match. The two then met in the European Olympic Qualifiers in Budapest in 2021. Kuenz pinned Adar in the quarterfinals. The fourth meeting was at the World Olympic Qualifiers. In an all-important semifinal, Adar defeated Kuenz 10-1 to qualify for the Tokyo Games where she became Turkiye's first-ever female wrestler to win a medal.

Kuenz reflected on her performance in the final and said that her attacks in the first period were not confident.

"In the second period, I was more concentrated," Kuenz said. "In the first period, my attacks were confident. There are many situations, tactical, in which you think to attack or defend."

A new star rose to prominence a year before the Paris Olympics as Yuliana YANEVA (BUL) won her maiden European title after beating former European champion Alla BELINSKA (UKR), 10-3, in the 68kg final.

Yaneva began with a takedown using a single-leg attack. Belinska answered with exposure by holding on to Yaneva's arm and one leg to put her back on the mat. But the judges scored it two each for both wrestlers and a reversal for Belinska. That meant that Yaneva still had a 4-3 lead.

In the second period, both wrestlers were at it, going for leg attacks but no one was able to breach the defenses of the other. Halfway through the period, the referee called for neutral and that is when Belinska took a few extra seconds than Yaneva to return to the center, giving an impression that she was feeling the heat of the bout.

Yaneva sensed that and immediately scored a takedown to extend her lead to 6-3. Belinska tried her trademark whizzer twice but failed and Yaneva countered with a takedown. The final takedown came with 20 seconds left on the clock after which the former U20 world silver medalist celebrated her first European title.

The Bulgarian fell short of the gold in 2021 as she finished second at 72kg and won a bronze medal at the same weight last year.

Andreea ANA (ROU)Andreea ANA (ROU) won her second straight European title. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

At 55kg, Andreea Ana (ROU) asserted her dominance in the weight class by winning her second straight European title. In the final, she blanked Erika Bognar (HUN) 8-0.

Ana secured the first takedown for two points using a trip, while Bognar was on an activity clock, making it 3-0 for Ana as Bognar failed to score within the stipulated 30 seconds. She continued her aggressive wrestling in the second period, scoring a stepout in just over a minute to lead 4-0.

Bognar attempted a tame shot at Ana's legs, but the Romanian countered with a big double-leg for two points. Ana also got the turn using a locked leg to make it 8-0, leaving Bognar with no comebacks.

"I was in good shape and I win the competition. That's it," Ana said. "I am very happy."

Last year, the 23-year-old became Romania's first senior European champion in women's wrestling and managed to defend her title Thursday. Ana remains the only Romanian wrestler to win a world title in women's wrestling across all age groups. She won the U23 world gold in Belgrade in 2021.

Next year, she will attempt to become the first Olympic medalist in women's wrestling from Romania, if she manages to qualify for the Paris Games.

"For the World Championships, I will move down to 53kg," she said. "The competition is tough at 53kg but we will see."

Anastasia NICHITA (MDA)Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) gets a walkover in the 59kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Anastasia Nichita (MDA), the reigning world champion, secured the final gold medal of the night and claimed her third European championship title at 59kg. Her opponent, Yuliia Tkach (UKR), who had defeated Nichita in the Ibrahim Moustafa Ranking Series in February, withdrew from the final, giving Nichita a walkover.

It is yet to be seen whether Nichita will move to 57kg or 62kg in a bid to qualify for her second Olympics. She participated in the Tokyo Games at 57kg.

Jonna MALMGREN (SWE)Defending champion Jonna MALMGREN (SWE) reached the 53kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

4 return to finals

In the women's wrestling semifinals on day four, last year's finalists dominated as four of them advanced to the finals in Zagreb on Friday.

At 53kg, Jonna MALMGREN (SWE) secured her spot in the final with a decisive victory via fall over Turkan NASIROVA (AZE). She will face off against Stalvira ORSHUSH (HUN), who defeated the silver medalist from 2022, Maria PREVOLARKI (GRE), in a close match that ended 2-2. Orshush has beaten Malmgren before in a bout in Egypt earlier this year, and the Swede will be looking to avenge that loss in the final.

Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) made it to back-to-back finals. However, she won't be facing Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) like last year. That is because Hrushyna pinned Nikolova in the semifinals. She began the day with a fall against Mathilde RIVIERE (FRA), and will now face off against Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) in the final. Aliyeva defeated Jowita WRZESIEN (POL) in the semifinals with a score of 5-0.

