Szel scripts comeback to win U23 European gold

By Vinay Siwach

BUCHAREST, Romania (March 17) -- Perhaps the most amateurish move Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR) has performed in her career. With little control over Anna SZEL (HUN), she tried an arm spin, only to suffer a heartbreaking loss. After the final whistle blew, Khomenets realized her mistake, smashing her hand on the head.

An incredible comeback and Khomenets brain-fade moment gave Szel a thrilling 6-6 win and the 57kg gold medal at the U23 European Championships on Friday. This was Szel's first gold at a championship in five years.

Anna SZEL (HUN)Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR) tried the arm spin on Anna SZEL (HUN) which proved costly. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Szel has shown sparks of brilliance before, like when she won a silver medal at the U20 European Championships in 2021 or when she claimed bronze at the U23 Worlds in 2021. Or when she finished with silver at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games.

But for the major part of her career, Szel has been jumping around weight classes. In 2018, she wrestled at 57kg. A year later, she remained at 55kg but till 2021, she wrestled in four competitions at 62kg without much success at the top level. In 2021 and 2022, she wrested at 59kg and 62kg with a single appearance at 57kg as well.

With the start of the new season, Szel decided to stay at 57kg. She finished 14th at the Zagreb Open Ranking Series event in February. But she did not lose heart and decided to enter the U23 Europeans at the same weight and what a decision that has turned out to be.

"I was injured at the last U23 Europeans," Szel said. "I had to take off for six months for surgery and rehab. Even today I was wrestling with pain in my right knee. A ligament injury took time to heal and that is why I kept wrestling in different weight classes."

Wrestling against world silver medalist Khomenets, Szel never felt out of place, sticking to her defense even when Khomenets was close to scoring. She even trailed early and survived a barrage of double-leg attacks. But in the end, she came out all clear and with the gold medal around her neck.

Khomenets, like Szel, has been juggling between 55kg and 57kg. She has had success at 57kg before as she won the U20 European title and a bronze medal at the U20 World Championships last year.

She was hoping to achieve her biggest win at 57kg on Friday until the brain fade in the last 30 seconds of the final.

The bout began with Khomenets' back-to-back attacks, unsettling Szel at first. The aggression bore fruit as she managed to score a takedown with a double-leg to lead 2-0 at the break.

Szel had not taken a real shot so far in the bout and did not look for any chances in the second as well. So Khomenets got going and once again managed to hit a double leg. However, this time Szel was alert and did not give up a takedown, thanks to a crucial challenge from the Hungary corner. Szel had locked her hands around Khomenets to defend the attack but the referee had awarded two points to Khomenets which were removed after the challenge.

"I followed a tactic in the final to wait till the last minute," Szel said. "We knew that she will get tired and I can score and win then. I definitely had more power than her. I had a better chance to win in the final minute because the score could be close."

Khomenets stayed low and tried the double leg again. Szel kept splitting her legs and putting her arms around Khomenets waist. In one such sequence, Szel managed to lift Khomenets for exposure and get the two points to take a 2-2 criteria lead.

But Khomenets kept coming back and got Szel in danger. She tried pinning the Hungarian for 30 seconds but could not. In that sequence, she scored two rolls. However, the referee only scored one.

With 20 seconds left, Khomnenets, leading 4-2, looked at the scoreboard and tried to score two more points. The lapse in concentration cost her as Szel put her right leg over Khomenets and got two points to lead 4-4 on criteria.

It was then that Khomenets tried that arm spin which proved disastrous. She only managed to put her own back in danger which gave Szel two more points to win 6-4.

"I did not know what I will do but I knew that I can win this match," she said. "I was not sure what was happening in the final 30 seconds. When the challenge was going on, I knew that the last point is mine so even if she gets two more, I will win."

Ukraine had already challenged, asking for two points in the earlier sequence. Khomenets was awarded two points on review but Szel had scored the last points and hence declared the winner, 6-6, on criteria.

Khomenets was heartbroken as she lay on the mat even as Szel jumped around in excitement, hugged her coach and screamed before the nerves settled. During her victory lap, Szel took the flag and just jumped, letting the moment sink in, something she had waited for since that U17 Euro title in 2018.

With Szel cutting down and Khomenets moving up, there was a clear difference in strength between the two wrestlers which made Szel follow the game plan to tire her out.

"I felt that 62kg is not for me as I was not feeling strong enough," Szel said. "I could not wrestle like myself. I am stronger and faster at 57kg and I felt that in the final today. I could feel that she is not the same as me."

