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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Tokyo Watch - 50 Profiles in 50 Days: Zhan Beleniuk (Ukraine)

    Two-time world champion Zhan Beleniuk of Ukraine (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    As of today, we under 50 days from the start of wrestling at the Olympic Games. Over the next 50 days, we'll bring you one profile per day of a decorated international contender. Make sure you get to know the wrestlers that Team USA will compete against in Tokyo.

    6/26/21 - Sergey Kozyrev (Russia)

    6/24/21 - Kenchiro Fumita (Japan)

    6/23/21 - Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (Belarus)

    6/22/21 - Erica Wiebe (Canada)

    6/21/21 - Myles Amine (San Marino)

    6/20/21 - Sofia Mattsson (Sweden)

    6/19/21 - Hassan Yazdani Charati (Iran)

    6/18/21 - Tamas Lorincz (Hungary)

    6/17/21 - Takuro Otoguro (Japan)

    6/16/21 - Elizbar Odikadze (Georgia)

    6/15/21 - Koumba Larroque (France)

    6/14/21 - Haji Aliyev (Azerbaijan)

    6/13/21 - Ningning Rong (China)

    6/12/21 - Bajrang Punia (India)

    6/11/21 - Frank Staebler (Germany)

    6/10/21 - Geno Petriashvili (Georgia)

    One of the top contenders at the 87 kg Greco-Roman weight class at the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be Ukraine's Zhan Beleniuk. At 30 years old, Beleniuk has a long track record of success and captured his second world title at the most recent world championships. This will also be his second trip to the Olympics as he was a silver medalist in Rio.

    Not only is Beleniuk a superstar on the mat, but he's also a trailblazer at home. Beleniuk, who has a Ukrainian mother and father from Rwanda, is the first black member of Ukraine's Parliament. He currently serves as the First Deputy Head of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Youth and Sports.

    Key Wins: Viktor Lorincz (2019 World Championships; Finals), Radik Kuliyeu (2019 European Games; Semifinals), Maksim Manukyan (2019 European Games; Round of 16), Hossein Nouri (2018 World Championships, Quarterfinals), Artur Shahinyan (2018 World Championships; Round of 16, 2018 International Ukrainian; Semifinals), Evgeny Saleev (2017 World Military Championships; Finals), Islam Abbasov (2019 European Games; Finals, 2019 European Championships; Finals, 2018 World Championships; Semifinals, 2018 Vehbi Emre&Hamit Kaplan; Finals, 2018 International Ukrainian; Finals, 2017 World Military Championships; Semifinals), Mikalai Stadub (2019 World Championships; Quarterfinals, 2016 Golden Grand Prix; Quarterfinals), Javid Hamzatov (2016 Olympic Games; Semifinals), Robert Kobliashvili (2016 European Championships; Finals), Denis Kudla (2019 World Championship; Semifinals, 2016 European Championships; Quarterfinals)

    Key Losses: Zurabi Datunashvili (2021 European Championships; Semifinals), Metehan Basar (2018 World Championships; Finals), Khalis Ghilmanou (2018 Oleg Karavaev; Quarterfinals), Evgeny Saleev (2016 Golden Grand Prix; Repechage), Islam Abbasov (2016 Golden Grand Prix; Semifinals), Davit Chakvetadze (2016 Olympic Games; Finals)

    The Age Group Years (2007-11)

    There are many wrestlers that we will profile that rose from obscurity as a young wrestler. Zhan Beleniuk is not one of those competitors. Beleniuk showed promise from the moment he stepped on the international scene and has been a contender at every age group he's entered. It was 2007 when Beleniuk got his international start, taking silver at the European Cadet Championships. Since it was prior to the Cadet World Championships being reinstated (2011), that was the farthest Beleniuk could travel.

    A year later, Beleniuk entered the European Cadet Championships and left with another piece of hardware. This time it was a bronze medal at the 76 kg weight class.

    It would be another two years before Beleniuk was able to make a difference as a Junior. By then, he moved up to 84 kg, a weight range (84-87kg) that he would maintain for the next decade-plus. Despite taking tenth at the 2010 European Junior Championships, Beleniuk would improve upon that finish at his first World Championship event. Beleniuk's only loss came at the hands of future four-time World/Olympic champion Artur Aleksanyan (Armenia) and he would capture a bronze medal.

    During Beleniuk's final year as Junior-eligible, he claimed his first major victory, winning gold at the European Championships. Later in 2011, Beleniuk made the Junior world finals, but came up short against Revazi Nadareishvili (Georgia), one of his opponents at the continental championships.

    Also in 2011, Beleniuk got his first taste of Senior-level competition. He was fifth at Finland's Vantaa Painicup.

    Climbing the Ladder (2012-14)

    While Beleniuk was on the younger end of the spectrum on the Senior-level in 2012, he proved himself capable of competing with top-level competition. His best showing that year was a bronze medal performance at the European Championships. He was also third at the Moscow Lights and Azovmash Cup.

