Taylor Tops Yazdani in Olympic Clash of Titans; Kawai Completes Sibling Double

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 5) --- In a clash of the titans that will go down in the annals of Olympic wrestling history, David TAYLOR (USA) showed just why he is called "The Magic Man."

Taylor pulled out a victory for the ages with a late takedown to defeat superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) 4-3 in a nail-biting freestyle 86kg final on Thursday, preventing the Iranian from becoming the first two-time Olympic champion in his wrestling-mad country's history.

"I like to win 10-0, but getting it done in the last seconds feels pretty good, too," Taylor said following his triumph at Makuhari Messe Hall A.

Meanwhile, Risako KAWAI (JPN) became the third two-time Olympic champion in women's wrestling history, but more importantly for her, achieved the dream of a sibling double with younger sister Yukako.

And Zaur UGUEV (ROC) added an Olympic gold at freestyle 57kg to his two world titles by breaking the hearts of the world's second-most populated country India.

David TAYLOR USADavid TAYLOR (USA) became the new 86kg Olympic champion. (Photo: UWW / Tony Rotundo)

The 30-year-old Taylor has now won all three career meetings with Yazdani, the 2016 Rio Olympic champion at 74kg who had dominated at 86kg in recent years as the American recovered from knee surgery, .

“I don’t want to talk about wins over this guy because he’s helped me become a better wrestler," Taylor said. "For wrestling fans around the world, that we could wrestle in a gold-medal match was pretty special. We are both great representatives of the sport in the way that we carry ourselves and compete."

In the final, the first period was limited to an activity point awarded to Yazdani. In the second period, the Iranian received a penalty point after Taylor dropped to his knees at the edge and shuffled out of bounds, a tactic he used several times to avoid stepouts.

But it also seemed to light a fire in Taylor, who scored a takedown with a well-executed single leg, only to see Yazdani take back the lead with a stepout to make it 3-2.

With the clock ticking down, Taylor suddenly exploded with a double-leg takedown that seemed to take Yazdani off guard, giving the American the lead with 17 seconds left that he defended to the end.

“He didn’t want to get in scrambles, he didn’t want to shoot, he wanted to make it a push-out, shot-clock match," Taylor said. "He did a good job of doing that.

“I think he only tried three times to score. I always say that if you want to be the best in the world, you'll need to take people down twice. You need to get two takedowns. Tonight was a good example of that. I needed two takedowns.”

The 30-year-old Taylor won his first and only senior world title in 2018 in Budapest, where he defeated Yazdani in the first round. With his latest triumph, the American has finally reached the pinnacle of the sport that so many others had expected of him.

"You envision that so many times in so many ways, but nothing is like the real thing," Taylor said. "To be in the moment where the preparation and the hard work that you put in, the determination to want to win is really put to the test.

"You can easily say, 'Maybe next time,' or you find a way to do it. You can envision it over and over again, but when you’re there, there is nothing like that moment to be present in and seize that opportunity.”

Risako KAWAIRisako KAWAI (JPN) with the 57kg gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan

Kawai capped a years-long journey to the 57kg gold, in which she had to knock off two other Rio 2016 champions along the way, by posting a solid 5-0 victory over Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR) in the final.

Kawai scored with a spin-behind takedown in the first period, then added a stepout and defensive takedown in the second. Kurachkina launched a desperate attack at the end, and got a hold of Kawai's ankle at one point, but the Japanese escaped and held on for the win.

"I kept my eyes on her up to the last second," Kawai said. "Yukako had the match she had, so I felt like losing was not an option."

On Wednesday, Yukako Kawai won the 62kg gold in her Olympic debut, then watched from the stands to see her older sister's latest triumph -- just as Risako had done the night before.

With her second gold, Kawai joins compatriots Kaori ICHO (JPN) and Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) as the only multiple Olympic champions in women's wrestling. Icho won an unprecedented four golds and Yoshida three following the addition of women's wrestling to the Olympic program in 2004.

Icho, who won her final gold in Rio, had set out to win a fifth, but Kawai, who took the Rio 63kg title, dropped down to 57kg to set up a showdown between the two for the spot. Kawai won out, then clinched her ticket to the Tokyo Olympics by winning a third straight world title in 2019.