In a month's time, Szel will be at the European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia and the gold in Bucharest could not have come at a better time to boost her confidence before the senior tournament.

Despite Khomenets' loss, Ukraine won the team title with 158 points. Turkiye finished second with 129 points and the host country finished with 123 points for third place.

Iryna BONDAR (UKR)Iryna BONDAR (UKR) won the 62kg gold medal in Bucharest. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Iryna BONDAR (UKR) won the gold medal for Ukraine at 62kg to go with the gold medals won by Solomiia VYNNYK (UKR) and Anastasiya ALPYEYEVA (UKR) on Thursday. Apart from three golds, it also won three silvers and a bronze medal.

Bondar's gold at 62kg came as she defeated Ameline DOUARRE (FRA) 5-1 in the final. All the points by Bondar were scored in the first period and Douarre had to endure a frustrating second period as Bondar decided to not engage.

Douarre was called passive in the first period and during the activity time, Bondar jumped behind Douarre, caught both arms and slammed her on the mat for four points.

Douarre did get on a couple of single-leg attacks in the second period but Bondar always pressured Douarre's head to keep her from elevating her legs. Bondar gave up one point for passivity which did not cause her much damage as she won the final 5-1.

Two more Ukrainians were in the finals but both fell short at the final hurdle.

Zeynep YETGIL (TUR)Zeynep YETGIL (TUR) scores a four-pointer on Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) in the 53kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 53kg, Zeynep YETGIL (TUR) defeated Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR) and Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL) denied Iryna ZABLOTSKA (UKR) in the 72kg final.

Yetgil has been long overdue for a big win and that came in the form of the U23 European gold medal at 53kg. This was her second U23 European title as she won her first back in 2018.

In her three bouts prior to the final, Yetgil won with scores of 10-0, 10-0 and a victory via fall. In the final, she had to work a little harder but was never in extreme trouble.

She shot a double-leg on Malanchuk to score her first takedown and exposed her for two points more. Malanchuk got out of the grip and scored a roll for two points but Yetgil ultimately finished on top to lead 5-2.

Just before the break, Yetgil hit a huge four to extend her lead to 9-2, enough for her to take a step back in the second period. Malanchuk managed to score a takedown after the break but that was all as Yetgil won the gold 9-4.

Yetgil will now hope to end the medal drought at the senior European Championships as her best finish at that competition is fifth, a result she achieved last year.

Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL)Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL) became a three-time U23 European champion. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

U23 world silver medalist Choluj became a three-time U23 European champion as she defeated Zablotska 11-0 in the gold medal bout.

Choluj began with a snapdown and added a gut-wrench to lead 4-0 inside the first minute of the final. A go-behind made it 6-0 before she forced a stepout against Zablotska. As Zablotska tried attacking Choluj, she kept giving up points on the counter.

Choluj scored two more points via go behind and the final move was a double-leg blast for which she got two more points for an 11-0 win and her third straight U23 Euro title.

With medals at all age-group World and European Championships, Choluj will like to complete the set by winning medals at the senior level of both tournaments.

Amina CAPEZAN (ROU)An emotional Amina CAPEZAN (ROU) after winning the 65kg gold at home. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 65kg, Amina CAPEZAN (ROU) gave the home crowd something to cheer about she won the gold medal after beating Birgul SOLTANOVA (AZE), 6-5, in a nail-biting final.

Capezan had suffered a heartbreaking loss in the final of the same tournament last year but kept her nerves to win her first international gold medal.

Soltanova, a U20 European champion at 62kg, lead 1-1 at the break after scoring a stepout after giving up a point for passivity. In the second period, Capezan was hit with the passivity call and she attacked Soltanova who scored with a lift for exposure before giving up a reversal.

Trailing 3-2, Capezan scored a takedown and transitioned into a gut wrench to lead 6-3 with a minute left. Soltanova managed to score two points for a double-leg but Capezan held off, barely, to win the gold in front of a loud home crowd.




