#WrestleTokyo Olympic Games Preview: 65kg

By Eric Olanowski

TOKYO, Japan (July 21) – Top-seeded Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS) headlines the loaded 65kg bracket that'll feature fellow world champions Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and Haji ALIYEV (AZE) and six other world-medal holders.

Rashidov, who captured a world title in '19 after falling in the gold-medal match in back-to-back years, is seeded No. 1. The other trio of seeded wrestlers included '19 world-medal winners Bajrang BAJRANG (IND), Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) and Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN).

Punia, a three-time world medalist -- including an '18 world finalist -- is seeded No. 2 at 65kg. He heads into the Tokyo Olympic Games looking to become the fourth Indian freestyle wrestler to win an Olympic medal. He'd join Kha-Shaba JADAV (IND), Sushil KUMAR (IND) and Yogeshwar DUTT (IND). 

Following his 13th place at the '17 World Championships, Punia finished on the podium in 19 consecutive events. The high-paced Indian superstar won a pair of world medals during that span, a quartet of Asian championships medals -- including a gold in '19 -- and four Ranking Series titles.

Niyazbekov is seeded third at 65kg. The 32-year-old Zhanakorgan, Kazakhstan native, is a two-time world medalist. He claimed bronze at the '11 World Championships, then reached the world finals in '19 with a thrilling 9-9 criteria win over Bajrang. However, Niyazbekov ultimately fell to Rashidov in the gold-medal match and settled for a runner-up finish in his home country. 

But Niyazbekov will be on the same side of the bracket as second-seeded Punia. The pair have split their last two meetings. The Kazakh won in Nur-Sultan, but most recently, Punia evened up the rivalry with a 10-0 win at the Ali Aliev Tournament in Kaspiisk, Dagestan. 

Hungary's Muszukajev is seeded fourth at the weight. The former Russian-turned-Hungarian had a breakout performance at the '19 World Championships. The 28-year-old grabbed five victories -- including wins over world champion Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) and Olympic champion Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO) -- en route to winning a world bronze medal. He'll sit on the top side of the bracket with Rashidov, who beat him in the world semifinals, 3-2.

Other world-title holding threats outside of Rashidov to pay attention to are Ototguro and Aliyev. Fans should also keep an eye on multiple-time world medalists and outside threats Alejandro Enrique VALDES TOBIER (CUB) Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL).

A year after becoming Japan's youngest-ever freestyle world champion, Takuto Otoguro went 3-2 at the '19 World Championships and finished fifth. But since that upsetting finish in Nur-Sultan, the 22-year-old who hails from Fuefuki, Japan, has won three consecutive competitions. He won the '19 Japan Championships and downed Bajrang in the finals at back-to-back Asian Championships to claim gold.

Aliyev, Azerbaijan's first-ever three-time world champion, seems to be finding his stride up at 65kg. After winning a bronze medal in Rio at 57kg, the 30-year-old ascended from 61kg to 65kg. He succeeded early at 65kg on the European level -- winning golds at the '18 European Championships and '19 European Games -- but failed to finish inside the top-10 at the '18 and '19 World Championships. But since his 12th-place finish at the '19 World Championships, Aliyev strung together podium finished at the Individual World Cup, World Olympic Qualifier and the Poland Open.

Gadzhiev, the now two-time Olympian, is a 70kg silver and bronze-medal finisher, respectively, at the '17 and '19 World Championships. After winning '20 titles at the European Championships, Poland Open and Individual World Cup, the 33-year-old, originally from Gurubki, Karabudakhkentsky, Dagestan, appeared at 65kg for the European Olympic Qualifier. He reached the semifinals but lost to eventual champion Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) before injuring defaulting out to a fifth-place finish. 

Less than two months later, at the World Olympic Qualifier, Gadzhiev bounced back and scored five wins en route to earning a 65kg berth to Tokyo. 

Valdes Tobier will return to competition for the first time in 17 months. Due to the pandemic, the '17 and '18 world bronze medalist hasn't competed since punching his ticket to Tokyo with a first-place finish at the '19 Pan-American Olympic Qualifier. 

Tokyo will be the 32-year-old Cuban's second Olympic Games. He finished in seventh-place at the '16 Rio Olympic Games.

Meanwhile, despite being enrobed with world champs and medalists across the bracket, one of the biggest favorites to contend for 65kg gold is Armenia's red-hot Vazgen Tevanyan.

Since falling to Otoguro in the second round at the '19 World Championships, Tevanayan has transformed himself into a completely different wrestler -- and it all started with his magical Individual World Cup performance. In Belgrade, 21-year-old won five matches and capped off his run with a 9-1 thumping of then-reigning world bronze medalist Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN).  

He extended his win streak to nine consecutive matches after punching his ticket to his first Olympic Games with wins over Olympic champion Vladimir KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO), three-time world champ Aliyev and two-time world medalist Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL) at the European Olympic Qualifier. 

Wrestling at the Tokyo Olympic Games kicks off August 1-7 at the Makuhari Messe with 65kg action beginning on August 6.

No. 1 Gadzhimurad RASHIDOV (RUS)
No. 2 Bajrang BAJRANG (IND)
No. 4 Iszmail MUSZUKAJEV (HUN)
Alejandro Enrique VALDES TOBIER (CUB)
Agustin Alejandro DESTRIBATS (ARG)
Morteza Hassanali GHIASI CHEKA (IRI)
Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL)
Georgios PILIDIS (GRE)


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.