2021 Junior World Champions Keegan O'Toole (left) and Rocky Elam (Photo courtesy of Kadir Caliskan/UWW)
"Make sure the stars are in your right hand." Those were the instructions from Junior National freestyle coach Kevin Jackson to his newly-minted 74 kg world champion, Keegan O'Toole. They also may have consisted of the most in-match coaching O'Toole needed during Wednesday's gold medal match. O'Toole made the finals after pulling out remarkable comebacks in each of the quarter and semifinals. During both rounds, he won via fall from a cradle while trailing.
Today, there was no such drama as O'Toole cruised to an 11-0 win on technical superiority over Kazakhstan's Nurdaulet Kuanyshbay. Though Kuanyshbay's first four opponents combined to score nine points (eight came in one match) against him, O'Toole didn't have much of a problem scoring on his Kazakh opponent.
The bulk of the bout saw O'Toole stick to the basics and mount a 7-0 point lead over Kuanyshbay. But in the second period, Kuanyshbay tried to get on the scoreboard and expose O'Toole. That didn't work in his favor and O'Toole got the two points. He would end up in a familiar position, in a cradle, which the Missouri All-American used again to end the bout. This time he only needed two points for the tech, rather than a fall.
O'Toole's win marks the fifth consecutive Junior World Championship won by an American at 74 kg. David Carr did so in 2019 after Mekhi Lewis won in 2018. Mark Hall captured the previous two titles in 2016 and 2017.
Shockingly enough, O'Toole isn't the only Missouri wrestler to come home with a championship belt and a gold medal. Teammate Rocky Elam accomplished the feat, as well, at 92 kgs.
While O'Toole used flash and flair to wow the crowd, Elam gritted and grinded his way through the tournament. Three of Elam's four wins came with a five-point margin of victory or less. Though Elam was in control for the first two close victories, he needed some dramatics to secure a gold medal.
Rocky seemed to be cruising again after gaining two first-period points via a shot clock violation and a step-out. He got in on Mahdi Hajiloueianmorfah's (Iran) legs and appeared to be ready to add another two points to his tally. That wasn't the case, as the tall, rangy Iranian stuffed his advances and grabbed a takedown of his own. Since the scoring hold was larger than Elam's pair of one-pointer's, he held criteria.
After more than a minute of struggling to deal with Hajiloueianmorfah's length, Elam finally penetrated the Iranian's defense. He would have to work for the takedown, however. Elam needed to adjust and readjust his finish attempts before finally corralling the legs for two go-ahead points, with only 15 seconds remaining. The official allowed Elam to work for a turn as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
Elam won his own gold medal by the score of 4-2. He is the second member of his family to win a Junior World medal, as older brother Zach took silver at 97 kg in 2018.
Shortly after Elam's bout, Wyatt Hendrickson took the stage at 125 kgs in a bronze medal bout. The Air Force sophomore held a 3-0 lead after the first period, but saw that fade away with a four-point takedown from Russian Andrei Bestaev. Hendrickson could never recover and fell, 7-3 and was denied a medal.
That closed the book on the Junior men's freestyle tournament. The team amassed five world medals (three golds) and finished third behind Iran and Russia. Those three teams accounted for all ten world championships awarded (Russia - 2; Iran - 5). The last time the men's freestyle squad finished with a trio of titleists was 2017, when Hall, Daton Fix, and Gable Steveson won gold.
Before the men took center stage Wednesday, the women's freestyle team kicked off their tournament. Three women ensured places in tomorrow's gold medal matches, Emily Shilson (50 kg), Amit Elor (68 kg), and Kylie Welker (76 kg). All three are no strangers to international hardware. Shilson is a two-time Cadet world champion and a Youth Olympic Games gold medalist from 2018. Elor dominated her way to Cadet gold just about a month ago. Welker was a Cadet World bronze medalist in 2019 and made the 2020 Olympic Trials finals, while still in high school.
Shilson was tested in each of her first two bouts. Both were hard-fought bouts decided by three points. Shilson was down with under a minute remaining in the quarters and had to reel off six points to grab the win. The last match of the day ended up being the easiest for Shilson, as she needed just over two minutes to amass a 10-0 win against Simran (India).
Neither Elor nor Welker surrendered a single point during their respective runs to the finals. The pair combined to outscored the opposition 42-0 (with a fall). Only one of their five bouts made it to the second period.
At 55 kg, Payton Stroud is still in the medal hunt. She logged a 5-2 first-round win over Chile's Antonia Valdez Arriagada, before running into a buzzsaw in Kalmira Bilimbek Kyzy (Kyrgyzstan). Bilimbek Kyzy teched Stroud 10-0, then won by fall in the semis. Stroud's path to a bronze medal starts with a repechage bout against Munkhgerel Munkhbat (Mongolia) tomorrow morning.
The fifth member of the women's team that started competition on Wednesday was Mia Macaluso at 59 kgs. Mia started off strong but was stunned with a takedown to her back by Ebru Dagbasi (Turkey), which resulted in a first-period fall. Dagbasi fell in her next bout, which eliminated Macaluso.
The remainder of the women's team will get their tournament underway tomorrow, too.
Full American Results
Gold Medal Match
Keegan O'Toole (USA) over Nurdaulet Kuanyshbay (Kazakhstan) 11-0
92 kg Gold Medal Match
Rocky Elam (USA) over Mahdi Hajiloueianmorfah (Iran) 4-2
125 kg Bronze Medal Match
Andrei Bestaev (Russia) over Wyatt Hendrickson (USA) 7-3
Emily Shilson (USA) over Natallia Varakina (Belarus) 6-3
Emily Shilson (USA) over Viktoriia Aleksandrova (Russia) 10-7
Emily Shilson (USA) over Simran (India) 10-0
Payton Stroud (USA) over Antonia Valdez Arriagada (Chile) 5-2
Kalmira Bilimbek Kyzy (Kyrgyzstan) over Payton Stroud (USA) 10-0
Ebru Dagbasi (Turkey) over Mia Macaluso (USA) Fall 1:35
Amit Elor (USA) over Arju (India) 10-0
Amit Elor (USA) over Zsuzsanna Molnar (Slovakia) 11-0
Kylie Welker (USA) over Laura Kuehn (Germany) 10-0
Kylie Welker (USA) over Mariia Silina (Russia) 11-0
Kylie Welker (USA) over Kseniya Dzibuk (Belarus) Fall 1:04