Rio Medalist Saritov Keeps Olympic Hopes Alive While Demirtas' Bid Ends

By Ken Marantz

SOFIA, Bulgaria (May 6) -- Rio Olympic bronze medalist Albert SARITOV (ROU) moved one win away from qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics, while Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) saw his dream of another Olympic medal end when he failed to survive in the cut-throat 74kg division.

Saritov had one close call but managed to advance to the semifinals at 97kg as the freestyle competition opened the final world Olympic qualifying tournament with a marathon morning session on Thursday in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The winners of the semifinals in the night session at the spectator-less Arena Armeec Sport Hall earn tickets to Tokyo for their countries, and in most cases, themselves.

Russia and the United States both kept their bids alive to field a complete lineups at the Tokyo Games. Sergei KOZYREV (RUS) secured a place in the final four at 125kg, the only freestyle weight class the European powerhouse had not yet filled, while Jordan OLIVER (USA) did likewise at 65kg.

Kazakhstan, however, will have to be content with entrants in five of the six weight classes in Tokyo after Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ) suffered a heartbreaking 2-2 loss to Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) at 86kg in a clash between former world U23 silver medalists.

Slovenia moved closer to having its first-ever Olympic wrestler when 2017 European bronze medalist David HABAT (SLO) stormed into the 65kg semifinals with a 10-0 technical fall over Ilman MUKHTAROV (FRA). He will face Georgios PILIDIS (GRE) for the Tokyo ticket.

"I am happy about my wrestling," Habat said. "Usually I would give a good interview but I am really focused on the next match right now. The past matches were good because I got here [semifinal]. So that's why I can say that I am happy about how I wrestled. It's good to reflect back and say that I am doing the right thing."

Asked about his dominant victory in the quarterfinals, he replied, "I can improve here and there. I am taking a lot of shots and I want to convert all of them. I am good in those positions but against world class-level guys, it's hard to takedown."

The Russian-born Saritov posted a workmanlike 4-0 victory over Samuel SCHERRER (SUI) to advance to the 97kg semifinals, where he will face Valerii ANDRIITSEV (UKR), who placed fifth at the Rio Olympics. Andriitsev barreled into the last four with a 10-0 technical fall over Timofei XENIDIS (GRE) that took less than a minute.

Saritov survived a scare in the second round, when he was losing 6-5 to Radoslaw BARAN (POL) before catching him with a back trip for 4 points wtih 28 seconds left for a 9-6 win.

In the other smeifinal at 97kg, ex-Russian Ahmed BATAEV (BUL), who placed third at last year's Individual World Cup, will face Abraham CONYEDO RUANO (ITA).

Olympic host Japan could add two more to its lineup as 2017 world champion Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) at 57kg and Sohsuke TAKATANI (JPN) at 86kg both advanced to the semifinals.

Yuki TAKAHASHI World Olympic Qualifier

Takahashi, who was dispatched to Sofia after Rio 2016 silver medalist Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) failed to make weight at last month's Asian Olympic qualifier in Almaty, was hardly challenged as he chalked up a pair of technical falls, including an 11-0 rout of Vladimir EGOROV (MKD) in the quarterfinals.

"I went at my pace from beginning to end [in my two matches]," Takahashi said. "If I win in the
semifinal, it will clinch an Olympic place, so I will go all out."

Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) will face Reineri ANDREU (CUB) with the Olympic ticket on the line, a rematch of the bronze-medal match at the 2018 World Championships won by Takahashi.

If Takahashi wins, he will have to face Higuchi in a playoff later this monty for the Tokyo berth.

In the other 57kg semifinal, three-time European champion Giorgi EDISHERASHVILI (AZE) will face 2018 Asian Games champion Bekhbayar ERDENEBAT (MGL) Takatani also won by technical fall in the round-of-8, overwhelming Istvan VEREB (HUN) 12-0, but that came after a nailbiting win in the previous round. Against Taimuraz FRIEV (ESP), he gave up a 4-point takedown at the edge that was awarded on challenge to fall behind on criteria, but scored a stepout with :05 left to win 5-4.

Blocking his path to a third career Olympic appearance is Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL), who defeated Hovhannes MKHITARYAN (ARM) by 12-2 technical fall in the quarterfinals.

Abakarov will take on Boris MAKOEV (SVK), who scored a takedown in the final :10 to eke out a 4-2 win over Yurieski TORREBLANCA (CUB).

"I needed to reassess my wrestling for this tournament as this is a big one," Abakarov said. "All the bouts were so tough apart from the second one."

