To Our Friends in Wrestling Around the world
By William May
（Japan Amateur Wrestling Federation, Public
Kyodo World Services, senior sports writer：firstname.lastname@example.org）
NEW CHAMPIONS HIGHLIGHT TOUGHEST-EVER WORLD GR MEET
CRETEIL, France (October 1-5) - The greco-roman
wrestling world championships in Creteil
this year may be remembered as one of the
most competitive wrestling tournaments ever
seen. A total of 281 wrestlers from 62 countries
put on an impressive display of wrestling
techniques. And since this year's meet also
served as the first round of qualifying for
next year's Olympic Games in Athens, the
competition in the preliminary pools was
heated with more than a few upsets.
Wrestlers from 15 different countries
shared in the 21 medals at stake with no
country winning more than two medals altogether.
And, wrestlers from 33 different countries
booked their tickets to Athens by finishing
in the top 10 of their respective weight
A total of 22 Olympic and world champions
were entered in this year's championships
along with eight wrestlers who had won junior
world titles over the last six years. Of
the world and Olympic champions, reigning
and former, only Armen Nazarian of Bulgaria
at 60 kg was able to manage a repeat title.
Perennial team champion Russia won two
individual titles, but finished outside of
the top 10 in four weight categories and
had to settle for second place. Georgia,
the surprise team champion at the freestyle
world champions in September, added the greco-roman
team trophy with an individual title from
Manuchari Kvirkvelia at 66 kg and four wrestlers
in the top 10. Ukraine topped all nations
by winning Olympic berths in five of the
seven weight categories and finished third
in the team standings with a lone silver
Within this competitive environment,
Olympic silver medalist Katsuhiko Nagata
(2000, 69 kg) was Japan's only place-winner,
finishing 10th at 74 kg. Japan's entries
at the other six weights now turn their attention
to the Olympic qualifying tournaments in
February and March for a chance to wrestle
in Athens. Nagata was not one of Japan’s
leading hopes in Creteil to win a berth in
the Olympics. Despite winning the silver
medal in Sydney, his highest finish ever
in five previous trips to the world championships
was a 13th in 2001.
But Nagata came out in a fiesty mood
and defeated Michal Jaworski of Poland, who
finished sixth in the world meet a year ago.
He, then, hit Lithuania's young Artur Stankevic
with a pair of headlocks to win his pool
and advance to the championship bracket.
In the first round of the championship bracket,
Nagata lost to 1997 world champion Marko
Yli-Hannuksela of Finland, but his eight
points in an 8-12 loss was enough to earn
him 10th place and a ticket to Athens.
One of the trends that stood out in this
year's meet was the "point inflation"
that appeared to plague the first round of
the championship brackets. With the top 10
place-winners at each weight assured a berth
in Athens, wrestlers were scrambling hard
to score as many points as possible in the
round before the quarterfinals -- even in
a losing effort, since the first tie-breaker
for wrestlers eliminated in that round was
the number of technical points scored.
A number of cynics in the crowd sensed
that some arrangements between the competitors
may have been made prior to the bouts to
allow a losing wrestler to score more points
than normal. FILA officials, apparently suspecting
the same, cautioned a handful of wrestlers
during their bouts, but Nagata and Yli-Hannuksela
were not among those warned.
In the end, Yli-Hannuksela lost to Asian
Games champion and eventual bronze medalist
Kim Jin-Soo of Korea to finish seventh. The
gold medal went to Alexei Glushkov of Russia,
who had lost to Nagata at the Sydney Olympics
in the semifinals. Surprisingly, still waiting
to secure a ticket to Athens in two-time
Olympic champion Filiberto Azcuy of Cuba,
who finished 17th after losing to Ukraine's
Vladimir Shatskikh in a preliminary pool
Japan’s wrestler of the year in 2002,
Shingo Matsumoto showed a strong par terre
defense after spending two months in Europe
this past summer training with some of the
top teams. But, for a second year in a row,
Matsumoto kicked off the tournament ay 84
kg against two-time Olympic champion Hamza
Yerlikaya of Turkey. A year ago in Moscow,
Matsumoto was undone by Yerlikaya’s reverse
waistlock and lift in a 0-3 loss. This year,
Matsumoto stopped Yerlikaya’s lift, but
was exposed in a scramble that led to a 4-1
win for the European champ, leaving Matsumoto
in 20th for a second straight year.
Yerlikaya went on to defeat 1999 world
champion Luis Mendez of Cuba, but fell to
defending world champion Ara Abrahamian of
Sweden on criteria after struggling to a
2-2 draw. Abrahamian eventually lost in the
championship final in another nine-minute
match to Gotcha Tsitsiashvili 2-0, giving
Israel its first-ever world champion in wrestling.
