Taha Akgul answered his critics with a dominant victory at the European Championships on Wednesday (21 April).
The reigning Olympic champion beat Russia’s Sergei Kozyrev 9-2 in the 125kg final to seal his eighth continental wrestling title.
Akgul suffered a serious shoulder injury in 2019 that kept him out of the sport for a year, and left many onlookers doubting whether he would be able to defend his title at the Tokyo Olympics.
But the giant Turk’s performance in Warsaw, Poland this week not only showed that he is back to full fitness, but that he will likely be the favourite to land another Olympic gold medal in Japan later this year.
Akgul's most significant win of the event actually took place in Wednesday's opening round against his old rival, and three time world champion, Geno Petriashvili.
The two titans have won every continental gold medal since the 2012 European Championships, and their last meeting ended in victory for the Georgian in the 2019 World Championships final.
But Akgul clearly wanted to get even, barely putting a foot wrong as he secured three takedowns and a 6-1 victory.
“My last match before surgery was against Geno, and my first match back was against Geno,” Akgul said after their match. “It’s been well over a year since I wrestled, but I felt good. I think it’s a good point to move forward to the Olympics and I’ll continue to train and hopefully get better before Tokyo.”
From there, Akgul breezed past local man Kamil Kosciolek (6-1) in the quarters and Belarusian Dzianis Khramiankou (4-0) in the semis, before his final victory over Kozyrev.
Chamizo bows out early
Petriashvili wasn’t the only high profile early exit in Poland, with defending 74kg European champion Frank Chamizo suffering a shock loss in yesterday’s quarter-finals.
The Italian was comfortably beaten 6-2 by Slovakian underdog Tajmuraz Salkazanov, who went on to win the tournament courtesy of a 10-0 victory over Miroslav Kirov of Bulgaria in the final.
Chamizo managed to regroup with two repechage wins, before beating Russian Razambek Zhamalov in the bronze-medal match.