At 74kg, Rio 2016 bronze medalist Demirtas met his match in Magomedkhabib KADIMAGOMEDOV (BLR), the 2020 European champion at 79kg who advanced to the semifinals with an 8-4 victory.

"My wrestling is better than ever and now I just want to win the gold medal here," Kadimagomedov said. "Soner is a very nice guy and a good wrestler, his record talks for itself."

Just to set up that match, Demirtas first had to get past Hetik CABOLOV (SRB) in the second round, coming back from a 3-0 deficit against the native Russian by scoring three takedowns and a roll in the second period to win 8-3.

Kadimagomedov will hardly have it any easier in the semifinals, where he will face red-hot Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK), another Russian transplant who is coming off an impressive run to the gold at the European Championships.

Salkazanov, a 2019 world bronze medalist at 79kg, survived a scare in the quarterfinals against Ali UMARPASHAEV (BUL). He was still trailing on criteria when he knotted the score at 4-4 late in the second period, then scored a takedown with :25 left for a 6-4 win.

"In the beginning of the quarterfinal, I was not good as I conceded four points but as I continued wrestling, I was able to defeat him," Salkazanov said. "I have wrestled him before and he is very tough. I lost to him in the European qualifiers but this time I defeated him.

"There is no secret to my wins or my good wrestling. I just focus on winning and I fight continuously to defeat my opponent."

For Umarpashaev, it was deja vu all over. At the European Olympic qualifier, he lost after leading 6-0 in the semifinals against 2018 world silver medalist Avtandil KENTCHADZE (GEO).

American-born Mitchell FINESILVER (ISR), a European bronze medalist who wrestled at Duke University in the U.S., put together three solid matches to earn a clash with Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) in the other semifinal at 74kg.

In the 65kg quarterfinals, Oliver snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when he scored a takedown with :35 left, then held on to edge Gor OGANNESYAN (UKR) 3-3.

Jordan Oliver World Olympic Qualifier

"The Ukrainian is a tough competitor, very good with his hands and hard to penetrate [his defense]," said Oliver, the silver medalist at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone tournament. "If I am being honest with myself I need more attacks, more attempts, put myself in more scoring positions.

"The push was there the whole match, I took it when I needed it. There were a couple of more times I could have put myself in scoring positions."

Oliver said it was particularly difficult to come back on such an opponent.

"These are situations that we go through when we train," he said. "I knew it was coming, I had to make contact. The shot was there to take and I took it. His was very feisty defensively to hold the guy like that in the last 24 seconds. I knew he was bringing everything he had."

Oliver still has a tough hill to get over in semifinal opponent Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL), another former Russian and a two-time former world medalist. Gadzhiev had to get past a formidable foe himself to set up the clash, beating three-time European silver medalist Beka LOMTADZE (GEO) 2-1, with all of the points coming on the activity clock.

"The quarterfinal was definitely a tough fight, but the semifinal is tougher," Gadzhiev said. "So I am going to focus on that."

At 125kg, the young Kozyrev, coming off a silver medal finish at the European Championships, set up a clash in the semifinals with Daniel LIGETI (HUN). Kozyrev topped Robert BARAN (POL) 7-1 in the quarterfinals, while Ligeti made short work of Dilmukhammed NURMUKHAMEDOV (UZB), notching a 10-0 technical fall.

The other semifinal pits Jose DIAZ ROBERTTI (VEN) and Sumit MALIK (IND). Diaz Robertti hanged on for a 3-3 win over Vakhit GALAYEV (AZE), while Malik ousted fellow Asian Rustam ISKANDARI (TJK) 10-5.

With this the last chance for Olympic qualifying, it is understandable that tensions are high, and it caused one wrestler to snap.

In a qualification round bout at 97kg, Minwon SEO (KOR) took exception to being slammed into the matside advertising boards by Altangerel CHINBAT (MGL) as they went out of bounds. Seo kicked out at his opponent, for which he was disqualified.