Still waiting to book their reservations
in Athens at 84 kg are Mendez (14th), European
champion Alexei Mishin of Russia (26th) and
last year’s world bronze medalist Mohamed
Abdel Fattah of Egypt (19th). At 55 kg, Japan’s
Masatoshi Toyota came into his first world
meet carrying the burden of high expectations
after winning the Pytlasinski tournament
in Poland in August.
Toyota appeared tentative in his first
match and gave up the lead to unheralded
Tero Katajisto of Finland (31st) with a rolling
change-up to the reverse waistlock. He eventually
came back for the win in the second period.
In his second match against Korea’s Im Dae-Won,
Toyota won the first chance to score in the
par terre position but instead gave up an
escape point to the Asia No. 3.
When Im got his first chance to score
from par terre, he converted with a chest-high
gut wrench, like the one used togreat effect
by two-time Olympic champion Sim Kwon-Ho.
Im scored three points for exposure and a
near-fall bonus point to put the match out
of reach. In the championship bracket, Im
stormed into the final with wins over Aleksander
Vakulenko of Ukraine and Marian Sandu of
Romania -- bronze and gold medal winners
at this year’s European championships --
and 1999 world champion Lazaro Rivas of Cuba.Riding
a tidal wave of momentum, Im looked ready
to win his first world title when he caught
Dariusz Jablonski of Poland with the trap-arm
version of his high gut wrench for five points.
But as the Korean corner celebrated, Jablonski
started chipping away at the deficit.
Midway through the second period, Jablonski
narrowed the score to 5-4 with a takedown
and then took the lead for good with a gut
wrench in the final minute. At 30 years of
age, Jablonski grabbed his first world title
with a 6-5 victory. Along with Toyota, looking
ahead to this winter’s Olympic qualifiers
are 1997 world champion Ercan Yildiz of Turkey
(16th), 2001 world runner-up Brandon Paulson
of the U.S. (21st), two-time Asia champion
Asset Imanbayev of Kazakhstan (27th) and
Europe No. 2 Roman Amoyan of Armenia (25th).
Joining Toyota as one of Japan’s leading
hopes for an Olympic berth and a medal this
year was Makoto Sasamoto at 60 kg. Sasamoto,
who was eighth in Sydney and who has finished
seventh and 10th in the world championships,
got off to an encouraging start with a technical
fall over Alois Fassler of Switzerland. In
his second match, Sasamoto faced Nurlan Kasheiganov
of Kazakhstan, who he had defeated for the
bronze medal at the 2002 Asian Games. Nearing
the end of an evenly fought first period,
Kasheiganov converted on a passivity call
with a lift and back-arching throw for four
Sasamoto spent the second period pushing
Kasheiganov all over the mat, but
did not receive a passivity call until 2:11.
Sasamoto made the most of his last chance
attempting a lift and forcing Kasheiganov
into a two-point leg penalty to prevent the
throw. With his final chance, Sasamoto locked
up for a reverse waistlock, but received
only one point for the resulting throw as
time expired on a 3-4 loss.
Sasamoto had to settle for 17th while
Kasheiganov lost to world university champion
Emik Buenyamin of Turkey and fell short of
qualifying for the Olympics with a 12th place
finish. In the final at 60 kg, two-time Olympic
champion Nazarian scored with a reverse waistlock
and a gut wrench to post a 6-2 win over Cuba’s
Roberto Monzon. It was only the second world
championship crown for Nazarian, who was
the tournament’s only repeat champion.
Still looking to qualify for Athens along
with Sasamoto are 2001 world champion Dilshod
Aripov of Uzbekistan (16th), 2001 world runner-up
Karen Mnatsakanhan of Armenia (22nd), Asian
Games champion Kang Kyung-Il of Korea (13th)
and Asia No. 2 Ali Ashkani of Iran (21st).
The big news at 66 kg for Japan was Masaki
Imuro nailed down his first win in three
trips to the world championships with a fall
over Ionut Panait of Romania. It appeared
Imuro was headed for his sixth straight loss
on the world mats after Panait took a 5-0
lead on three separate gut wrenches, but
Imuro came back with a single-arm throw in
the second period to secure a fall.
In his first match, Imuro gave up a back-arching
throw to 37-year-old veteran Jannis Zamanduridis
of Germany and could not make up the difference
to finish in 19th. Zamanduridis went on to
finish seventh. In the final at 66 kg, Manuchari
Kvirkvelia, No. 3 a year ago, scored with
a headlock in overtime against 2000 junior
world champion Armen Vardanyan of Ukraine
for a 4-2 win and Georgia’s lone individual
title. Three former world champions -- Jimmy
Samuelsson (Sweden, 2002), Vaghinar Galustyan
(Armenia, 2001) and Kim In-Sub (Korea, 1999
at 58 kg) -- all finished in the top 10 to
book their places in the Athens’ wrestling
Still on the waiting list are 1996 Olympic
gold medalist Ryszard Wolny of Poland (12th)
and 1999 world champion Makhidar Manukyan
of Kazakhstan (24th).
