Gable Steveson defeats 2016 Olympic gold medalist Taha Akgul (Photo courtesy of Larry Slater; LBSphoto.smugmug.com)
Being involved with a team at a wrestling event forces you to deal with multiple emotions, in the same day/session/hour. During today's session at the Olympic Games, American wrestling fans felt the "highest of the highs" and the "lowest of the lows" within minutes of each other. Three American wrestlers earned berths in the quarterfinals. Two wrestled at the same time, while another started right afterward. Two of those bouts produced stunning results.
The first American to take the mat in the quarterfinals was 2019 world champion Jacarra Winchester. Winchester earned her gold medal at the non-Olympic weight 55 kg and cut down to 53 kg for the Olympic run. Early in her bout against two-time world bronze medalist Qianyu Pang (China), Winchester surrendered a seemingly harmless takedown. Pang found an opening, however, and turned the American twice with a trapped-arm gut wrench. Before the blink of an eye, Winchester was down 6-0. Pang was never able to add onto the lead, but at the same time, Winchester was never able to seriously threaten her Chinese counterpart. Jacarra chipped away with a pair of step-out points, but ultimately fell, 6-2.
Winchester's bronze medal hopes now ride on the back of Pang, who'll face two-time world champion Vanesa Kaladzinskaya (Belarus) in the semifinals. A win by Pang will pull Winchester into repechage.
While Winchester's loss was not expected, based on the rest of the night, it didn't even qualify as a "shocking result."
During Winchester's match, 125 kg sensation Gable Steveson stepped on the big stage opposite 2016 Olympic gold medalist Taha Akgul (Turkey). Steveson already had impressed in his opening match, a 10-0 tech fall of veteran Aiaal Lazarev (Kyrgyzstan), that took slightly more than two minutes and consisted of five snapdowns. The co-Hodge Trophy Winner from Minnesota struck first on a counter, which accounted for the only points of the opening period. In the second, Akgul felt he needed to be the aggressor and took two shots. Both times, Steveson stuffed the attempts and spun for a takedown. Steveson showed his offense was capable, too, by scoring with a double leg.
With under :15 seconds remaining in the match and Steveson out to an 8-0 lead, the youngster stood in the center of the mat and motioned to the Olympic gold medalist to come towards him. A broken Akgul half-heartedly did so, but provided no threat. This was a moment where you wished a crowd was present for the proverbial "changing of the guard," as they would have been on their feet watching the young buck take out the old stud.
Before American fans could catch their breath and ask themselves what they just witnessed, two-time world champion Kyle Dake was in a 4-0 hole against Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (Belarus). That forced the normally defensive-minded Dake to open up his offense. The more that Dake opened up, the more windows of opportunity for Kadimagomedov emerged. In just over three and a half minutes, the Belarussian racked up 11 unanswered points and defeated Dake via technical superiority.
In the coming days and weeks, we'll hope to hear more about why this result occurred. While Kadimagomedov was a bronze medalist at the 2020 Individual World Cup and considered a medal threat in Tokyo, no one could imagine such a one-sided bout. Could there have been an injury to blame, some sort of illness, or just the Olympic experience?
Whatever is to blame, the fact remains that Dake's bronze medal hopes lie in the hands of Kadimagomedov, who will face two-time world champion Frank Chamizo (Italy) in the semis.
Speaking of possible bronze medals, 57 kg entrant Thomas Gilman took a gigantic step towards earning a medal during the repechage phase. Gilman wasted no time with Uzbekistan's Gulomjon Abdullaev. In just over two minutes, Gilman put 11 points on the board and clinched a berth in the bronze medal match, opposite Reza Atri (Iran).
57 kg Men's freestyle repechage
Thomas Gilman (USA) over Gulomjon Abdullaev (Uzbekistan) 11-0
74 kg Men's freestyle
Kyle Dake (USA) over Mostafa Hosseinkhani (Iran) 4-0
Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (Belarus) over Kyle Dake 11-0
125 kg Men's freestyle
Gable Steveson (USA) over Aiaal Lazarev (Kyrgyzstan) 10-0
Gable Steveson (USA) over Taha Akgul (Turkey) 11-0
53 kg Women's freestyle
Jacarra Winchster (USA) over Olga Khoroshavtseva (ROC) 7-4
Qianyu Pang (China) over Jacarra Winchester (USA) 6-2
Bronze Medal Match
57 kg Men's Freestyle
Thomas Gilman (USA) vs. Reza Atri (Iran)
74 kg Men's freestyle
Frank Chamizo (Italy) vs. Magomedkhabib Kadimagomedov (Belarus)
Zaurbek Sidakov (ROC) vs. Daniyar Kaisanov (Kazakhstan)
125 kg Men's freestyle
Geno Petriashvili (Georgia) vs. Amir Zare (Iran)
Gable Steveson (USA) vs. Monkhtoriin Lkhagvagerel (Mongolia)
53 kg Women's Freestyle
Vanesa Kaladzinskaya (Belarus) vs. Qianyu Pang (China)
Bat-Ochiryn Bolortuyaa (Mongolia) vs. Mayu Mukaida (Japan)