HERNING, Denmark – The first matches were the last ones of the day for the U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team at the World Championships.
Americans R.C. Johnson (96 kg/211.5 lbs.), Chas Betts (84 kg/185 lbs.) and Jeremiah Davis (60 kg/132 lbs.) each suffered first-round setbacks and were eliminated on Saturday at the MesseCenter Herning.
“We had a few breaks going against us, but you have to expect that in a tournament like this,” U.S. National Coach Steve Fraser said. “You have to be ready for everyone you face in every match you wrestle. We need to get better in those weight classes and those guys know that. They gained some great experience here and we can build on that.”
All three were competing in this event for the first time. The U.S. did not win a period in any of the three matches.
Johnson lost to Turkey’s Serkan Ozden in the first round 2-0, 3-1. Ozden won his next two matches, but then fell in the quarterfinals to Olympic champion Astanbek Khushtov of Russia. That eliminated Johnson, since Ozden failed to reach the finals.
"It's rough, having to sit there in the back and wait (after losing)," said Johnson. "It's a helpless feeling and kind of a frustrating situation. My side of the bracket obviously was loaded with the Olympic champion from Russia and the World champion from Georgia, but you can't worry about that. You have to be ready for everybody."
Betts lost to Finland’s Antti Hakala 2-0, 4-0 in the first round. Hakala won his next match, but then lost his third bout and that knocked Betts out of the event.
Betts tried to turn Hakala with a late gut wrench, but Hakala stopped Betts’ momentum from the defensive position. The officials awarded Hakala two points for exposure against Betts. The U.S. coaches protested, but the call was upheld.
"I'm not sure why they called it that way, because I was out of bounds," Betts said. "But I have no excuses. I spent the last four months preparing for this. That's a lot of work for only four minutes of wrestling here."
Davis lost to France’s Sebastian Hidalgo 2-0, 3-0 in another match with controversy. Davis was called for a foul after reportedly grabbing Hidalgo’s leg while Hidalgo tried to turn Davis in the second period. In the scramble, Davis came out on top and caught Hidalgo on his back. But the foul negated that.
"I got the raw end of the deal," Davis said. "I don't agree with that call one bit. I didn't touch his leg, but you can't let a call like that get you down. I have to bounce back and work on getting back (to the Worlds) next year."
Winning titles on Saturday were Islam Beka Albiev of Russia at 60 kg/132 lbs., Nazmi Avluca of Turkey at 84 kg/185 lbs. and Balazs Kiss of Hungary at 96 kg/211.5 lbs.
The seven-day event concludes on Sunday. Scheduled to compete in Greco-Roman for the U.S. are 2002 World champion and 2007 World bronze medalist Dremiel Byers (120 kg/264.5 lbs.), two-time World bronze medalist Harry Lester (74 kg/163 lbs.) and first-time World Team member Faruk Sahin (66 kg/145.5 lbs.).
Lester drew two-time World silver medalist and hometown favorite Mark Madsen of Denmark in the first round.