On Wednesday, Kawai won a semifinal clash with Helen MAROULIS (USA), who had beaten Yoshida in the 53kg final in Rio.

"To say there was no pressure would be a lie," Kawai said. "Compared to Rio, it was heavier for each and every match. But I had to become an athlete who can handle that pressure."

Zaur UGUEVZaur UGUEV (ROC) won the 57kg gold in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

At freestyle 57kg, two-time reigning world champion Zaur UGUEV (ROC) spoiled India's dreams of having its first-ever Olympic champion when he scraped together a 7-4 victory in the final over Ravi KUMAR (IND).

In repeating his semifinal win over Kumar from the 2019 World Championships, Uguev started off with a pair of stepouts. The Indian responded with a duck-under takedown, but Uguev answered with a high-crotch takedown to end the first period leading 4-2.

Uguev added a stepout in the second period, followed by a shrug-go behind takedown that all but put the match out of reach. Kumar got a consolation takedown at the end.

"The medal is heavy, probably the heaviest of those that I have, and the most important," Uguev said. "Of course, medals from the World Championship are also important, but this one is special. I want to dedicate the gold medal to my father."

For Uguev, the toughest part of his road to gold was at the beginning, when he narrowly won his first two matches, needing to score late points in both to survive.

"The path was not easy," Uguev said. "Usually the finals are the most difficult, but here the first two meetings were not easy. I was losing and in the end I managed to show character. I didn't want to lose, and everything worked out for me."

Kumar was just the second Olympic finalist in Indian history, and like Sushil KUMAR (IND) at the 2012 London Olympics, he will be heading home with a silver medal. Not the color he wanted, but still well-earned.

Asked if he saw any difference in Kumar from two years ago, Uguev replied, "I can't say that during this time Ravi has changed--perhaps he got a little more endurance. But I went through such training that it was impossible to lose."

Zaur UGUEVZavur UGUEV (ROC) was crowned as the 57kg Olympic champion. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

In bronze-medal matches, American-born Myles AMINE (SMR) gave the tiny European principality and land of his maternal great-grandfather San Marino its first-ever Olympic wrestling medal with a hard-fought 4-2 win over 2019 world silver medalist Deepak PUNIA (IND) at freestyle 86kg.

Amine, the 2020 European silver medalist, trailed 2-1 when he scored a spin-behind takedown with 10 seconds left, with the final point added for an unsuccessful challenge.

Amine, who holds dual citizenship and was the first wrestler to ever qualify San Marino for the Olympics, could have become the nation's first-ever Olympic medalist, but last week, the shooting team beat him to the punch with a bronze in the women's trap and a silver in the mixed team trap.

"It was funny, when they won, I was a little bit like, ‘Ugh, I wanted to be the first,'" Amine said. "But there was also a little sense of relief, no pressure now, I don’t have to be the first. It is actually, looking back now, I’m so excited that I get to share it with two other athletes."

The other 86kg bronze went to 2019 world bronze medalist Artur NAIFONOV (ROC), a 2-0 winner over Javrail SHAPIEV (UZB) after a stepout and activity clock point in the first period.

Rio champion Helen MAROULIS (USA) bounced back from her loss to Risako Kawai in the women's 57kg semifinals by rolling to a 11-0 technical fall over Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) to take home a bronze.

Maroulis said she has come to terms with missing out on a second straight gold, and is content with being a two-time medalist.

"I was thinking about it -- why am I not more sad?" Maroulis said. "I spent four years trying to get back my wrestling, the way that it felt and just being able to not have fear and be healthy. That is the biggest gift."

Rio 2016 silver medalist Valeria KOBLOVA (ROC) -- along with Maroulis, one of only three wresters on the planet who had ever beaten Japanese legend Yoshida -- lost her bronze-medal match courtesty of a nifty move by Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL).

Koblova had Nikolova's leg in the air, but the Bulgarian reached down to block Koblova's knee and tripped her backward, then scrambled on top to secure a headlock and win by fall at 2:49.

At freestyle 57gk, 2019 world bronze medalist Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) scored a takedown in each period to defeat Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 5-1, while 2017 world silver medalist Thomas GILMAN (USA) had two takedowns in each period in topping Reza ATRINAGHARCHI (IRI) 9-1.

