USA Wrestling Postponed Olympics D...

Postponed Olympics Day 7: Gold medals scheduled in freestyle at 65 kg and 97 kg (men), and 50 kg (women)

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Aug. 08, 2020, 5:29 p.m. (ET)

2017 World champion Kyle Snyder of the USA celebrates his gold-medal win in Paris. Snyder, a 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World champion, has qualified the USA at 97 kg, which would have competed today if the 2020 Games had not been postponed. Photo by Tony Rotundo, Wrestlers are Warriors.

Today, August 8, would have been the last day of the 2020 Olympic Games wrestling competition, had the event not been postponed and rescheduled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It would have been a short day of wrestling, with just repechage and the final medal rounds contested. There are three freestyle weight classes that would have been scheduled for today: 65 kg and 97 kg in men’s freestyle and 50 kg in women’s freestyle. The USA is qualified in two of these three weight classes to date.

At this point, half of the field has been determined in every weight class for the 2021 Olympic wrestling competition. We will look at the nations qualified (and the athletes expected to wrestle), as well as those who might be favored to qualify for the Olympics in the Olympic Qualifiers to come in 2021. The United States team will not be determined until April 2021.

Men’s freestyle 97 kg review

The United States boasts the reigning Olympic champion at 97 kg, Kyle Snyder, who became the youngest American wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal at the age of 20 at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Snyder burst onto the Senior scene in 2015, winning his first World title at the age of 19 in Las Vegas. He has won a medal for five straight years, with an Olympic gold, two World golds, a World silver and a World bronze. When he placed third in the 2019 Worlds, Snyder qualified the USA for Tokyo at the weight. To make the Olympic Team in 2021, he may need to beat a fellow Olympic medalist. 2016 Olympic bronze medalist J’den Cox, who was at 86 kg in Rio, has moved up to this weight class. Cox is a two-time World champion, an Olympic medalist and a World bronze medalist. Should these guys meet at the Olympic Trials, it will be a dynamite series.

The current king at 97 kg, and perhaps the best freestyle wrestler on earth today, is Russia’s Abdulrashid Sadulaev. A 2016 Olympic champion and two-time World champion at 86 kg, Sadulaev moved up to challenge Snyder at the 2017 Worlds. Snyder won that finals match, knocking Sadulaev to the silver medal. In the 2018 World finals, Sadulaev pinned Snyder for the gold. He added the 2019 World gold medal to his collection, beating 2012 Olympic champion and 2011 World champion Sharif Sharifov of Azerbaijan in the finals. The other 2019 World bronze went to Magomedgadji Nurov of North Macedonia, the first Senior-level World medal of his career. The rugged Elizbar Odikadze of Georgia, who was a 2018 World bronze medalist and has reached a World or Olympic bronze medal bout for six straight years, qualified by placing fifth in 2019, as did 2018 Junior World silver medalist Alisher Yergali of Kazakhstan. Winning the Pan American Olympic Qualifier was three-time World medalist Reineris Salas of Cuba. The second Pan Am berth went to Jordan Steen of Canada, whose second place was the best performance of his Senior career.

This leaves a number of top athletes still needing to qualify, including 2012 Olympic silver medalist Valerii Andriitsev of Ukraine and 2016 Olympic bronze medalists Albert Saritov of Romania and Magomed Ibragimov of Uzbekistan. Ibragimov and Saritov are also past World medalists. Two-time World champion Reza Yazdani of Iran won the 2019 Asian Championships but did not wrestle in the 2019 Worlds. Others seeking qualification are two-time Olympian Nicolai Ceban of Moldova, 2019 Pan American Games silver medalist Jose Diaz of Venezuela and 2018 Asian Games silver medalist Magomed Musaev of Kyrgyzstan.

Men’s freestyle 97 kg/213.75 lbs. Olympic Qualifiers
2019 World champion – Russia (Abdulrashid Sadulaev)
2019 World silver medalist – Azerbaijan (Sharif Sharifov)
2019 World bronze medalist – United States (Kyle Snyder)
2019 World bronze medalist – North Macedonia (Magomedgadji Nurov)
2019 World fifth place – Georgia (Elizbar Odikadze)
2019 World fifth place –Kazakhstan (Alisher Yergali)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier champion – Cuba (Reineris Salas Perez)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Canada (Jordan Steen)

Men’s freestyle 65 kg review

This is the one weight class in men’s freestyle which the USA has not yet qualified. Zain Retherford competed in both the 2019 World Championships and 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier and did not meet the standards there. Retherford will be in a very deep weight class at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, with Yianni Diakomihalis, Jordan Oliver and others with Olympic dreams and capabilities. Whoever wins the Olympic Trials will need to go to Bulgaria in late April and place in the top two at the Last Chance World Olympic Qualifier.

