Inseparable Ahlgren and Bohling share wrestling gold

Swedish wrestler Anders Ahlgren and his Finnish rival, Ivar Bohling, took joint honours in the Greco-Roman ‘Middle Weights B’ category (the light heavyweight category in modern parlance), after contesting one of the most remarkable showdowns ever seen at an Olympic Games.

The 24-year-old Ahlgren and 22-year-old Bohling were part of a 29-strong field that included a particularly strong contingent from the Finns. They competed under rules that were standardised for the Olympic Games, with many countries having different regulations for wrestling.

The wrestling events took place on 7-15 July, spread out to allow participants time to rest during what would potentially be a labyrinthine seven rounds of competition. As in the other weight categories, the Middle Weight B was whittled down to a final stage comprising three contestants who fought to determine the line-up on the podium. That trio was Ahlgren, Bohling and the Hungarian Bela Varga. Ahlgren and Bohling both defeated Varga to set up a showdown for the gold. Neither had yet been defeated in the competition, and neither had yet faced each other; there was no way of predicting which way the fight would go.

The Official Report takes up the story of what turned into a tussle that was unlike any other. “Regrettably enough, the competition for Middle Weights B had the result that no gold medal was awarded,” it reads.

Ahlgren and Bohling “proved to be such masters of technique, and possessed such abnormal bodily strength that, after the contest had been carried on for no less than nine hours, and after the fruitless application of the special regulations made for such cases, the match had to be declared a draw”.

Incredibly, the pair had not been separable for that entire time. As Olympic rules decreed that the gold medal winner must be the man that had beaten his opponent, there was only one option for the officials. As the Official Report opined, it “could not but be regretted” after such a display of excellence by both men. Ahlgren and Bohling were each awarded a silver medal, Varga receiving a bronze.

Bohling’s medal bolstered what was already a bumper haul for the Finnish wrestling team, who won half of the medals on offer across the different weight categories and was represented on every single podium.

Remarkably, the gold medal bout between Ahlgren and Bohling could not even lay claim to being the longest bout of the 1912 wrestling competitions. In the semi-final of the ‘Middle Weights A’ class, Russian wrestler Martin Klein took 11 hours and 40 minutes – on a searingly hot summer’s day – to defeat Finland’s Alppo Asikainen. His win was a bittersweet one: Klein was so exhausted that, under medical advice, he did not appear to contest the gold medal.

Ahlgren and Bohling meanwhile never managed to repeat their extraordinary contest. The former competed at the 1920 Olympic Games in Antwerp but was not among the medallists, while Bohling turned professional, before retiring from the sport in 1920.