“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand,” said Nelson Mandela.
Never more is that true than in times of difficulty, which is where Azerbaijan and Armenia find themselves right now as fighting flares in their regions.
Against this backdrop, Azerbaijan’s Taleh Mammadov and Armenia’s Hrachya Poghosyan competed in the 63kg bronze-medal match at the Wrestling World Championships at the Stark Arena in Belgrade, Serbia on Monday (12 September). Mammadov came out on top, 10-4.
Tuo Erbatu from People's Republic of China overcame Iran's Alireza Nejati to claim the other third place.
Both athletes took the same route to the bronze-medal fight, winning all but one of their bouts to that point, with both losing to eventual winner, Sebastian Nad. The Serbian drew on the energy of the home crowd to beat Georgia’s Leri Abuladze, 3-1 in the final.
Mammadov, meanwhile, won his first ever world medal, at age 33. His previous bests were at the European championships with two silvers in 2021 and 2022, and a bronze in 2019.
A decade younger, Poghosyan may even look to his opposite number for inspiration in never giving up, not only for his lengthy quest for a world medal but also in defeating Olympic champion Luis Orta Sanchez of Cuba in a razor-close quarter final in which Mammadov almost gave up on a match-deciding takedown.
Ultimately, with Paris 2024 looming, the pair likely have the same goal in mind, despite being at such different stages of their careers – to become Olympians, a journey that serves to unite rather than divide.