Cuba’s Mijain Lopez Nunez couldn’t contain his elation at the end of his 130kg Greco-Roman wrestling bout: he had just achieved what no man had ever done before. The world’s greatest super heavyweight wrestler had just won his fourth consecutive gold medal at his fourth Olympic games.
The blood, sweat and tears of decades of training and competing had come down to this moment at the Makuhari Messe Hall at Tokyo 2020 on August 2, and the 38-year-old punched the air with joy.
There was just one man who could have possibly stopped him, and he was standing right next to him, Iakobi Kajaia, 27, a European Games champion and a quarterfinalist at Rio 2016. But Lopez Nunez was determined not to give up the Olympic crown that he had worn for the past 13 years: he won it in 2008 and again in 2012 and 2016.
And he did so in style without conceding a point, just like he had done throughout the whole tournament. It was a master class in Greco-Roman wrestling. The arena erupted with cheers as the final bell went and the score stood at 5-0. Lopez Nunez grabbed the Cuban flag and held it aloft before he picked up his elated coach.
"I feel happy and proud to be the best in the world and make history," he said later at a press conference. "I've had a long career, working hard to make these goals and break this record. Being able to break this record today, is for me, a great achievement, because I've faced the best and I can be proud."
Soon after the historic win Cuba's president Miguel Diaz-Canel rang him: "He called me to congratulate me for this result. It was very important to have the call, recognising all my support, and at the same time, I feel flattered to fight for my country."
I feel happy and proud to be the best in the world and make history. I've had a long career, working hard to make these goals and break this record.
The champion’s Tokyo 2020 campaign had got off to a flying start, with him winning all three matches in the lead up to the final with little resistance. He brushed aside Romania’s Alin Alexuc Ciurariu 9-0 and Iran’s Amin Mirzazadeh 8-0.
The five-time world and reigning Pan-American champion then faced his rival of many years, Turkey’s Riza Kayaalp, in the semifinal. The reigning world champion is one of the few wrestlers to have beaten Lopez Nunez: it was in the 2015 World finals. But undeterred, the Cuban athlete, who took down the 31-year-old in the semi-finals at London 2012 and in the final of Rio 2016, won the match 2-0.
In a press conference later the supreme champion would not confirm if he will retire after Tokyo 2020, but if he does his legacy will live on… and his crown, which he will wear for another three years until Paris 2024.
The first of the two bronze medals was won by Kaylaap who beat reigning Asian Championships winner, Amin Mirzazadeh, 23, from the Islamic Republic of Iran 7-2. Bronze medallist at Rio 2016, Russian Olympic Committee athlete Sergei Semenov, 25, collected another in the second match when he beat Chile’s Yasmani Acosta Fernandez 1-1.
Japanese freestyle wrestler, Kaori Icho, was the first woman to win four individual gold medals in four Olympics games in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.