At 120 kg, the spectators may have witnessed
the birth of a new heavyweight star. Two-time
junior world champion Khassan Baroev upended
American Rulon Gardner and brought the heavyweight
world title back to Russia. The United States
had owned the heavyweight crown for three
years after Gardner defeated Alexander Karelin
at the Sydney Olympic Games, ending the Russian’s
12-year reign atop the wrestlingworld. Baroev
also defeated Asia champion Georgiy Tsurtsumia
of Kazakhstan 4-2 in the semifinals and then
stopped Hungarian silver collector Mihaly
Deak-Bardos 3-1 for the title.
Deak-Bardos, who gave up two points on
a pair of clinches with Baroev, lost in his
fourth straight trip to the world championship
finals -- each time against a different opponent.
Japan’s Katsuaki Suzuki, meanwhile, could
not stop the gut wrench and lost to Kostiantyn Stryzhak
of Ukraine (19th) 2-6 and to Mindaugas Mizgaitis
of Lithuania (4th) by a 0-3 margin to finish
24th overall. Looking ahead to the second
round of qualifiers to book their tickets
to Athens are 1996 Atlanta Olympics gold
medalist at 100 kg Andrｚej Wronski of
Poland (12th), Pan American champion Mijian
Lopez of Cuba (16th) and Nos. 2 and 3 in
Asia Park Woo of Korea (31st) and Iran’s
Ali Reza Gharibi (14th).
This year’s tournament finale was the
gold medal match at 96 kg which developed
into a classic match-up of substance versus
style. In the red corner, Egypt’s Karam
Gaber has become a fan-favorite over the
last couple of years with his flashy throws
and lifts. His presence on the mat is also
more like that of a rock star while his shaved
head makes him look like he just stepped
off the movie set “The Mummy.”
Excitement for Gaber grew as he stormed
through the competition and then demolished
European champion Ramaz Nozadze of Georgia
in only 43 seconds. In the blue corner, “blue-collar”
Martin Lidberg of Sweden is a compact, muscular
type of wrestler who labors hard in each
bout and goes largely unnoticed until he
shows up in the finals.
In his six bouts in Creteil, Lidberg
did not score a single fall or technical
fall and four of his wins were either by
3-0 or 3-1 margins. In the final, Lidberg
not only stymied Gaber’s first par-terre
chance, he managed to score an escape point.
He then took advantage of his only chance
on top in par terre to crank Gaber over with
a high gut wrench for a 3-0 lead at the intermission.
Lidberg frustrated Gaber further in the
second period with his solid positioning
and tight defense as he held on for his first
world title. Gaber, meanwhile, had to settle
for runner-up honors a second year in a row.
Even though Gaber lost, many journalists
and coaches believe that his popularity and
style may be good for the promotion of wrestling.
One incident, however, indicates that it
could also be a hindrance since Gaber’s
fan appeal appears to have influenced a scoring
decision in his favor in the quarterfinals.
With the scored tied at 2-2 in the first
period, Gaber hoisted 2001 world champion
Alexander Bezruchkin of Russia (6th) off
the mat and appeared to score with a back-arching
throw. The chairman of the officiating crew,
however, waved off the points, indicating
that Gaber’s grip had slipped below the
waist. This call was met with the loud booing
of the fans and forced FILA officials to
review the video of the action.
As the crowd chanted for Gaber, the video
appeared to show that while the grip may
have been legal when the throw began, one
of Gaber’s feet appeared to be out-of-bounds.
Nevertheless, FILA officials, perhaps swayed
by the crowd, overturned the decision of
the chairman and awarded Gaber three points.
The match saw now more scoring as Gaber held
on for a 5-2 win.
The incident raises a handful of questions
about the wisdom of second-guessing the officiating
crews and undermining their authority by
overturning selected decisions. And, in retrospect,
while the fans may have been pleased with
having the points awarded to Gaber, the decision
short-circuited a bout that had the potential
of being a tense and ultimately more exciting
match than the one it ended up being.
Japan’s entry Kenzo Kato at 96 kg had
the toughest draw of the team, facing not
only Gaber but also last year’s bronze medal
winner Ali Mollov of Bulgaria in the preliminaries.
Kato gave up two gut wrenches to Mollov in
an 0-3 loss, but scored five points against
Gaber with a takedown and gut wrench before
eventually losing by technical fall 5-17.
Joining Kato in the quest for an Olympic
berth via the qualifiers will be Mollov (29th),
last year’s world champion Mehmet Ozal of
Turkey (14th), 2001 runner-up Ernesto Pena
of Cuba (22nd) and Asia champion Han Tae-Young
of Korea (25th).