From Teens to 40-Somethings: The Youngest and Oldest Gold Medalists in Olympic History (Part I: Freestyle)

By Ikuo Higuchi

(This is the first of a three-part series that appeared on the Japan Wrestling Federation website. It was translated for UWW by Ken Marantz.)

With wrestling currently on hold along with the rest of world sports and looking for a distraction, I started to wonder about the Tokyo Olympics, which have been postponed for a year. Would that have any affect on the records for youngest- and oldest-ever Olympic champions in history each of the three styles? 

What put that subject into my head was a story I had read on an American media website. In the report, it speculated that the Tokyo Games might produce the oldest gold medalist in Olympic wrestling history. But what struck me most was that the information cited didn't sound right to me. The ages seemed off. 

So, with perhaps a bit too much time on my hands, I set out to confirm my suspicions and researched the ages of every Olympic wrestling gold medalist in history. The results were quite fascinating, and enabled me to come up with top 15 lists for both ends of the age spectrum in all three styles. Today I will start with freestyle.

First-Ever Teen Grabs a Gold
There have been 198 gold medals awarded in freestyle wrestling in Olympic history since wrestling first appeared at the 1904 St. Louis Olympics. The champions have been mostly in their 20s, with a fair number in their 30s. But there has been the rare teenager, and the even rarer 40-something to make it to the top step of the podium. 

The youngest in history in freestyle has been Saban TRSTENA (YUG), who may have competed for a country that no longer exists but left his name in the record books when he won the 52kg gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics at the tender age of 19 years 7 months 9 days. 

Trstena had gone into the Los Angeles Games riding high from a victory in the final of that year's European Championships over reigning world champion Valentin JORDANOV (BUL), who has his own place in wrestling history (more on that later).  Trstena's triumph in L.A. made him the first teenager in Olympic history in either style to win a gold. 

En route to the gold, Trstena knocked off Yuji TAKADA (JPN), the 1976 gold medalist who was unable to defend his title at the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the U.S.-led boycott. Takada, a four-time world champion, is now executive director of the Japan Wrestling Federation. Trstena's connection with Japan, however, was not finished--at the Seoul Olympics four years later, he would lose in the final to Mitsuru SATO (JPN). 

One one other teenager has ever won an Olympic crown. Togrul ASGAROV (AZE) was a little more than one month shy of his 20th birthday when he captured the 60kg gold at the 2012 London Olympics. While young, he was not unknown going into London, having won the world junior gold the previous year and the European senior title five months before the Olympics. In the third round in London, he eked out a 2-0 (1-0, 2-2) win over 2008 silver medalist Kenichi YUMOTO (JPN).

Four years later, Asgarov was denied a second straight gold at the 2016 Rio Games when he lost in the 65kg final to Soslan RAMONOV (RUS). After falling out of the spotlight following that defeat, local media has reported he will aim to qualify for Tokyo at 74kg. 

Looking at the other end of the timeline, it had been reported that Jordanov became the oldest freestyle champion in Olympic history when he won the 52kg gold at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics at a spry 36 years 6 months 7 days. But this was a mistake. On the day Arsen MEKOKISHVILI (URS) won the over-87kg gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, the Soviet wrestler was 40 years 3 months 11 days. In fact, Jordanov is third on the all-time list.

It is worth noting that the rules have changed regarding weigh-ins, which could affect the performance of older wrestlers. Having just a single weigh-in, on the first day of competition, might be to a veteran's advantage, as they might have more trouble with weight control. 

At Olympics that had weigh-ins over a span of two or more days, Sergei BELOGLAZOV (URS) takes the honor as oldest-ever champion by winning the 57kg gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics 14 days after his 32nd birthday. Limiting it further to Games which had multiple weigh-ins on the mornings of competition days, Mirian ZALKALAMANIDZE (URS) was the oldest, having been 29 years 7 months 8 days at the time of his victory at 52kg at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

As world wrestling has recently returned to the latter system, it will make a gold-medal performance by a 30-something wrestler even more noteworthy. One candidate might be Yowlys BONNE RODRIGUEZ (CUB), who won the 2018 world title in Budapest at 61kg at the age of 34 years 11 months 9 days, although it is not certain he will be on the team to Tokyo.

