Suraj ends India's 32-year drought for U17 GR world gold

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (July 26) -- As he warmed up for his gold medal bout, Suraj VASHISHT (IND) saw an emotional Ronit SHARMA (IND). He ran up to Sharma and consoled him after the latter lost 3-3 in the 48kg Greco-Roman final. It could have been India's first gold at the U17 World Championships in 32 years.

A few moments later, Suraj took it upon himself to create history by winning the 55kg title at the U17 World Championships in Rome. His gold was India's first since Pappu YADAV (IND) won one back in 1990.

Since then, India had five different wrestlers reach the final at a U17 World Championships but none could clear the final hurdle. It took Suraj beating European champion Faraim MUSTAFAYEV (AZE), 11-0, to add another historic moment in India's wrestling.

Overall, this was India's only third gold at the U17 Worlds and fourth at all World Championships combined. Apart from Yadav, who also won the 1992 U20 World Championships, Vinod KUMAR (IND) won the U17 Worlds gold in 1980.

In Rome, Suraj eyes lit up seeing his draw as he hoped for a potential semifinal against Khurshidbek NORMUKHAMMADOV (UZB). The Uzbek had beaten Suraj 8-0 a month ago at the U17 Asian Championships.

"That was my first tour," Suraj said. "I had little experience of grips and stances. There was a camp [More Than Medals in Bishkek] in which I learned all this. Minor changes to help me avoid getting countered."

One of the biggest drawbacks of Suraj's technique to go for a one-on-two early was getting countered and giving up a takedown. With a weak par terre, stopping his opponent from a win was close to impossible.

Normukhammadov scored eight points in Bishkek using a similar move. But in Rome, keeping a closed stance and not going for the side attacks, Suraj keep the Uzbekistan wrestler quiet to win the semifinals.

"These wrestlers get tired very easily while I keep going for attacks and keep pushing," he said. "That helps because then you know that your opponent doesn't have much power."

In the final, the 16-year-old decimated Mustafayev with two big four-point throws in the final. An aggressive Suraj tried finding an opening against Mustafayev which made the referee call the Azerbaijan wrestler passive in the first period. Suraj failed to get a turn from par terre and led 1-0.

In the second period, he first avoided being passive and then struck a takedown to extend his lead to 3-0. But he still ran the danger of being called passive with more than a minute left. But Suraj, knowing he had to get to a safe zone, used an underhook to throw and collect four points and lead 7-0.  Mustafayev tried a flying move but Suraj throw him on the mat with control to win the bout and gold 11-0.

SURAJ (IND)The four medalists at 55kg with silver medalist Faraim MUSTAFAYEV (AZE), left, gold medalist SURAJ (IND) and two bronze medalists Saba SURMANIDZE (GEO) and Khurshidbek NORMUKHAMMADOV (UZB). (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Mustafayev looked a force to reckon with Monday as he won two bouts via technical superiority and one via fall. But he looked a shadow of himself from Monday and failed to get going when it mattered most.

According to India coach Inderjeet SINGH, Suraj was unfazed by the achievements of his opponents and followed a set plan for each bout."He had a very open stance so we told him to close his hands," Singh said. "Then the par terre defense of Indian wrestlers is weak so we told him to not be passive. He did well to defend a few par terre situations."

For Suraj, who hails from Rithal village, Rohtak in Haryana, the win meant another opportunity to celebrate by thumping his thigh, a popular celebration in mud-dangals across India. He now hopes that he can repeat the success in bigger stages.

"I have dreams to become the best in my weight class," he said. "Obviously a senior world title is a dream as well."

After a brief celebration, Suraj will stay back in Rome for the More Than Medals camp.

"These More Than Medals camps help us a lot. We get limited training in India but here the quality of partners is better. Ronit and Suraj will stay for the Rome camp," Singh said.

Ali AHMADI VAFA (IRI)Ali AHMADI VAFA (IRI) defeated Ronit SHARMA (IND) to win the 48kg gold in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Sharma could have been the history maker but Ali AHMADI VAFA (IRI) denied him history with a 3-3 win in the 48kg final. The two had met earlier at the U17 Asian Championships two times with Ahmadi Vafa winning the group stage bout and Sharma winning the final.

Ahmadi Vafa looked in all sorts of trouble in the final in Rome as Sharma secured a quick 3-0 lead with a turn from par terre as Ahmadi Vafa was called passive.

After the break, Sharma went for a front headlock looking for a four but lost his grip midway and Ahmadi Vafa ended up on top of him. Initially called a slip, Iran challenged and won, trimming Sharma's lead to 3-2.

In the final minute of the bout, Sharma is called passive and Ahmadi Vafa gets the 3-3 criteria lead. Despite him failing to turn Sharma from par terre, he defended against the attacks from the Indians to claim the world title for Iran.