    In 2013, Beleniuk continued to grow and turned in some solid performances. At the World University Games, Beleniuk was a bronze-medal winner and he won his first Senior-level event a couple of months later. It came at the President Cup of Kazakhstan in a field that was heavy on entrants from the host country.

    That momentum carried into 2014, as Beleniuk started to show the consistency that he has lacked during his first couple of years on the Senior-level. He began the year with a championship at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament. Two months later, Beleniuk won his first European Championship at the Senior-level. For the gold, he downed Rami Hietaniemi (Finland), a world bronze medalist just three years prior.

    After a bronze medal at the German Grand Prix, Beleniuk was Ukraine's entry at the World Championships for the first time. In his first bout at worlds, Beleniuk defeated Hietaniemi again. He advanced all the way to the semifinals before getting cautioned out against Azerbaijan's Saman Tahamasebi. Beleniuk was able to regain his footing and downed Ramsin Azizsir (Germany) to come away with a bronze medal.

    Elite Status (2015-Present)

    From 2015 to 2021, Beleniuk only has lost a handful of bouts and has been in the gold medal hunt at almost every tournament he's entered. His 2015 started off with a win at the Takhti Cup, before taking silver at the European Games.

    Those performances set the stage for the World Championships in Las Vegas. In his second match, Beleniuk gathered a win over his bronze medal foe from the previous year, Azizsir. Next up was Viktor Lorincz (Hungary), a two-time world bronze medalist at the time. Beleniuk was able to sneak by, 3-1. A match later, Beleniuk defeated Olympic bronze medalist and world silver medalist, Damian Janikowski (Poland). That win put Beleniuk in line for a rematch with Tahamasebi, the only opponent to defeat him the previous year. Beleniuk turned the tables in a 3-1 win and earned a spot in the world finals. To claim his first world championship, Beleniuk shut out two-time Asian Champion Rustam Assakalov (Uzbekistan), 6-0. At 24 years old, Beleniuk was the best in the world!

    The win at the 2015 World Championships allowed Beleniuk a berth in his first Olympic Games in 2016. Beleniuk did not drop a match before the Olympics as he won the International Ukrainian, his second world title, and Trophee Milone.

    At the Olympics, Beleniuk cruised into the semifinals with a pair of lopsided wins. There he would continue his dominance by crushing 2013 World bronze medalist Javid Hamzatov (Belarus), 6-0. With an Olympic gold medal on the line, Beleniuk faced Russia's Davit Chakvetadze. Chakvetadze was also responsible for one of Beleniuk's losses in 2015, at the European Games. Once again, the Russian came out on top and Beleniuk would settle for the silver medal.

    Beleniuk would finish the year with losses to Islam Abbasov (Azerbaijan) and Evgeny Saleev (Russia) and fell to fifth-place at the Golden Grand Prix.

    Though he didn't compete at the World Championships in 2017, Beleniuk was able to have some good takeaways from the year. He won his first World Military Championships with wins over Abbasov and Saleev in the finals.

    Beleniuk would prove his win over Abbasov was not a fluke in 2018 by defeating the Azeri star at both the International Ukrainian and the Vehbi Emre & Hamit Kaplan Tournament.

    2018 also saw one of the more head-scratching losses of Beleniuk's career as he lost in the quarterfinals of the Oleg Karavaev Tournament to France's Khalis Ghilmanou. Ghilmanou didn't have much of an international pedigree before the loss and no major placements since.

    Less than a month after finishing eighth at the Karavaev, Beleniuk was ready for the World Championships in Budapest. After a pair of hard-fought wins, Beleniuk faced returning world medalist Hossein Nouri (Iran) in the quarterfinals. The Ukrainian star was able to squeeze out a 4-2 win, which led to yet another date with Abbasov. Once again, he Beleniuk won and earned another shot at a world title. This time it was for naught, as he was held in check by Turkey's Metehan Basar in a 2-1 loss.

    2019 was different from previous years as Beleniuk only entered the big events. Just the European Championships, the European Games, and world's. It proved to be a sound strategy, as he won all three events and finished the year without a loss. His world title came at the expense of Lorincz in the finals for a second time.

    With a spot in the 2020 Olympics locked up, Beleniuk was a four-time world medalist, two-time champion and ready to win his second medal at the Games. That didn't happen as the Covid pandemic struck and Beleniuk did not have the opportunity to compete during the entire year.

    This year, Beleniuk jumped back into the fray and was a winner in his first event, the Grand Prix of Zagreb. He was unable to claim his fourth European title, though, falling to Serbia's Zurabi Datunashvili 1-1 in the quarterfinals. Beleniuk did win his next two bouts to capture bronze, which was his fifth career medal at the European's.

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