Gable Steveson celebrates at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 6, 2021 in Chiba, Japan.
Gable Steveson got to do his signature celebratory backflip after all, but it took a nearly superhuman effort to get there.
Trailing 8-5 to three-time defending world champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia, Steveson scored a pair of two-point takedowns with less than seven seconds left in the match to win a gold medal Friday in the Olympic men’s freestyle 125 kg. wrestling competition at the Makuhari Messe Hall.
“You saw that?” Steveson said. “Wow. No way. Ain't no way. I'm speechless. I've never done it before, but today was the day.”
The 21-year-old reigning NCAA champion from the University of Minnesota led 4-0 after the first period. At that point, he had outscored opponents 27-0 throughout the competition. But the veteran Petriashvili battled back, becoming the first wrestler to score points against Steveson in Tokyo.
Petriashvili finally took the lead at 6-5 and built it to 8-5 before Steveson came roaring back to win. He scored his final two points with two-tenths of a second remaining. A failed challenge by Georgia after the match added a point to account for the 10-8 final score.
Steveson became the first American heavyweight wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal since Bruce Baumgartner did it 29 years ago in 1992. Five of this year’s six U.S. men’s freestyle wrestlers will bring home medals of some color.
The young American had beaten Mongolia’s Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur in the semifinals, 5-0. In the quarterfinals, Steveson defeated defending Olympic champion Taha Akgul of Turkey, 8-0.
“I'm so happy to be here,” Steveson said. “I'm happy to be here with (Team) USA, so many great guys in the team, coaches, and I'm so proud to represent the country and do my job for them.
“Hats off to all my competitors. It was crazy.”