Steveson sets up showdown with Petriashvili

stevesonGable STEVESON (USA) reached the 125kg final in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

In semifinals in three other weight classes, American newcomer Gable STEVESON (USA) continued his amazing run at freestyle 125kg by making the final with a 5-0 win over Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL).

Having already beaten one of the weight class' top stars with a victory over Rio champion Taha AKGUL (TUR) in the quarterfinals, he now gets a shot at the other in the final.

Steveson, a world cadet and junior champion who is making only his second appearance on the international senior level, will go for the gold against three-time world champion Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO), who is gunning for a gold in Tokyo after taking a bronze at Rio 2016.

"I know the legend I'm stepping on the mat with, Petriashvili, but the first legend I wrestled today, I took care of business, second one tomorrow I'm going to try to handle the same thing," Steveson said. "It's just another day at the job. I live for moments like this."

Petriavshvili advanced by scoring three takedowns in the second period in a 6-3 win over Amir ZARE (IRI), avenging a stunning 15-11 loss to the young Iranian at the Iranian Pro League in 2019.

Petriavshvili and Akgul have combined to win every major global title dating back to 2014, but that streak could be ended by a wrestler named Gable with the middle name Dan, a tribute to U.S. wrestling legend Dan Gable.

"With little to no international scene experiences, it's crazy that a young cat like me will come in here and shock the world so quick, and have everybody on notice that a 21-year-old kid in college is maybe take a gold medal tomorrow," Steveson said.

Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR)Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR) beat Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) to move to 74kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Not to be outdone, Russian-born Mahamadkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR) collected another big-name scalp himself in completing a torrid run into the freestyle 74kg final, knocking off Rio Olympic bronze medalist Frank CHAMIZO (ITA) 9-7.

Having overwhelmed world 79kg champion Kyle DAKE (USA) by technical fall in the quarterfinals, Kadzimahamedau went toe-to-toe with the ever-dangerous Chamizo and never flinched.

Kadzimahamedau took a 5-1 lead early in the second period, then traded takedowns before a reversal that put Chamizo on his back gave the Belarussian a four-point lead that provided the necessary buffer when the Italian scored a late takedown.

"My mind is in shock," said the Cuban-born Chamizo, a 2015 world champion. "I really can't believe what is going on at this moment. The only thing I know is I lose. But I have to keep going, continue, not give up. It is what it is."

Chamizo also lost in the semifinals at Rio before coming back to win a bronze. "That's my bad luck in the Olympics, in the semifinals," he said.

Kadzimahamedau has one more mountain to climb, with reigning world champion Zaurbek SIDAKOV (ROC) awaiting in the final.

Sidakov dispatched 2019 world bronze medalist Daniyar KAISANOV (KAZ) with an 11-0 technical fall in which he scored five takedowns in the second period.

Mayu MUKAIDAMayu MUKAIDA (JPN) after reaching the 53kg final in Tokyo. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Two-time former world champion Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN), who has been regarded in Japan as the second coming of fellow Aichi Prefecture native Yoshida, kept alive her hopes of regaining for Japan the 53kg gold that Yoshida lost in Rio.

Mukaida chalked up 4 points with a takedown and lace lock to take a six-point lead, then held on for a 6-3 win over Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) in the semifinals.

"It was a tough match but I was determined to have my hand raised at the end," Mukaida said. "I could feel how every athlete feels so strongly about being at the Olympics. I trained for these Games and kept that feeling to the end."

Mukaida, who has a history of losing big matches in the final seconds, said she was concerned about being unable to score late while giving up a late takedown to Bat Ochir, a 2019 world bronze medalist at 55kg.

"I was able to get in during the match, but was stopped later on, so I need to reflect on what went wrong," Mukaida said.

Mukaida won world titles at 55kg in 2016 and 2018, but had to settle for silvers at 53kg in 2017 and 2019. In the final at the 2017 worlds, she gave up a last-second 4-point throw to Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR) in an 8-6 loss.

Mukaida was denied a chance to avenge that loss when two-time world bronze medalist Qianyu PANG (CHN) stunned Kaladzinskaya in the other semifinal 2-2 by scoring a takedown with 8 seconds left in the match.