Cemal BAKIR (TUR)Cemal BAKIR (TUR) avenged his European final loss to Laszlo DARABOS (HUN) to win the world gold at 110kg. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Turkey wins 2 golds

Cemal BAKIR (TUR) and Alperen BERBER (TUR) gave Turkey two gold medals, winning the 110kg and 80kg weight classes respectively.

It was sweet revenge for Bakir as he defeated Laszlo DARABOS (HUN), 1-1, in the 110kg final. Darabos had pinned Bakir in the U17 European Championships final last month to win the gold. But Tuesday, Bakir did not let Darabos get going and defended well from par terre position.

While he also could not turn Darabos, Bakir made sure he defends his 1-1 criteria lead till the end of the four minutes.

Alperen BERBER (TUR)Alperen BERBER (TUR) won the 80kg gold medal in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Berber faced European silver medalist Ismayil RZAYEV (AZE) in the 80kg final and scored a come-from-behind 3-2 win to claim the gold. He got himself into trouble by trying an arm spin which resulted in Rzayev putting Berber's back on the mat for a pin. While he survived that, Berber then scored a pushout.

Rzayev held 2-2 criteria despite Berber scoring a stepout before the end of the first period. But it was the passivity call in the second period that hurt Rzayev and gave Berber a deserved win.

Berber, who finished fifth at the European Championships, outscored his opponents 31-2 over five bouts.

Joel ADAMS (USA)Joel ADAMS (USA) outscored his opponents 31-0 en route to the 65kg gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

The final gold of the night went to Joel ADAMS (USA) who defeated Ahoura BOUVEIRI PIANI (IRI), 6-0, in the 65kg final.

Adams had a near-perfect performance over the two days in which he showed a five-point move, a four-pointer, arm drags, duck under, and celebrations like no other with his USA teammates joining from the stands.

Outscoring his opponents 31-0 in Rome, Adams showed why he can be the next Greco-Roman star for the USA which won its third U17 world title in 30 years and second in five years. Cohlton SCHULTZ (USA) won the 100kg title in 2017.

Bouveriri Piani was in some strong position throughout the final but Adams' defense along with his ability to transition that into takedowns wreaked havoc on the Iranian. Adams scored two takedowns in the first period to lead 4-0 and added another in the second period to make it 6-0.

But the highlight from the gold medalist will be the five-point suplex he hit on Takaku SUZUKI (JPN) in the opening round bout.

After the medal bouts on in five weight classes, Azerbaijan leads the team title race with 80 points and Iran sitting a close second with 75 points. Turkey's impressive show has helped them to be number three with 60 points while India occupies the fourth spot with 57 points.

Defending champions Georgia will have to work hard if it wants to finish on the podium this year. Currently, it is fifth with 55 points.




BRONZE: Arsen ZHUMA (KAZ) df. Tigran GALSTYAN (ARM), 5-3




BRONZE: Bekhruz BARNOEV (UZB) df. Ali ALIZADA (AZE), 9-3

GOLD: Alperen BERBER (TUR) df. Ismayil RZAYEV (AZE), 3-2

BRONZE: Seyed Reza AZARSHAB (IRI) df. Branko DUKIC (SRB), 8-0

GOLD: Cemal BAKIR (TUR) df. Laszlo DARABOS (HUN), 1-1

BRONZE: Mazaim MARDANOV (AZE) df. Davit MGELADZE (GEO), via fall


USA closes out U17 Worlds with 3 golds, historic FS title

By Vinay Siwach

ROME, Italy (July 31) -- James GREEN (USA) was part of the USA team which won the freestyle team title for the first time in 22 years at the 2017 World Championships. The two-time world medalist won a silver medal in that edition.

Five years later, Green got another chance to hold the team trophy, this time as the chief coach of the USA team at the U17 World Championships in Rome on Sunday.

USA won a historic first U17 freestyle world title in Rome with nine out of their 10 wrestlers winning medals including four golds. It finished with 190 points which was more than enough to exchange places with defending champions India which finished with 126 points.

Azerbaijan, a nation that won the European team title, finished third with 122 points.

USA became the fourth nation to win the U17 world freestyle title after Russia, Iran and India since the U17 Worlds were reinstated in 2011. Russia won the title every year until 2018 when Iran broke that streak.

Russia won again in 2019 before India became only the third country to win the title in 2021.

USAUSA coach James GREEN, center, with the team title trophy. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

"It feels like it's straight out of a movie," he said. "It's like a reminiscent of 2017 when I was part of the world team that won the title for the USA after 22 years."

After finishing with a gold, three silver and a bronze medal on day six, the USA rocked again on the final day with three gold and a bronze to close out the tournament.

"I know how these guys are feeling," he said. "I am so excited to win this on my first trip and looking forward to more coaching."