Freestyle Results



Yuki TAKAHASHI (JPN) df. Vladimir EGOROV (MKD) by TF, 11-0
Bekhbayar ERDENEBAT (MGL) df. Givi DAVIDOVI (ITA), 3-2
Reineri ANDREU (CUB) df. Almaz SMANBEKOV (KGZ), 7-5
Giorgi EDISHERASHVILI (AZE) df. Muhamad IKROMOV (TJK), 11-4


Georgios PILIDIS (GRE) vs David HABAT (SLO)
Jordan OLIVER (USA) vs Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL)

Georgios PILIDIS (GRE) df. Juan GONZALEZ (ESP) TF, 10-0
Jordan OLIVER (USA) df. Gor OGANNESYAN (UKR), 3-3
Magomedmurad GADZHIEV (POL) df. Beka LOMTADZE (GEO), 2-1
David HABAT (SLO) df. Ilman MUKHTAROV (FRA) by TF, 10-0


Taimuraz SALKAZANOV (SVK) vs Magomedkhabib KADIMAGOMEDOV (BLR)

Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR) df. Aimar ANDRUSE (EST) by TF, 11-0
Magomedkhabib KADIMAGOMEDOV (BLR) df. Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR), 8-4
Mitchell FINESILVER (ISR) df. Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE), 9-2


Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) vs Boris MAKOEV (SVK)

Abubakr ABAKAROV (AZE) df. Azamat DAULETBEKOV (KAZ), 2-2
Boris MAKOEV (SVK) df. Yurieski TORREBLANCA (CUB), 4-2
Sohsuke TAKATANI (JPN) df. Istvan VEREB (HUN) by TF, 12-0
Zbigniew BARANOWSKI (POL) df. Hovhannes MKHITARYAN (ARM) by TF, 12-2



Ahmed BATAEV (BUL) df. Satywart KADIAN (IND), 5-5
Albert SARITOV (ROU) df. Samuel SCHERRER (SUI), 4-0
Abraham CONYEDO RUANO (ITA) df. Ulrich MANOUAN (CIV) by TF, 10-0
Valerii ANDRIITSEV (UKR) df. Timofei XENIDIS (GRE) by TF, 10-0


Sergei KOZYREV (RUS) vs Daniel LIGETI (HUN)

Sumit MALIK (IND) df. Rustam ISKANDARI (TJK), 10-5
Daniel LIGETI (HUN) df. Dilmukhammed NURMUKHAMEDOV (UZB) by TF, 10-0
Sergei KOZYREV (RUS) df. Robert BARAN (POL), 7-1


Datunashvili Denies Rio champ Chakvetadze Ticket to Tokyo; Armenia Grabs 2 Greco spots

By Ken Marantz

SOFIA, Bulgaria (May 8) -- After appearing in two Olympics for his native Georgia, Zurabi DATUNASHVILI (SRB) will now get to represent his adopted country of Serbia. It took a victory over the defending Olympic champion to do it, and one that also spoiled Russia's perfect record in qualifying.

Datunashvili did what needed to be done to forge out a 1-1 victory on criteria over Rio 2016 gold medalist Davit CHAKVETADZE (RUS) in the semifinals at 87kg, earning his country one of the 12 Greco-Roman spots allocated at the final world Olympic qualifying tournament on Saturday night in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Both wrestlers were limited to a passivity point, but Datunashvili's came later to give him the victory as the semifinal winners in each of the six weight classes clinched tickets to Tokyo for their country.

In the last 10 seconds, the Georgian-born Chakvetadze got in on a body lock, but Datunashvili whizzered his way out of danger to give Serbia a third Greco spot at the Tokyo Games.

"It's been hard for me," said Datunashvili, who won his third career European championship this year and first for Serbia. "He is also a Georgian and I am, too. We wrestled in training when we were younger. This is the first time we met in a competition and I won."

Competing for Georgia, Datunashvili finished seventh at the London 2012 Olympics, then dropped to 18th four years later in Rio. He made his debut for Serbia last year.

"I had many problems in Georgia but Serbia adopted me," he said. "I say thanks to them."

For Russia, Greco 87kg will be the only weight class without an entry, after the country completed the sets in freestyle and women's wrestling on the first two days of the tournament.

In Greco, only Cuba will have the full six-member squad.

In the other 87kg semifinal, Ivan HUKLEK (CRO) stuffed a tiring Kristoffer BERG (SWE) on a back drop in the last 50 seconds for 2 points, then added a stepout for a 4-1 victory to give Croatia a second Olympic spot.

"I wrestled him in camp but this was the first time in competition," Huklek said. "This will be my first Olympics and I am going to take a medal from Tokyo."

Huklek added he was dedicating his triumph to his sister who died recently.

It was a good night for Armenia, which doubled its allotment of Greco places with victories by Armen MELIKYAN (ARM) at 60kg and Karen ASLANYAN (ARM) at 67kg. For both, the ability to convert in the par terre position became the difference between victory and defeat.

Melikyan coverted from the down position in the first period, then added a late takedown for a 5-2 victory over Hanjae CHUNG (KOR), one of just two Asians who appeared in the semifinals.

Both lost.

