Olympic Champs Focken, Lorincz Among Stars who Announced Retirement in '21

By Vinay Siwach

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (January 3) -- Aline FOCKEN (GER) has been on the top of the podium on numerous occasions in her career. Few of those stood out like the gold at the '14 World Championships and top finish in various European Championships. But nothing fulfills a sportsperson's career like an Olympic medal. So when Focken won the gold at the Tokyo Games earlier this year, she knew it was the highest point of her career.

"I knew that I will retire after the Tokyo Olympics," Focken said. "Not because I don't like wrestling, I still love it, just because I wanted to enjoy other things in life and that my body is healthy enough to live a great life after.

"And secretly I've always dreamt of retiring as an Olympic champion," she said.

The 30-year-old did exactly that when she defeated Adeline GRAY (USA) in the 76kg final in Tokyo and claimed Germany's first-ever medal at the Games in women's wrestling.

She is not the only Olympic champion to retire this year as 77kg Greco-Roman champ Tamas LORINCZ (HUN) also decided to draw the curtains on his long and illustrious career in which he won two Olympic medals.

Apart from the two, Tokyo Olympics bronze medalist Frank STAEBLER (GER) and Olympians Cenk ILDEM (TUR), Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) and Elmurat TUSMADAROV (UZB) have announced their retirement from the sport.

Aline Rotter FockenAline FOCKEN (GER) announced her retirement from the sport after winning the gold medal in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Focken had participated at the '16 Rio Olympic Games, where she finished at the eighth spot. But in the last five years, she changed her weight class to 76kg and won two world medals.

Even though 76kg was stacked with some of the biggest stars of women's wrestling like Gray, Erica WEIBE (CAN), Yasemine ADAR (TUR), Epp MAEE (EST), Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) and Qian ZHOU (CHN), Focken managed to make a name for herself. 

"Hard work pays off," she said. "We don't know when or how, but your work will never be in vain. If you want something really great, you need to work for it and stay patient."

Focken will join the German Wrestling Federation to develop women's wrestling in the country and is also expecting her first child in May 2022. But she thinks that despite retiring, she will miss the sport.

"[I will miss] wrestling itself and throwing people around," she said. "But most of all my coaches and teammates as they are like family."

Tamas LORINCZTamas LORINCZ (HUN) celebrates after becoming Olympic champion at 77kg. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

The 35-year-old Lorincz, who also won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics, defeated young star Anzol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) in the 77kg final to claim his gold and later made it clear that he will not like to wrestle again after his fourth Olympics.

Lorincz's career followed a steady path after his 16th-place finish in Rio. Previously, he only had one world medal -- a bronze in '14 -- but since '16, he won two silvers and a gold at the '19 World Championships to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Three-time world champion Staebler ended his long wait for an Olympic medal by winning the bronze in Tokyo at 67kg and then left his wrestling shoes on the mat, marking an end to a glorious career.

"Half of my life I have spent wrestling," Staebler said. "I have two children and they need my time. Also, my body was affected too much by injuries but I achieved everything I could so I can say goodbye now."

Staebler, making his third Olympic appearance, lost to eventual champion Mohammadreza GERAEI (IRI) in Tokyo but came back to defeat Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) 5-4 to win the medal.

In the previous two appearances, he had come agonizingly close to winning a medal, finishing fifth and seventh in '12 and '16, respectively.

"Besides all the World titles, my favorite moment is definitely the Olympic medal," he said. "This medal is one of the best feelings in the world. I will miss wrestling as for me it is the most beautiful sport in the world. However, I look forward to passing on my knowledge on and off the mat to the next generation."

Staebler is looking forward to working with young wrestlers as a coach and motivational speaker. He would be involved in different academies and schools across Germany. But he also said that he has a big plan -- a final bout -- which will be a grand farewell for him.

"I am planning a big show in which I will wrestle my last fight," he said. "After that, I want to work as a motivational coach and speaker and I will be going to a lot in schools to help the children. It is my advice to young wrestlers that protect your dreams no matter what."

Cenk IldemCenk ILDEM (TUR) announced his retirement and will now be a coach. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Rio Olympic bronze medalist at 98kg Ildem will now be working as the coach of the Turkish national team. He announced his retirement after failing to win a medal at the Tokyo Games.

Thanking his family and coaches, Ildem said that their support meant everything to him and he will also coach new champions as a way to serve his country.

"I appreciate them [family and coaches] as they always support me for the work which I did lovingly," he said. "Everything ends and I believe that my time is also up. I would like to continue to serve my country by training new champions."

Ildem career began in the early 2000s and he became a junior world champion in 2006. But it took him five years to wrestle at his first senior World Championships in 2011 in which he won a bronze medal to qualify for the London Olympics.

The 35-year-old said that he learned a lot from wrestling and youngsters should never feel powerless or tired and believe that they will overcome hardships.

"Medals not only comprise of metals; there is effort, fight, tenacity and hard work underlying them," he said. "One should believe that you will overcome hardships one by one."

TasmuradovElmurat TASMURADOV (UZB) is 59kg bronze medalist from the Rio Olympics. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

Fellow Rio bronze medalist Tasmuradov also announced his retirement via a social medal post on Instagram in which he said that he is grateful to his country and teammates.

Tasmuradov's record as a wrestler is one of the most accomplished ones for Uzbekistan as he won three World Championships medals along with seven at the Asian Championships. Five out of the seven were gold medals which he won in 2013-15, 2018 and 2020.

He picked the gold medal in the 2013 Asian Championships as the biggest moment of his career along with the bronze medal in Rio 2016.

"The most valuable moment was the time when I won the gold at the Asian Championship for the first time," Tasmuradov said. "Second, I promised my father that I will win a medal at the Rio Olympics and fortunately, I returned home with the bronze."

He thanked his parents and coaches for their encouragement and support throughout his career and said that youngsters should be patient to achieve their goals in the sport.

"I want to thank my parents for encouraging me to take up the sport," Tasmuradov. "Over the course of my career, I have been trained by many coaches and I thank them all especially my first trainer Abdurauf SATTAROVICH, Alexander KOLENSIKOV from Kazakhstan, head coach of Uzbekistan Ravshan ROZIKULOV, Botir TURSUNOV and Salim ABDUVALIYEZ.

"I'll miss wrestling and raising the national flag on the podium which is a different kind of nostalgia," he said. "Young wrestlers must continue to work on their goals and patience is their path to achieve outstanding results. Pursuing goals despite obstacles is the thing that every sportsperson should do."

The three-time world medalist said that injuries were taking a toll on his body and it was time to coach the younger generation.

"I have severe injuries," he explained, adding, "I want to help grow young wrestlers internationally by using my experience as I have been appointed as a coach of Uzbekistan. Nurturing the wrestler who will be champions in near future is one of my priorities."

NiyazbekovDaulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) finished fifth in his two appearances at the Olympic Games in 2012 and 2021. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

World silver medalist Niyazbekov was the latest in the list of wrestlers who ended their careers in 2021 but he said that he had a medical condition that forced him to retire.

"Doctors found a hernia in my spine and it was dangerous to my health," Niyazbekov said. "After thinking for a long time and consulting with doctors and relatives, I decided to end my career."

A three-time Asian champion Niyazbekov has been the mainstay of the Kazakhstan national team and acted as a leader along with Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ). The two-time Olympian incidentally finished fifth on both occasions.

"There is no Olympic and world champion in freestyle wrestling from Kazakhstan," he said. "I want to give my experience for the development of wrestling in Kazakhstan. I want to advise young wrestlers to set goals and achieve them, work hard and endure all difficulties. After difficulties, the moments of glory come."