Since 2011, the USA finished in the second spot five times in nine U17 Worlds with the latest being to India at the previous edition. But this year, all the USA wrestlers won their head-to-heads against India which ultimately proved to be the difference between who became the champions.

"The draw kind of worked in our favor," Green said. "We definitely had a gameplan not just for India but for everyone else including the Europeans as well.  But I can tell you one thing that our wrestlers wanted to get a hand on Indian wrestlers because we lost to them last time."

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA)Luke LILLEDAHL (USA), blue, upgraded his '21 silver to gold. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) finished with a silver medal in 2021 after suffering a loss against Aman GULIA (IND) but there was no stopping Lilledahl this year as he upgraded to gold with a dominating 10-1 win over Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI).

The 51kg final, pretty much controlled by Lilledahl, began with two exchanging stepout but then the USA wrestler switched levels after the break and scored takedowns whenever he found Asadi going for a half shot. He countered two of Asadi's attacks while he scored a takedown and added a leg lace in his 12-1 victory for the gold medal.

"Luke wrestlers at a hard pace," Green said. "He keeps a low head but is always moving and engaging. He takes the points as they come and doesn't rush into attacks."

Two other gold medalists for the USA on Sunday, Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) and Joseph SEALEY (USA), also impressed Green.

Munaretto won the 45kg gold medal by beating Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0 in the final. Overall, the champion outscored his opponents 30-2 in the tournament.

Joseph SEALEY (USA)Joseph SEALEY (USA) outscored his opponents 55-1 in Rome. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At 71kg, Sealey dashed local hopes to see a home champion by decimating Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0, in the gold medal bout.

Sealey, like his all other bouts, was wrestling at a completely different level and pace which Caso had no answer to. When Caso tried to engage in underhooks, he would get tripped by Sealey and when he tried to score a takedown, Sealey would easily stop any such attempts.

His two inside trips and two takedowns were enough to help Sealey win the crown and get some praise from coach Green.

"Sealey was very impressive," he said. "He wrestles like a senior athlete and can wrestle someone from that level. He conceded the least points in the whole tournament."

Sealey wrestled five bouts to win the gold and in an impressive record, scored 55 points and conceded only one.

Drawing experience from the title-winning run in 2017, Green had communicated to his team to 'have fun' during the tournament.

"I just told them that you are capable of being world champs and future Olympic champions," he said. "But more importantly I told them to have fun at this tournament. Most of these guys are wrestling for the first time and they can be hard on themselves so I didn't want that. And once we all met, they had the team chemistry and it clicked right away."

Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI)Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI), blue, pulled off a 5-4 win against Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ) in the 60kg final. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

The other gold medals of the night were shared between Iran and Kazakhstan.

At 60kg, Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) defeated U17 Asian champion Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4 to win the gold after trailing 3-1 at one point. Sharip Uulu scored the first points with a duck-under during the activity period against Elahi. It was initially awarded as four but Iran challenged the call and it was reversed to two points only.

But Elahi's constant moves towards Sharip Uulu's legs paid dividends as he leveled the score 3-3 and led on criteria. He then added a takedown against the tiring Kyrgyzstan wrestler to extend his lead to 5-3. He was warned for fleeing during the final 10 seconds which made the score 5-4 but did not change the result.

Elahi's gold was Iran's first of the tournament as it finished fifth in the team rankings.

Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ)Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) won the 92kg gold, the second of the tournament for Kazakhstan. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Returning bronze medalist Kamil KURUGLIYEV (KAZ) went all the way this year and captured his maiden world title, a month after he had won the U17 Asian title.

Musza ARSUNKAEV (HUN) had no answers to Kurugliyev's style of wrestling, inspired by his former world bronze medalist father and cousin-brother, European champion Duaren KURUGLIEV (RWF).

After a 3-0 lead in the first period, Kurugliyev began the second with a huge double-leg for four and then added two takedowns to close out a statement win in Rome.

The World Championships season will now move to Sofia, Bulgaria with the U20 Worlds beginning August 15.




GOLD: Domenic MUNARETTO (USA) df. Bashir VERDIYEV (AZE), 2-0

BRONZE: Arman HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) df. Amirmohammad NAVAZI (IRI), via fall
BRONZE: Nikoloz BOTCHORISHVILI (GEO) df. Constantin RUSU (MDA), 5-4

GOLD: Luke LILLEDAHL (USA) df. Mohammad Reza ASADI (IRI), 10-1

BRONZE: Nurdanat AITANOV (KAZ) df. Ben TARIK (MAR), 1-1

GOLD: Ebrahim ELAHI (IRI) df. Bilol SHARIP UULU (KGZ), 5-4

BRONZE: Taiga OGINO (JPN) df. Alessandro NINI (ITA), 3-1

GOLD: Joseph SEALEY (USA) df. Raul CASO (ITA), 12-0



BRONZE: Maxwell MCENELLY (USA) df. Sahil JAGLAN (IND), 2-1