The other winner at 60kg was Victor CIOBANU (MDA), the 2018 world silver medalist who finally made it to the Olympics in his third try with a stunning victory by fall over Dato CHKHARTISHVILI (GEO).

Ciobanu used an arm throw to get behind, and when Chkhartishvili tried to escape by sitting out, the Moldovan sucked him back to put him on his back, then clamped down for a fall at 2:11.

"This was so hard but I kept on fighting," Ciobanu said. "I just thought to continue wrestling and thank God I won in this manner."

Aslanyan's victory at 67kg came at the expense of Mamadassa SYLLA (FRA), as he was able to convert in par terre after his opponent couldn't for a 3-1 victory.

In the other semifinal, 2018 world junior bronze medalist Parviz NASIBOV (UKR) scored a pair of four-point moves in the first period of a 10-3 victory that denied Shogo TAKAHASHI (JPN) a spot in the Olympics in his home country.

The Czech Republic became the 61st and last country to grab a ticket to Tokyo in wrestling when Artur OMAROV (CZE) secured one of the two places at 97kg.

Omarov, who finished third at at last December's Individual World Cup, outclassed Vilius LAURINAITIS (LTU) in an 8-0 technical fall in 5:12 that he capped with his third stepout point of the match.

A transplanted Georgian came out on the losing end in the other semifinal, in which Alex SZOKE (HUN) defeated Nikoloz KAKHELASHVILI (ITA) 6-1 after scoring a pair of two-point rolls from the par terre position.

"The scoreboard shows that it was an easy match but it was not easy," said Szoke, who finished second at the Individual World Cup. "It was hard but I was very strong mentally to win this and qualify."

Host Bulgaria came away with an Olympic spot at 77kg -- although there were no spectators at Arena Armeec Sport Hall to appreciate it -- when Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL) defeated Fatih CENGIZ (TUR) 3-2.

Mnatsakanian, a two-time world bronze medalist at 72kg, gave up a stepout and a passivity point before getting a takedown to go ahead on criteria. He received a passivity point in the second period then protected the lead to the end.

In the other 77kg semifinal, Rafig HUSEYNOV (AZE) scored a pair of takedowns in the first period and defeated former world champion Viktor NEMES (SRB) 4-1.

"This win is so hard for me because my opponent is a famous wrestler – world and European champion," said Huseynov, the 2020 European champion himself at 82kg and a former world silver medalist. "I am very happy to win this match.

"This is my first Olympics and I think I will be better there because after 2014 and after seven years, this is my first competition in this category."

For the 33-year-old Huseynov, much of the battle was with the scale in dropping to the lower weight.

"I reduced 12 kgs for this competition, but for the Olympics I will be good," he said. "I was very strong in March 2020 but then COVID happened. We had to wait. I was trying to go to 87kg, but we have strong wrestlers in that category. So I decided to drop to 77kg."

At 130kg, 2020 European champion Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU) earned his third trip to the Olympics by putting up a solid wall of defense to shut out Rafal KRAJEWSKI (POL) 5-0.

Alexuc Ciurariu scored his first two points on passivity calls, and even though he could not convert in the par terre position, he put the match out of reach with a spin-behind takedown. An unsuccessful challenge added the final point.

"Not many people believed in me but I always believed that I would qualify," Alexuc Ciurariu said. "The bouts were very hard but I wanted to win."

In the final bout of the night at 130kg, Matti KUOSMANEN (FIN) defeated Mykola KUCHMII (UKR) 1-1 on criteria, with both points allocated for passivity.

Interestingly, Kuosmanen opted to remain on his feet in lieu of the par terre position. In the end, it neither helped nor harmed him, as neither wrestler could launch an effective attack.

Day 3 Results: Greco-Roman

60kg (25 entries)
SEMIFINAL - Victor CIOBANU (MDA) df. Dato CHKHARTISHVILI (GEO) by Fall, 2:11 (2-1)
SEMIFINAL - Armen MELIKYAN (ARM) df. Hanjae CHUNG (KOR), 5-2

67kg (26 entries)
SEMIFINAL - Karen ASLANYAN (ARM) df. Mamadassa SYLLA (FRA), 3-1

77kg (30 entries)
SEMIFINAL - Rafig HUSEYNOV (AZE) df. Viktor NEMES (SRB), 4-1

87kg (27 entries)
SEMIFINAL - Ivan HUKLEK (CRO) df. Kristoffer BERG (SWE), 4-1

97kg (21 entries)
SEMIFINAL - Artur OMAROV (CZE) df. Vilius LAURINAITIS (LTU) by TF, 8-0, 5:13

130kg (19 entries)