2021 Olympic champion Gable Steveson (Photo courtesy of Larry Slater; LBSphoto.smugmug.com)
For the last week, it has seemed the the USA Wrestling team has continued to outdo itself. One day, Tamyra Mensah-Stock dominated the field to become only the second American woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Another saw David Taylor pull out a clutch double leg to win gold himself and down rival Hassan Yazdani. Today we were treated to a comeback that will live forever in the annals of US Wrestling history.
Gable Steveson was trying to put the finishing touches on a fantastic run through the 125 kg Olympic field. Standing between him and a gold medal was three-time defending world champion Geno Petriashvili (Georgia). Geno and Taha Akgul (Turkey) have combined to win every World/Olympic title at the weight since 2014. Steveson had already dispatch Akgul in the quarterfinals and was looking to make his stamp on the weight.
As he has done all tournament, Steveson got on the scoreboard first with a point after Petriashvili violated the shot clock. He added to the lead with a takedown off of a single leg. Before the break, Steveson had a massive toss at the edge of the mat that only netted a step-out point.
Though he appeared to be shocked, Petriashvili never wavered and got his first points of the bout, exposing Steveson's back after another offensive attempt. Stevenson finished the flurry on top for a 5-2 advantage. Petriashvili finally was able to convert a shot and pulled to within 5-4 after a takedown, but he quickly took the lead, 8-5, after a pair of gut wrenches.
In a :13 second span that will be replayed thousands of times this week, Steveson was able to stuff a half-hearted Petriashvili shot attempt and spin for two points. He reverted to his folkstyle roots and seemingly "cut" the Georgian for an escape rather than work for exposure. The official obliged and stood the two up for a restart with 6.5 seconds left in the bout. After the whistle blew, Steveson got Petriashvili to bite on an outside step, then snapped and circled, and circled, and circled, and finally got behind for a takedown with .02 left on the clock. The Georgian bench challenged by the call was confirmed and the celebration was on!
Steveson became the first US heavyweight since Bruce Baumgartner in 1992 to win an Olympic gold medal. After his hand was raised, Steveson did his customary round off to a backflip. That and the comeback are sure to place the 21-year-old all over mainstream sports and news channels.
If that wasn't enough, Kyle Dake also finished his comeback and ended the tournament with a bronze medal. After a shocking loss by tech fall in the quarterfinals, Dake rebounded to battle two-time world champion Frank Chamizo (Italy), in his final contest of the Games. It was immediately apparent that Dake was his normal self and never let Chamizo in the match. He showed his normal combination of stingy defense, timely offensive, and a high degree of mat savvy. When it was all said and done, Dake walked away a winner, 5-0.
With Dake's win, the US Men's freestyle team saw all five of its participants clinch medals. The last time the Americans were able to produce such a high medal count was in 1996.
The fourth member to lock up a medal, Kyle Snyder, did so earlier in the session by cruising back Suleyman Karadeniz (Turkey), 5-0 in the semifinals at 97 kg. Snyder kept his Turkish opponent off balance all match and on the defensive. Though, Snyder was not able to convert his attempts, he was able to get multiple step-out points and was never seriously threatened.
Snyder's berth in the finals sets up chapter three in his rivalry with "The Russian Tank" Abdulrashid Sadulaev. In 2017, Snyder had a comeback victory over Sadulaev in the world finals, which helped the Americans capture their first team crown since 1995. A year later, the two met in the world finals and Sadulaev won after a quick fall. Both wrestlers are chasing their second Olympic gold medal and have not been tested in Tokyo.
It appeared as if the Americans would have another finalist as Sarah Hildebrandt jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Yanan Sun during their 50 kg semifinal. Sun chipped away at the lead and got the margin down to 7-6 in the closing seconds of the match. Then she hit a lateral drop which sent Hildebrandt to her back for four points and a 10-7 loss.
Hildebrandt still has an opportunity to medal as she'll face the winner of Yusneylys Guzman (Cuba) and Oskana Livach (Ukraine) in a bronze medal contest.
Another member of the women's freestyle team, Jacarra Winchester, competed for a bronze medal today, but came up just short. Winchester was tossed in a headlock and pinned early in the first period by Vanesa Kaladzinskaya (Belarus) and had to settle for fifth-place.
Men's Freestyle 74 kg Bronze Medal Bout
Kyle Dake (USA) over Frank Chamizo (Italy) 5-0
Men's Freestyle 97 kg Semifinal
Kyle Snyder (USA) over Suleyman Karadeniz (Turkey) 5-0
Men's Freestyle 125 kg Gold Medal Bout
Gable Steveson (USA) over Geno Petriashvili (Georgia) 108
Women's Freestyle 50 kg Semifinal
Yanen Sun (China) over Sarah Hildebrandt (USA) 10-7
Women's Freestyle 53 kg Bronze Medal Match
Vanesa Kaladzinskaya (Belarus) over Jacarra Winchester