Looking at the Top 15 lists, one wrestler makes both. Bouvaisa SAITIEV (RUS) occupies the No. 13 spot among youngest-ever with his 1996 Atlanta gold, and ranks 11th among the oldest in history after striking gold again 12 years later in Beijing. 


    Name                                                        Age                               Olympics               Wt.    Date of birth (Yr/Mo/Day)

1. Saban TRSTENA (YUG)                    19 years 7 months 9 days        1984 Los Angeles       52kg     1965/01/01

2. Togrul ASGAROV (AZE)                    19 years 10 months 25 days    2012 London              60kg    1992/09/17

3. Abdulrashid SADULAEV (RUS)         20 years  3 months 11 days     2016 Rio de Janeiro   86kg    1996/05/09

4. Sanasar OGANESYAN (URS)            20 years  5 months 24 days    1980 Moscow             90kg    1960/02/05

5. Mavlet BATIROV (RUS)                     20 years  8 months 16 days     2004 Athens              55kg    1983/12/12

6. Magomedgasan ABUSHEV (URS)     20 years  8 months 19 days    1980 Moscow             62kg    1959/11/10

7. Kyle SNYDER (USA)                          20 years  9 months 1 day        2016 Rio de Janeiro   97kg    1995/11/20

8. Henry CEJUDO (USA)                       20 years  11 months 17 days   2008 Beijing              55kg    1987/09/02

9. Il KIM (PRK)                                       21 years  0 months 11 days     1992 Barcelona          48kg    1971/07/25

10. Bakhtiar AKMEDOV (RUS)              21 years  0 months 16 days     2008 Beijing              120kg   1987/08/05

11. George DE RELWYSKOW (GBR)    21 years  1 month 6 days         1908 London             66.6kg   1887/06/18

12. Mitsuo IKEDA (JPN)                         21 years  1 month 17 days       1956 Melbourne          73kg    1935/10/14

13. Bouvaisa SAITIEV (RUS)                  21 years  0 months 11 days     1996 Atlanta                74kg    1975/03/11

14. Hassan YAZDANI (IRI)                    21 years  7 months 24 days     2016 Rio de Janeiro   74kg    1994/12/26

15. Khadshimourad GATSALOV (RUS)  21 years  7 months 24 days     2004 Athens              96kg     1982/12/11



    Name                                                        Age                             Olympics                   Wt.  Date of birth  (Yr/Mo/Day)

1. Arsen MEKOKISHVILI (URS)            40 years 3 months 11 days     1952 Helsinki              +87kg    1912/04/12

2. Gyula BOBIS (HUN)                           38 years 9 months 24 days    1948 London               +87kg     1909/10/07

3. Valentin JORDANOV (BUL)              36 years 6 months 7 days        1996 Atlanta                 52kg     1960/01/26

4. Kaarlo MAEKINEN (FIN)                  36 years 2 months 18 days      1928 Amsterdam          56kg     1892/05/14

5. *Yasar DOGU (TUR)                          35 years 6 months 30 days      1948 London                73kg     1913/01/01

6. Hermann GEHRI (SUI)                     34 years 11 months 18 days      1924 Paris                    72kg     1889/07/26

7. Alexander MEDVED (URS)                34 years 11 months 15 days      1972 Munich             +100kg   1937/09/16

8. Mahmut ATALAY (TUR)                   34 years 6 months 20 days       1968 Mexico City         78kg     1934/03/30

9. Kustaa PIHLAJAMAEKI (FIN)         34 years 3 months 28 days       1936 Berlin                    61kg       1902/04/07

10. Johan RICHTHOFF (SWE)               34 years 3 months 3 days         1932 Los Angeles       +87kg    1898/04/30

11. Bouvaisa SAITIEV (RUS)                  33 years 5 months 9 days         2008 Beijing                 74kg     1975/03/11

12. Artur TAIMAZOV (UZB)                   33 years 0 months 22 days       2012  London              120kg    1979/07/20

13. Kaarlo Johan ANTTILA (FIN)          32 years 11 months 28 days      1920 Antwerp             67.5kg    1887/08/30

14. Emile POILVE (FRA)                         32 years 10 months 16 days       1936 Berlin                   79kg    1903/09/19

15. Olle ANDERBERG (SWE)                 32 years 10 months 10 days       1952 Helsinki               67kg    1919/09/13

*--There are discrepancies in the birthdate of Yasar Dogu. The date used here is conjecture from various sources.