GOLD: Zeynep YETGIL (TUR) df. Liliia MALANCHUK (UKR), 9-4

BRONZE: Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) df. Gultakin SHIRINOVA (AZE), 10-0
BRONZE: Anastasia BLAYVAS (GER) df. Beatrice FERENT (ROU), 5-2

GOLD: Anna SZEL (HUN) df. Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR), 6-6

BRONZE: Naemi LEISTNER (GER) df. Celeste SION (FRA), 4-1
BRONZE: Zhala ALIYEVA (AZE) df. Aurora RUSSO (ITA), 6-2

GOLD: Iryna BONDAR (UKR) df. Ameline DOUARRE (FRA), 5-1

BRONZE: Viktoria VESSO (EST) df. Gabriela CUC (ROU), via fall
BRONZE: Elena ESPOSITO (ITA) df. Luisa SCHEEL (GER), 5-2

GOLD: Amina CAPEZAN (ROU) df. Birgul SOLTANOVA (AZE), 6-5

BRONZE: Elma ZEIDLERE (LAT) df. Busra EFE (TUR), 4-3

GOLD: Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL) df. Iryna ZABLOTSKA (UKR), 11-0

BRONZE: Noemi SZABADOS (HUN) df. Paula ROTARU (ROU), 10-0
BRONZE: Tindra SJOEBERG (SWE) df. Lilly SCHNEIDER (GER), via fall


Bayramov leads Azerbaijan to U23 Euro title

By Vinay Siwach

BUCHAREST, Romania (March 19) -- When the entry list for the U23 European Championships was released, Azerbaijan thew a surprise by naming Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) at 74kg.

Already an established name, Bayramov last competed at an age-group tournament in 2021. Last year, all his competitions were at the senior level and he won medals in five of them. The only competition he failed to win a medal was the World Championships.

But Bayramov, the leader of the team in Bucharest, made a comeback with a gold medal at the U23 Euros on Sunday, beating Vasil DAICON (MDA) 1-1 in the final to once again throw in his name for the national team.

Azerbaijan has built a massive core group of wrestlers at 70kg and 74kg. Last year, as many as 10 different wrestlers competed in these two weights for Azerbaijan in nine tournaments, all at the level U20 and above. Add U23 European champion at 70kg Magomed KHANIEV (AZE) to it and the list grows to 11.

Two names, however, have been present in more competitions than others and those are Bayramov's and U20 world champion Dzhabrail GADZHIEV (AZE).

The two began the year at the Dan Kolov tournament and Gadzhiev won that final over Bayramov. He also won the U23 Euros last year at 74kg while Bayramov finished third at the senior event.

As Gadzhiev racked up medals at age-group tournaments, Bayramov kept winning at the senior level including a win over Bayramov at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series event which also pushed his case for the World Championships. But Bayramov slipped at the biggest event and finished 11th. That gave Gadzhiev new hope.

Come 2023 and Bayramov was asked to represent Azerbaijan at U23 Euros while Gadzhiev has been picked for the senior event in Zagreb, Croatia.

The selection, however, has not bogged Bayramov down. He took the task of reclaiming his spot on the senior team head-on and made a statement by winning the gold.

He also led Azerbaijan to the team title with 140 points, 11 more than Turkiye which finished second. Georgia finished third with 125 points.

In his first three bouts, Bayramov outscored his opponents 32-0. From the other side, Diacon had been equally dominant in reaching the final.

In the final on Sunday, Bayramov used a different tactic and brought out his strongest weapon -- his defense.

The two wrestlers exchanged passivity points with Bayramov getting the second one to lead 1-1 on criteria in the second period. Diacon still had over one minute to score a point and win. However, Bayramov managed to remain in contact and defend as well to win on criteria.

Depending on how Gadzhiev performs at the European Championships, it will be interesting to see how Azerbaijan decides its team for World Championships.

Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA)Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) won the gold medal at 86kg in Bucharest. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

In other action, France crowned its second U23 European champion in two days as U20 world champion Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) captured the gold medal at 86kg.

Before Bucharest, France did not have a single U23 Euro champion in freestyle but that record was broken by Khamzat ARSAMERZOUEV (FRA) as he won the gold medal at 65kg.

Magamadov, who finished fifth at last year's U23 Europeans, looked in better shape this year and won all but one bout via technical superiority. In the final, he faced Knyaz IBOYAN (ARM) and gave him no chance, finishing the bout with two minutes and 20 seconds remaining.

He began the gold medal bout with two stepouts before a takedown increased his lead to 4-0. He also appeared to be much stronger than Iboyan who could not pick up Magamadov's attacks. Magamadov ended the first period 8-1. He continued his relentless attacks in the second period as well and scored a takedown before a stepout confirmed his 11-1 win over Iboyan.

The gold once again confirmed Magamadov's rise at 86kg who has medaled at U17, U20 and now U23 Europeans along with U17 and U20 Worlds.

