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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Spencer Lee Dominates En Route to Olympic Berth; Retherford in Repechage

    The final discipline to hit the mat in the World OG Qualifier was men’s freestyle which took center stage on Saturday. The American contingent consisted of Spencer Lee at 57 kg and Zain Retherford at 65 kg. Both needed to qualify for their respective weights for the 2024 Olympic Games. 

    One out of two, Lee, was able to finish the job; however, Retherford does have a chance to qualify through repechage tomorrow. 

    A three-time Cadet/Junior world champion, Lee focused on his collegiate career at Iowa and did not compete internationally for six-plus years. He returned with wins at the Bill Farrell and the Pan-American Championships, earlier this year; however, he put the entire world on notice with a dominant performance in Istanbul. 

    Lee started and finished his day with remarkably quick finishes. His tournament began with a :22 second tech over Morocco’s Ben Tarik. Lee worked from a front headlock to get a takedown and then proceeded to transfer into a leg lace for four turns and a quick end to the bout. 

    The three-time NCAA champion lightweight only went the full distance in one of his four matches. In the Round of 16, Lee gave up a regular two-point takedown and a four-point double leg to Wanhao Zou of China. Trailing 6-2, Lee got in on a low single and was able to gather the second leg after Zou tried to kick over. He kept the leg for a takedown and also three turns to quickly jump ahead 10-6. Zou turned up the pace late in the second period; however, it wasn’t enough and he came up short, 10-9. 

    Against 2022 European Champion Vladimir Egorov (North Macedonia) it was much of the same. Lee got an early takedown but really blew open the match with his skills from par terre. Initially, Lee started working with a more folkstyle-centric reinforced bar tilt and it yielded a set of exposure points, though Egorov was able to get two of his own. Lee readjusted, caught a leg lace, and then ended the contest. All in only :53 seconds. 

    With an Olympic berth hanging in the balance, Lee took on Kazakhstan’s Rakhat Kalzhan. He hit his Kazakh opponent with a move that American fans have become accustomed to seeing - his dump. That hold netted him two points and then Lee moved into a trapped arm gut. Four turns later, Lee was officially headed to Paris. Once again, it was remarkably quick - only :35 seconds. 

    Like Lee, Retherford had to battle back from an early deficit in his opening match. He gave up a takedown to Stefan Coman (Romania), but never wavered and imposed his will before securing a fall midway through the second stanza. 

    Retherford made short work of his next opponent, Ibrahim Guzan (Yemen), needing less than a period to rack up 11 points for an 11-0 tech. 

    That win set up a much-anticipated bout with 2021 World bronze medalist Tulga Tumur Ochir (Mongolia). As expected, Tumur Ochir was a handful for the 2023 70 kg world champion. Tumur Ochir got on the board first with a takedown set up by an arm spin. Those two points were the only ones awarded during the first period. Retherford jumped ahead with a takedown from single leg with about 1:30 remaining in the contest. The Hodge Trophy winner secured the score as the final seconds were ticking off on Retherford’s shot clock. 

    During the waning seconds of the bout, with Retherford leading on criteria, Tumur Ochir got in on a single leg. Retherford looked to expose the Mongolian; however, he ended up surrendering a total of four points during the exchange. A failed challenge would bring the score to 7-2 in favor of Tumur Ochir, the same score it would end at. 

    Not only did Tumur Ochir win, but he won his next match which locked up a quota for Paris. With his win, Retherford was pulled back into repechage. He’ll face Alibeg Alibegov (Bahrain) in his first match tomorrow. Retherford will need to win four matches to book his trip to Paris.

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