The Youngest/Oldest GR Gold Medalists in Olympic History

By Ikuo Higuchi

(This is the last of a three-part series that appeared on the Japan Wrestling Federation website. It was translated for UWW by Ken Marantz.)

A Style Dominated by Europeans
Compared with the United States and Asia, where most wrestlers start the sport in freestyle, many in Europe start out in the sport as youth in Greco-Roman style. This can account for the fact that out of 196 gold medals awarded at the Olympics so far, 168 have gone to Europeans (170 if wrestlers from current Asian countries who competed for the Soviet Union are included). 

Even so, it took more than a century of Olympics before a teenager would bring home a gold. Islambek ALBIEV (RUS) broke through the barrier at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he won the 60kg gold at 19 years 7 months 15 days. A world junior champion in 2006, Albiev added to his stature when he triumphed at both the European and World Championships the year after Beijing.

Albiev remains the lone teenager to win a Greco gold heading into the Tokyo Olympics, although such a feat might have more to do with timing than skill, given that the Olympics come only once every four years. A wrestler who is 16 or 17 in an Olympic year will likely never get a legitimate shot at a gold as a teenager (not that it really matters in the end if one wins a gold at 19 or 20; it is just being mentioned here for historical purposes). 

Take the case of legendary Hamza YERLIKAYA (TUR), who was just 17 years 3 months 16 days when he won the 82kg title at the 1993 World Championships. But his triumph at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics came 1 month 18 days after he had celebrated his 20th birthday. Yerlikaya would add another Olympic title in 2000 and world title in 2005 before going on to become a member of Turkey's Parliament.

The 1987 World Championships in Clermand-Ferrand produced a teenaged Greco champ in Pedro Favier ROQUE (CUB), who won the 52kg gold at 18 years 8 months 26 days. He would have still been 19 at the Seoul Olympics the following year, but it was not to be. Cuba, following the lead of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, did not participate in the Games in the south of the peninsula.

Comparatively, freestyle has eight Olympic champions who were in their teens or 20, while Greco has just half that number with four. Perhaps this shows how Greco relies more on experience to master. 

It looking at the oldest gold medalists, the world and Japanese media heralded the crowning of a 40-year-old champion at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Anatoli ROSCHTSCHIN (URS) was 40 years 6 months 0 days when he won the over-100kg crown. But there had been an older champion before that, back in the days before mass media. At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Adolf LINDFORS (FIN) was 41 years 6 months 12 days when he triumphed in the over-84kg class. And he certainly earned his medal--he won all five of his matches by fall, with his second-round victory take 23 minutes 43 seconds and his win in the final lasting a whopping 47 minutes 38 seconds. (In that era, the time limit for a match was reportedly 50 minutes.)

As in freestyle, the majority of champions on the oldest-ever list are in the upper weight classes. Of the top 15, the lone lightweight champions (68kg or lower) came in the pre-World War II era. Since the end of the war, there have been only six gold medalists aged 30 or over in the lightweight divisions, most recently Davor STEFANEK (SRB), who was 30 years 11 months 4 days when he won the 66kg gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

By the way, Japan has had four Greco champions in Olympic history. The youngest was Masamitsu ICHIGUCHI (JPN), who was 24 years 9 months 7 years when he took the 57kg gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The oldest, 1984 Los Angeles Olympic 52kg champion Atsuji MIYAHARA (JPN), was 25 years 7 months 13 days on the day of his triumph.

Why am I bringing this up? If the upcoming Tokyo Olympics had been held as scheduled this summer, current world 60kg champion Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) could have broken Ichiguchi's record as youngest-ever by winning the gold on Aug. 3, when he will be 24 years 7 months 16 days. But with the Games postponed for year, Fumita instead has a chance to become the oldest-ever. The final is tentatively slated for Aug. 2, 2021, when Fumita will be 25 years 7 months 15 days--just two days older than Miyahara.