Mukaida can go into the final confident while cautious. She has beaten Pang in all four of their previous meetings--in the 2015 Klippan Lady final, the 2017 Asian semifinal, the 2017 World Cup and the 2019 Asian semifinal.

Day 4 Results


GOLD - Zavur UGUEV (ROC) df. Ravi KUMAR (IND), 7-4

BRONZE - Nurislam SANAYEV (KAZ) df. Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), 5-1

SF1 - Mahamadkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR) df. Frank CHAMIZO (ITA), 9-7
SF2 - Zaurbek SIDAKOV (ROC) df. Daniyar KAISANOV (KAZ) by TF, 11-0, 5:34

GOLD - David TAYLOR (USA) df. Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), 4-3

BRONZE - Artur NAIFONOV (ROC) df. Javrail SHAPIEV (UZB), 2-0
BRONZE - Myles AMINE (SMR) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND), 4-2

SF1 - Geno PETRIASHVILI (GEO) df. Amir ZARE (IRI), 6-3
SF2 - Gable STEVESON (USA) df. Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL), 5-0

Women's Wrestling

SF1 - Qianyu PANG (CHN) df. Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR), 2-2
SF2 - Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) df. Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL), 6-3

GOLD - Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR), 5-0

BRONZE - Helen MAROULIS (USA) df. Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) by TF, 11-0, 5:54
BRONZE - Evelina NIKOLOVA (BUL) df. Valeria KOBLOVA (ROC) by Fall, 2:49 (5-0)


Snyder Takes Olympic Loss to Sadulaev in Stride

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (August 7)---The competitor in Kyle SNYDER (USA) hated the defeat. The wrestler in him loved the battle.

Snyder took his loss to rival Abdurashid SADULAEV (ROC) in the final of the freestyle 97kg class on Saturday night at the Tokyo Olympics in stride, already looking forward to the next chance for the two titans to clash.

"It is still exciting," Snyder said. "I love competition, I love wrestling, and I'm thankful to be able to compete." About facing Sadulaev again, he said, "I'd love it."

In the third meeting between the two since they both won gold medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics in different weight classes, Sadulaev beat the American for the second time with a 6-3 victory at Makuhari Messe Hall A to add a second Olympic gold to his four world titles.

Sadulaev, who had an activity point and a stepout in the first period, built up a 6-0 lead with a pair of tilts in countering Snyder's single-leg takedown attempts. On the first one, the wrestler known as The Russian Tank at one point lifted a prone Snyder completely off the mat, but not enough for a throw and instead settled for angling him over.

"There are definitely some positions that I have got to get better in," Snyder said. "That is what I'm thinking about. I have got to finish those attacks, so that is what I'm going to do. We had an idea of what it would be like."

Snyder, a two-time world champion, never gave up the fight, and came back to score a takedown and stepout in the final minute before Sadulaev ran out the clock.

"I'm a competitor so I hate to lose," Snyder said. "It's the spirit of Jesus that is strong in me. I'm not that strong as a guy, but Jesus is really strong and his spirit keeps me moving forward."

In the series dubbed "Snyderlaev" that drew worldwide attention, Snyder came out on top in their first clash in the final at the 2017 World Championships in Paris, Sadulaev's first after moving up to 97kg. Sadulaev had won the gold in Rio at 86kg, while Snyder had triumphed at 97kg.

Sadulaev gained his revenge at "Snyderlaev II" at the World Championships the next year in Budapest. He has not tasted defeat on the mat since that loss in Paris.

While it is uncertain what Sadulaev's plans are at the moment, Snyder would welcome a "Snyderlaev IV" at this year's World Championships in Oslo in October. Anyway, he intends to be there.

"Lord willing, I will be at the world championships," he said.

Like all American wrestlers, Snyder needs to constantly earn his spot on the national team to major tournaments. Having set the record as the youngest-ever US champion at both the worlds and Olympics, he knows there are always new faces coming along ready to knock him off.

"Guys are getting better and better," he said of prospects for U.S. wrestling. "Everybody is doing the right stuff. We have great coaches, support staff and training environments.

"I'm really happy for all my teammates who did a great job here, and all the coaches because they work so hard. I think we're going to dominate and keep getting better."

With Snyder's silver, the United States finished the Olympic wrestling tournament with nine medals overall, the most of any nation, including three golds.