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  • Photo: Larry Slater

    Photo: Larry Slater

    Maroulis and Taylor Advance to Olympic Semifinals

    Helen Maroulis in the 2020 Olympic quarterfinals (Photo courtesy of Larry Slater; LBSphoto.smugmug.com)

    The first session that featured all freestyle action at the 2020 Olympics proved to be a good one for the Americans. Thomas Gilman (57 kg) and David Taylor (86 kg) were the first men's freestyle team members to take the mat in the tournament, while Helen Maroulis (57 kg) started her quest for back-to-back gold medals. Both Taylor and Maroulis advanced to the semifinals, while Gilman came up dangerously close to upsetting the two-time defending world champion.

    Though he has a laundry list of accolades during his decorated career, Taylor was still making his first Olympic appearance. The 2018 world champion was injured during the spring of 2019 and has not competed internationally much since his world title. Right off the bat, Taylor was paired with a legit contender in four-time world medalist Ali Shabanau of Belarus. Though Taylor started slower than we're accustomed to seeing, he poured it on and never let Shabanau have an opening. Eventually, Taylor would win by technical superiority, 11-0.

    The win set up a quarterfinal bout against Michigan's four-time All-American Myles Amine, who competed for San Marino. Right off the opening whistle, Taylor got in on the Wolverine's legs, but Amine was able to wrestle to a stalemate. Amine wasn't content to try and keep it close against the 2018 world champion; he went back at Taylor and earned a takedown to lead 2-0. That early deficit seemed to spark Taylor as he roared back and scored 12 unanswered points to win 12-2. In the next session, the two-time Hodge Trophy winner will face 2019 World silver medalist Deepak Punia (India).

    Maroulis made her return to the Olympic Games and seemingly had a rough draw, as she would face the fourth-seed, 2018 world champion Ningning Rong (China). Though Maroulis controlled most of the action in the early going, she was put on the shot clock in the first period. A point for a shot clock violation, paired with a takedown from Rong, saw her take a 3-0 lead over the American. Even so, Maroulis' coach Mark Perry could be heard instructing her that she was wearing down her Chinese foe. The most action in the first period took place in the closing seconds as Maroulis got a pair of points from exposure, while Rong ended up on top.

    Trailing 4-2 in the second period, Maroulis never took her foot off the gas. She would notch three takedowns in the final stanza to down Rong, 8-4.

    The quarterfinals gave Maroulis the opportunity for a rematch with Tetyana Kit of Ukraine. Just about two months ago, at the Poland Open, Maroulis fell to Kit, 8-2. That version of Helen was much different from the one we saw in Tokyo. In Poland, she was just seeking a tune-up after dealing with a knee injury from the Olympic Trials in April. Kit proved to be stout defensively, but was never able to mount any offense against the American. Maroulis methodically mowed through Kit to the tune of an 8-0.

    Maroulis' quarterfinal win sets the stage for perhaps one of the biggest matches of the entire Games. She'll face fellow 2016 Olympic gold medalist Risako Kawai (Japan). Kawai won her Olympic title at 63 kg, but has moved down to allow her sister to compete. In addition to her gold from the Olympics, Kawai has won each of the last three contested world titles. The two have combined to win five world titles and have eight world medals. With Maroulis looking close to her form of 2016-17, it should be a classic matchup.

    Like Maroulis, Gilman had a difficult draw, as well. He had to deal with two-time world champion Zavur Uguev (Russia) in his first bout. Gilman seemed to tire his Russian counterpart early in the first period and was able to take a 1-1 lead into the second period. After Uguev notched a takedown, Gilman continued to attack and earned a step-out point to trail, 3-2. He looked poised to gain another, yet was able to convert a takedown at the edge to lead 4-3, late in the match. With under :30 remaining, Uguev got into Gilman's leg and had his leg shelved for an inordinate amount of time. Finally, the Russian used a slick back trip to gather the second leg for the winning takedown. Gilman was a mere seconds away from pulling the stunner.

    The Gilman match forced Uguev to expend plenty of energy and it showed in the quarterfinals as he was often extremely slow to return to the center and trailed Gulomjon Abdullaev (Uzbekistan) late in the bout. Again, Uguev snatched victory from the jaws of defeat and earned a winning takedown with an inside trip. That win propelled him to the semifinals, where he'll face Reza Atri (Iran). More importantly for US wrestling fans, it keeps Thomas Gilman's repechage hopes alive.

    Also of note to Americans was Stevan Micic (Serbia), the top-seed at 57 kg. The NCAA finalist for Michigan could not mount any sort of offensive during a 7-0 first-round loss to 2017 world champion Yuki Takahashi (Japan). Takahashi fell in his next match to Nurislam Sanayev (Kazakhstan), which eliminated Micic.

    American Results

    57 kg Men's Freestyle

    Zavur Uguev (Russia) over Thomas Gilman (USA) 5-4

    86 kg Men's Freestyle

    David Taylor (USA) over Ali Shabanau (Belarus) 11-0

    David Taylor (USA) over Myles Amine (San Marino) 12-2

    57 kg Women's Freestyle

    Helen Maroulis (USA) over Ningning Rong (China) 8-4

    Helen Maroulis (USA) over Tetyana Kit (Ukraine) 8-0

    Semifinal Matchups

    57 kg Men's Freestyle

    Nurislam Sanayev (Kazakhstan) vs. Ravi Kumar (India)

    Reza Atri (Iran) vs. Zavur Uguev (ROC)

    86 kg Men's Freestyle

    Hassan Yazdani (Iran) vs. Artur Naifonov (ROC)

    David Taylor (USA) vs. Deepak Punia (India)

    57 kg Women's Freestyle

    Risako Kawai (Japan) vs. Helen Maroulis (USA)

    Iryna Kurachkina (Belarus) vs. Evelina Nikolova (Bulgaria)

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