At 62kg, two new finalists will compete for gold as world silver medalist Grace BULLEN (NOR) secured her place in the final with a thrilling 7-6 victory over Bilyana DUDOVA (BUL). She will now face Olympic bronze medalist Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR), who laced Johanna LINDBORG (SWE) for a 10-0 win in the other semifinal.

Irina RINGACI (MDA) moved back down to 65kg for the European Championships after moving to 68kg mid-season last year. The 2022 68kg champion will now look to win the title at 65kg again. In the semifinal, she pulled off an incredible 13-6 win over Tetiana RIZKHO (UKR) after both wrestlers put on an entertaining show for six minutes. Mimi HRITSOVA (BUL) will be the wrestler trying to stop Ringaci after she defeated Kriszta INCZE (ROU) 2-1 in the other semifinals.

At 72kg, returning silver medalist Buse TOSUN (TUR) will be hoping to upgrade her medal after she dominated her semifinal match against Dalma CANEVA (ITA), winning 10-0. She will now face Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU) in the final, who defeated Liudmyla PAVLOVETS (UKR) 5-1 in the semifinals.



GOLD: Mariya STADNIK (AZE) df. Oksana LIVACH (UKR), 9-4

BRONZE: Emanuela LIUZZI (ITA) df. Miglena SELISHKA (BUL), via inj. def. 

GOLD: Andreea ANA (ROU) df. Erika BOGNAR (HUN), 8-0

BRONZE: Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL) df. Elnura MAMMADOVA (AZE), 9-0
BRONZE: Tatiana DEBIEN (FRA) df. Annika WENDLE (GER), 6-4

GOLD: Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) df. Yuliia TKACH (UKR), via inj. def.

BRONZE: Othelie HOEIE (NOR) df. Eda TEKIN (TUR), 6-4

GOLD: Yuliana YANEVA (BUL) df. Alla BELINSKA (UKR), 10-3

BRONZE: Koumba LARROQUE (FRA) df. Zsuzsanna MOLNAR (SVK), 10-0
BRONZE: Nesrin BAS (TUR) df. Adela HANZLICKOVA (CZE), via inj. def.

GOLD: Yasemin ADAR (TUR) df. Martina KUENZ (AUT), 2-2

BRONZE: Cynthia VESCAN (FRA) df. Marion BYE (NOR), 10-0
BRONZE: Catalina AXENTE (ROU) df. Anastasiia OSNIACH (UKR), 5-3

Day 4 Semifinals

GOLD: Jonna MALMGREN (SWE) vs. Stalvira ORSHUSH (HUN) 

SF 1: Jonna MALMGREN (SWE) df. Turkan NASIROVA (AZE), via fall
SF 2:  Stalvira ORSHUSH (HUN) df. Maria PREVOLARAKI (GRE), 2-2


SF 1: Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) df. Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL), via fall
SF 2: Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) df. Jowita WRZESIEN (POL), 5-0


SF 1: Iryna KOLIADENKO (UKR) df. Johanna LINDBORG (SWE), 10-0
SF 2: Grace BULLEN (NOR) df. Bilyana DUDOVA (BUL), 7-6


SF 1: Mimi HRISTOVA (BUL) df. Kriszta INCZE (ROU), 2-1
SF 2: Irina RINGACI (MDA) df. Tetiana RIZHKO (UKR), 13-6

GOLD: Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU) vs. Buse TOSUN (TUR) 

SF 1: Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU) df. Liudmyla PAVLOVETS (UKR), 5-1
SF 2: Buse TOSUN (TUR) df. Dalma CANEVA (ITA), 10-0


WATCH: 10 freestyle finals from European Championships

By Vinay Siwach

ZAGREB, Croatia (May 11) -- The European Championships in Zagreb gave wrestling fans epic bouts from day one. The continent's freestyle stars fought for the top honors and it was a neck-to-beck battle for supremacy.

Azerbaijan, Turkiye and Armenia won two gold medals each in the competition and Ukraine, Greece, Georgia, and Slovakia took home a gold medal each.

Relive the action from the 10 gold medal bouts of the freestyle competition at the European Championships

GOLD: 57kg - Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE) vs. Suleyman ATLI (TUR)