Name                                                        Age                               Olympics                       Wt.    Date of birth
1. Islambek ALBIEV (RUS)                    19 years 7 months 15 days         2008 Beijing       60kg     1988/12/28

2. Hamza YERLIKAYA (TUR)             20 years 1 month 18 days         1996 Atlanta         82kg     1976/06/03

3. Suren NALBANDYAN (URS)           20 years 1 month 21 days         1976 Montreal       68kg     1956/06/03

4. Shazam SAFIN (URS)                       20 years 3 months 20 days      1952 Helsinki         67kg     1932/04/07

5. Alexandre KARELINE (URS)          21 years 0 months 2 days           1988 Seoul           130kg     1967/09/19

6. Varteres SAMURGASHEV (RUS)   21 years 0 months 13 days         2000 Sydney          63kg     1979/09/13

7. Boris GUREVICH (URS)                    21 years 4 months 4 days       1952 Helsinki          52kg     1931/03/23

8. Ji-Hyun JUNG (KOR)                        21 years 5 months 0 days       2004 Athens            60kg     1983/03/26

9. Alexander KOLTSCHINSKI (URS) 21 years 5 months 4 days           1976 Montreal    +100kg   1955/02/20

10. Khassan BAROEV (RUS)                 21 years 8 months 24 days      2004 Athens          120kg     1982/12/01

11. Roman VLASOV (RUS)                    21 years 9 months 30 days      2012 London           74kg     1990/10/06

12. Jouko SALOMAEKI (FIN)              21 years 11 months 7 days         1984 Los Angeles   74kg     1962/08/26

13. Schamil CHISAMUTDINOW (URS)  21 years 11 months 21 days   1972 Munich           68kg     1950/09/20

14. Henri DEGLANE (FRA)                    22 years 0 months 18 days      1924 Paris              +82kg     1902/06/22

15. Vincenzo MAENZA (ITA)                 22 years 2 months 30 days      1984 Los Angeles      48kg     1962/05/02

Name                                                        Age                                       Olympics                        Wt.    Date of birth
1. Adolf LINDFORS (FIN)                   41 years 6 months 12 days          1920 Antwerp           +82kg     1879/02/08

2. Anatoli ROSCHTSCHIN (URS)      40 years 6 months 0 days            1972 Munich          +100kg     1932/03/10

3. Johannes KOTKAS (URS)               37 years  5 months 24 days          1952 Helsinki           +87kg     1915/02/03

4. Kaaro ANTTILA (FIN)                   36 years  10 months 10 days         1924 Paris                   62kg     1887/08/30

5. Carl WESTERGREN (SWE)           36 years  9 months 25 days          1932 Los Angeles      +87kg     1895/10/13

6. Claes JOHANSON (SWE)               35 years  9 months 16 days          1920 Antwerp           82.5kg     1884/11/04

7. Erik MALMBERG (SWE)                35 years  6 months 23 days          1932 Los Angeles        66kg     1897/01/15

8. Eemeli VAERE (FIN)                      34 years  10 months 23 days         1920 Antwerp          67.5kg     1885/09/28

9. Axel GROENBERG (SWE)             34 years  2 months 18 days           1952 Helsinki              79kg     1918/05/09

10. Mijain LOPEZ NUNEZ (CUB)     33 years  11 months 26 days          2016 Rio de Janeiro  130kg    1982/08/20

11. Ahmet KIRECCI (TUR)                33 years 9 months 10 days            1948 London              +87kg     1914/10/27

12. Ivar JOHANSSON (SWE)             33 years  6 months 9 days            1936 Berlin                    79kg     1903/01/31

13. Rudolf SVENSSON (SWE)            33 years  4 months 11 days           1932 Los Angeles          87kg     1899/03/27

14. Vaeinoe KOKKINEN (FIN)          32 years  8 months 13 days           1932 Los Angeles          79kg     1899/11/25

15. Valentin NIKOLAEV (URS)          32 years  8 months 0 days            1956 Melbourne            87kg     1924/04/06