Wrestling: New stars of the mat emerge in Nanjing

Russia and Azerbaijan dominated the wrestling competitions at Nanjing 2014, winning seven gold medals between them. Among the most impressive winners on the mat were Norway’s Grace Bullen and Russia’s Daria Shisterova, both of whom claimed gold with quick-fire wins in their finals.

Russia kicks off with a double

Devoted to the Greco-Roman style, the opening day of the wrestling competition saw Russia’s Arslan Zubairov conjure up a remarkable comeback to claim gold in the 58kg final. Trailing 4-2 to Armenia’s Zaven Mikaelyan (ARM), Zubairov threw three consecutive tosses, each worth four points, to take an unassailable 10-point lead.

“I remained calm [when I fell behind] because I knew I still had enough time,” said the winner afterwards. “My coaches have taught me not to get nervous.”

Taking the bronze behind Mikaelyan was Keramat Abdevali of Iran.

In the 85kg final, Mark Bemalian earned another gold for Russia, defending an early lead to beat Bulgaria’s Kiril Milov 9-6.

“I don’t remember right now what happened during the match,” Bemalian said. “The most important thing right now is that I won.”

The bronze medal went to Egypt’s Ahmed Ahmed.

Uzbekistan’s Ilkhom Bakhromov won a surprise gold in the 50kg category, beating Azeribaijan’s Jabbar Najafov in a tense final.

Down 6-5 with 30 seconds remaining, Najafov appeared to score on a takedown, which would have put him a point ahead. But following a review prompted by a challenge from Bakhromov’s coach, the points were chalked off, leaving a grateful Bakhromov the winner.

“The Azerbaijani was the favourite so it was not easy for me,” said the gold-medallist. “But my coaches supported me and gave me advice and that helped me.”

Iran’s Mohammadreza Aghaniachari won the bronze to complete the podium.

In the 42kg gold-medal bout, Korea DPR’s Ri Seung scored late on with an escape from the ground to beat Fatih Aslan of Turkey 9-6, with the bronze going to Oleksii Masyk of Ukraine.

Finally, Islambek Dadov of Azerbaijan took the spoils in the 69kg division, defeating USA’s Mason Manville in a final decided by a lone one-point toss. Kazakhstan’s Yevgeniy Polivadov won the bronze.

Bullen and Shisterova steal the show

The women’s freestyle wrestling programme at Nanjing 2014 ended in frantic style, with the last two gold-medal bouts being decided in double quick time.

Grace Jacob Bullen of Norway set the tone by winning the penultimate final, in the 60kg category, in only 71 seconds, though that time was positively sluggish compared to the 35 seconds Russia’s Daria Shisterova needed to defeat Turkey’s Tugba Kilic in the battle for 70kg freestyle gold.

“I cannot believe it yet that I’m the champion. It happened so fast,” said Shisterova, who initially took up the Russian martial art of sambo before switching to wrestling three years ago.

Despite her rapid win, the 17-year-old Russian later admitted she had strayed slightly from her pre-bout instructions: “My coach said fight your own fight. Do not rush. Do it step by step.”

Tipped for the title before the YOG, Poland’s world cadet silver medallist Natalia Strzalka recovered from defeat in the qualifying pool to claim the bronze.

In the 60kg final, meanwhile, the powerful Bullen made short work of China’s Pei Xingru. Surging into a 4-0 lead in the opening minute, the 17-year-old world and European cadet champion tossed her less experienced opponent to win 10-0.

“It’s amazing. I’m really pleased with what I’ve done, because it was difficult to get the audience to be with me, in China, competing against someone from China”, said Bullen, who left her native Sudan for Norway at the age of five.

After losing to Bullen in the preliminaries, France’s Koumba Larroque went on to win the bronze.

In the 52kg class final, leading contender and two-time world cadet champion Mayu Mukaida of Japan beat Azerbaijan’s Leyla Gurbanova 9-3. “It was so difficult to control my nerves for this final match,” admitted the Japanese wrestler afterwards.

Taking the bronze behind Gurbanova was Ukraine’s Olena Kremzer.

Kim Sonhyang of Korea DPR withstood a strong comeback from Mongolia’s Dulguun Bolormaa to win an intensely competitive 46kg final and secure her country’s second wrestling gold of Nanjing 2014.

The 17-year-old Kim moved into an 8-0 lead in the first period but had to dig deep to fend off her determined opponent, eventually winning 9-5.

Moldova’s Tatiana Doncila collected the bronze.

Russia and Azerbaijan go out on a high

Russia and Azerbaijan underlined their status as wrestling’s dominant forces on the last day of competition in Nanjing, with the men’s freestyle medal bouts bringing the curtain down at the Longjiang Gymnasium.

Facing USA’s Cade Olivas in the 46kg final, Russia’s Ismail Gadzhiev won his country’s fourth gold of the YOG with a hard-fought 3-1 win.

Nicknamed The Black Panther, Gadzhiev pointed to the inspiration of his team-mates’ earlier triumphs: “The three other gold medals were a motivation for me. My opponent was strong. When I was leading 3-1, my main goal was not to let anything happen. There were 10-15 seconds left and I had seen that in other bouts four points were lost. I did not want this happen to me.”

Proving Gadzhiev’s point was Turkey’s Cabbar Duyum, who scored very late on to clinch the bronze medal.

There was another tight finish in the 54kg final, with USA’s Daton Fix recovering from a 6-1 first-period deficit against Kazakhstan’s Mukhambet Kuatbek to close to within a point with a minute remaining. Both wrestlers then scored a point apiece in the closing seconds, leaving Kuatbek a relieved 7-6 winner.

“I had vowed that I would win and the flag of Kazakhstan would be raised,” said the 17-year-old champion. “This medal is not only for me – it is for Kazakhstan.”

In the 63kg event, favourite Teymur Mammadov of Azerbaijan seized the gold with a comprehensive 7-0 win over Venezuela’s Anthony Montero, giving his country their second wrestling gold of the Games.

“He was a tough opponent but I was well prepared and ready for victory,” the 17-year-old said. “This will push me on a lot. Everything is still to come for me.”

Taking on Georgia’s Meki Simonia in the 76kg final, Japan’s Yajuro Yamasaki dominated proceedings to win 10-0 inside four minutes. Aged 17, Yamasaki took up wrestling after trying his hand at swimming and football.

Finally, Igbal Hajizada won Azerbaijan’s third wrestling gold in Nanjing when he overcame Dmitri Ceacusta of Moldova 5-1 in the 100kg final.

“I prepared mentally very well,” Hajizada said. “It was a question of principle for me to win, because I lost against him [Ceacusta] at the World Championships. I got my revenge.”