Andrii DZHELEP (UKR)Andrii DZHELEP (UKR) celebrates after beating Mezhlum MEZHLUMYAN (ARM) in the 61kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 61kg, '21 European silver medalist Andrii DZHELEP (UKR) lived up to the 'favorite' tag and won the gold in dominating fashion over Mezhlum MEZHLUMYAN (ARM).

Dzhelep, a former U17 world and European champion, failed to win a medal at his previous two competitions but made a comeback to start the new season with a bang.

Mezhlumyan did well to keep Dzhelep quiet for the opening minute but then got tossed for a four-pointer. He survived the pin but could not stop Dzhelep from scoring a gut wrench and a full 360-degree throw for another four.

The win puts Dzhelep as one of the front-runners to take the spot on the national team but Kamil KEYRMOV (UKR) is the most likely choice for now.

Andro MARGISHVILI (GEO)Andro MARGISHVILI (GEO) completes a takedown on Muhammed GIMRI (TUR) in the 92kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

U20 World and European silver medalist Andro MARGISHVILI (GEO) claimed his first international gold medal by beating Muhammed GIMRI (TUR), 7-1, in the 92kg final.

Margishvili shot a double-leg to catch Gimri off guard and scored a takedown soon after giving up a stepout. Gimri was penalized for intentionally going out of bounds and the bout restart in par terre with Margishvili leading 3-1. However, no more damage was done.

In the second period, Margishvili countered Gimri's attempt to reach for his far leg with a takedown to extend his lead to 5-1. Gimri got his opportunities as well as he got behind Margishvili twice but failed to score. It was another counter when Margishvili scored a takedown to lead 7-1.

Gimri had around two minutes to score and win but Margishvili's defense and Gimri's deteriorating conditioning meant that the latter held off for a win.

Georgi IVANOV (BUL)Georgi IVANOV (BUL) became the first Bulgarian to win the U23 European gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Bulgaria gets gold

Bulgaria crowned its first-ever U23 European champion as Georgi IVANOV (BUL) won the 125kg gold medal over Volodymyr KOCHANOV (UKR), 10-0.

Ivanov, who had a best finish of eighth at U23 Euros before Sunday, stunned everyone with the dominance he displayed in Bucharest. He defeated Azamat KHOSONOV (GRE) 6-0 before dealing with Efe AL (TUR) 6-2 in the semifinals.

In the final against Kochanov, Ivanov scored an arm throw but only for two. Kochanov and Ivanov were then involved in a mini-battle of arm throws but did not get much out of it. Before the break, Ivanov scored a stepout.

He then managed to hit a couple of counters and stepout and lead 8-0. The final move could not have been more Ivanov as he tried an arm spin, failed at it but jumped straight to hold one of the legs of Kochanov and complete a takedown to win 10-0.

Bulgaria has two silver medalists at U23 Euros before Sunday but now has the champion in Ivanov. Incidentally, one of the two silver medalists is Dimitar IVANOV (BUL), a brother of Georgi.

Kochanov would be thanking his stars after reaching the final he had no business being in. After Vakhit GALAYEV (AZE) and Solomon MANASHVILI (GEO) were disqualified, Kochanov got the chance to wrestle in a semifinal.

He had lost to Manashvili in the quarterfinals and was promoted to wrestle a semifinal against Martin SIMONYAN (ARM) who had lost to Galayev. 



GOLD: Andrii DZHELEP (UKR) df. Mezhlum MEZHLUMYAN (ARM), 10-0

BRONZE: Emre KURAL (TUR) df. Daviti ABDALADZE (GEO), 11-5

GOLD: Turan BAYRAMOV (AZE) df. Vasile DIACON (MDA), 1-1

BRONZE: Krisztian BIRO (ROU) df. Nikolay DIMITROV (BUL), 10-0

GOLD: Rakhim MAGAMADOV (FRA) df. Knyaz IBOYAN (ARM), 11-1

BRONZE: Joshua MORODION (GER) df. Vladyslav PRUS (UKR), via fall

GOLD: Andro MARGISHVILI (GEO) df. Muhammed GIMRI (TUR), 7-1

BRONZE: Sergey SARGSYAN (ARM) df. Abduljalil SHABANOV (AZE), 8-5

GOLD: Georgi IVANOV (BUL) df. Volodymyr KOCHANOV (UKR), 10-0

BRONZE: Martin SIMONYAN (ARM) df. Solomon MANASHVILI (GEO), via disqualification
BRONZE: Efe AL (TUR) df. Azamat KHOSONOV (GRE), 6-3