Leading the pack of the qualifiers are Russia’s Gadzhimurad Rashidov, a 2019 World champion and three-time World medalist. He defeated Daulet Niyazbekov of Kazakhstan in the 2019 World finals, a 2012 Olympian who is coming off his best season. India’s star Bajrang, a 2018 World silver medalist and 2019 World bronze medalist, is another top challenger. Iszmail Muszukajev of Hungary, who wrestled for Russia until 2019, won the other 2019 World bronze medal. 2018 World champion Takuto Otoguru of Japan qualified with his fifth-place at the 2019 Worlds, as did Tulga Tumur-Ochir of Mongolia. Two-time World bronze medalist Alejandro Valdes of Cuba won the Pan American Olympic Qualifier, beating Agustin Destribats of Argentina in the finals. Destribats caught Zain Retherford with a surprise fall to advance to the finals.

Among the stars who are not yet in the Olympic field are 2016 Olympic champion and 2015 World champion Vladimer Khichegashvili of Georgia, plus three-time World champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Haji Aliev of Azerbaijan. Others to watch are 2014 World University champion Selahattin Kilicsallayan of Turkey, Amir Yazdani of Iran, Andre Perpelita of Moldova, Lee Seung-Chul of Korea, George Bucur of Romania. Two U.S. college athletes of note, David Habat of Slovenia (Edinboro) and Malik Amine of San Marino (Michigan) are among those yet to qualify.

Men’s freestyle 65 kg/143 lbs. Olympic Qualifiers
2019 World champion – Russia (Gadzhimurad Rashidov)
2019 World silver medalist – Kazakhstan (Daulet Niyazbekov)
2019 World bronze medalist – India (Bajrang)
2019 World bronze medalist – Hungary (Iszmail Muszukajev)
2019 World fifth place – Japan (Takuto Otoguro)
2019 World fifth place – Mongolia (Tulga Tumur Ochir)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier champion – Cuba (Alejandro Enrique Valdes Tobier)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Argentina (Agustin Alejandro Destribats)

Women’s freestyle 50 kg review

The United States qualified this weight class at the 2020 Pan American Olympic qualifier when Sarah Hildebrandt made the finals. Hildebrandt, a 2018 World silver medalist, dropped down from 53 kg to pursue her Olympic dream. The USA is loaded at this weight, with five-time World Team member Whitney Conder, two-time World team member Victoria Anthony, plus the comeback of two-time World bronze medalist Alyssa Lampe. With this kind of firepower, the USA has high expecations for Tokyo.

The reigning World champion is the highly-decorated Mariya Stadnik of Azerbaijan, who won World titles a decade apart, in 2009 and 2019. Stadnik boasts three Olympic medals and six World medals. Winning the 2019 World silver medal was Emilia Vuc of Romania, a 2016 Olympian who has shown great improvement. Both of the 2019 World bronze medalists are a bit unheralded, Valentina Islamov of Kazakhstan and Ekatarina Poleschuk of Russia. Islamova competed for Russia before switching nations in 2018. Poleschuk was competing in her first Senior Worlds. Getting in with fifth place is 2013 World champion Sun Yanan of China, who won a 2016 Olympic bronze medal and owns three World medals. Oksana Livach of Ukraine, a three-time Junior World medalist, was also fifth in 2019. Getting into the field at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier was champion Yuneylis Guzman of Cuba.

Japan has not yet qualified here, although it has been very strong at this weight in the past. Yuki Irie did not get it done at the 2019 Worlds, a year she beat two-time World champion Yuki Susaki to make the team. India is not qualified either, with either Seema or Ritu Phogat among the athletes capable of getting in. 2014 World silver medalist Iwona Matkowska of Poland and 2017 World bronze medalist Son-Hyang Kim of North Korea are capable of qualifying. Other talents seeking to qualify are Evin Demirhan of Turkey, Fredrika Petersson of Sweden and Miesinnei Genesis of Nigeria.

Women’s freestyle 50 kg/110 lbs. Olympic qualifiers
2019 World champion – Azerbaijan (Mariya Stadnik)
2019 World silver medalist – Romania (Emilia Vuc)
2019 World bronze medalist – Kazakhstan (Valentina Islamova Brik)
2019 World bronze medalist – Russia (Ekaterina Poleschuk)
2019 World fifth place – Ukraine (Oksana Livach)
2019 World fifth place –China (Sun Yanan)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier champion – Cuba (Yuneylis Guzman Lopez)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier runner-up – United States (Sarah Hildebrandt)