This weekend, the Last Chance Olympic Games Qualifier was wrestled in Istanbul, Turkey, where wrestlers representing countries around the world sought to qualify their weight-class for the Olympic Games to be held this summer in Rio. For the United States six total weight-classes were still on the chopping block: GR59KG, GR66KG, GR98KG, WFS58KG, WFS69KG, and MFS65KG. Finalists in each of the 18 Olympic weight-classes would qualify their country in a repechage-elimination tournament. Put simply: win, then keep winning.
Friday morning, Greco-Roman started the event, with the United States fielding half its team. After losing in the Olympic-qualifying bronze match at the First World Olympic Games Qualifier in Mongolia, RaVaughn Perkins at GR66KG was a favorite to qualify.
After Perkins beat Zheng of China by 11-2 tech fall, he would advance to the quarter-finals by beating Greece’s Matias 9-4. In the quarters, Perkins met Kyrgyzstan’s rep Ruslan Tsarev, a 3x Asian Championships Medalist (all in the last three years). It would be a close bout, with Tsarev leading Perkins 3-0 at the half, after two correct throws by Tsarev were scored 2pts plus 1pt. In the second, Perkins would score his first point after Tsarev was called for passivity (again), though Perkins would fail to score offensive points after putting Tsarev in par terre a second time. He did, however, earn 2 more points after Tsarev was called for a Caution-2pts after blocking in the bottom position. Losing 3-3 on criteria, Perkins was called for passivity and was unable to find his offense, losing 4-3 and ending his Olympic dreams for 2016. Tsarev would finish silver and qualify.
GR98KG’s Joe Rau started his tournament hot as well, trumping Spain’s Rehanyan by 9-0 Tech Fall. Unfortunately, the next round Rau lost to Pan Am rival Kevin Mejia Castillo of Honduras 8-0 TF after Mejia Castillo took advantage of a lapse in defense and secured a trapped-arm gut to beat Rau in under a minute, and ending the US hopes at 98KG.
At GR59KG, Jesse Thielke looked to improve after losing his only match in Mongolia after leading 5-0. He would have to navigate a loaded field, starting with an Olympic Bronze in Modos of Hungary. After beating the London Games Olympian soundly 8-0 TF, Thielke slugged out a 13-6 match over Olympic Silver Lashkhi of Georgia.
(Jesse Thielke raises his arms in victory in Istanbul. Photo: UnitedWorldWrestling)
Thielke then pinned Swedish grappler Harutyunyan to make it into the qualifying semi-finals. There, Moldova’s Donior Islamov (a 2x University World medalist) looked to bomb Thielke into oblivion, scoring two 4pt arm-throws in the first period. Thielke kept his poise, and lead 9-8 heading into the second using workmanlike scoring. He would stamp his ticket to Rio by tech-falling Islamov 17-8.
In the finals, Thielke faced a seasoned opponent from Iran in 6x World and (defending) Olympic Champion, Hamid Sourian (Soryan). Sourian has won every World/Olympic Gold since 2005 except 2008, ‘11, ‘13, and ‘15, competing at GR55KG before the weight-class change in 2014, where he won at GR59KG. He would beat Thielke by 8-0 Tech Fall in under a minute, to the elation of the small Iranian contingent.
Saturday morning, Kelsey Campbell at WFS58KG and Tamyrah Mensah at WFS69KG sought to qualify the rest of the US WFS squad for the Games.
Kelsey Campbell, 2010 World 5th and 2012 Olympian, looked to rebound after going 0-1 in Mongolia. In the opening round, Campbell routed Vietnam’s Kieu 8-0 FALL on the back of three high-single leg takedowns. In the next round, Campbell took on Pan Am rival Yanet Sovero Nino of Peru. Leading 1-0 after the first period on a shot-clock violation point, Campbell was able to counter a low-double leg attempt and convert it to a takedown of her own to lead 3-0. Though she gave up a takedown in short-time, Campbell would ultimately advance 4-2.
In the quarter-finals, Campbell met 2012 Olympic 5th, 2014 World Silver Valeria Koblova Zholobova of Russia. Trailing 0-2 after the first period after giving up a step-out and shot-clock violation, Campbell needed a takedown to steal the match and turned her offense on in the second period. When Koblova was called for a second passivity and failed to score on the shot-clock, the score closed to 1-2. Koblova Zholobova would ice the match, scoring another takedown to end Campbell’s Olympic run in Turkey, 4-1.
When Khoblova Zholobova made the finals (eventually taking Gold and qualifying for the Olympics), Campbell was pulled back into the repechage. In her first match, she would slide past Abdildina of Kazakhstan, 1-1 on criteria, after the wrestlers traded shot-clock violations. In the Bronze match, Campbell took on Tetyana Kit of Ukraine. Off the initial exchange, Kit scored a beautiful fireman’s carry variant, where she rolled all the way through and had Campbell in danger of getting pinned. After the first, it would be 4-1 UKR. With a minute and a half left, Campbell was able to score a on a go-behind, to cut the lead to 4-3 UKR. Kit would hold on to claim the bronze.
(Tamyra Mensah, blue, competing at the 2016 Olympic Trials. Photo: Tony Rotundo/WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
At WFS69KG, Tamyra Mensah entered the Final Qualifying event after a strong showing in Mongolia, losing by one point in the Olympic qualifying match there. To start here, Mensah beat Jakhar (India) 5-0 to make it into the quarter-finals. There, Mensah wasted no time, setting up 2009 Junior World Gold, 4x European medalist (incl. 2 Golds), and 2013 World Champion Alina Stadnik Makhynia of Ukraine with a beautiful sweep-single and transitioning right into a gut-wrench to lead 4-0 early. She would score again on counter-offense, getting a go-behind to make it 6-0. When Mensah looked to swing to her single-leg again, Stadnik Makhynia was able to back-step out of range and smashed into Mensah with her hips to create a scramble (a la Jason Welch’s takedown of Derek St. John in the 2013 NCAA D1 Finals). In that scramble, Mensah bailed out initially to avoid giving up her back, but continued to elevate her level. Stadnik Makhynia, however, continued to float and hit a head-and-arm to deck Mensah and win by FALL and end TeamUSA’s hopes of qualifying.
The future is promising for USA WFS69, though, as the 2014 WCWA National Champion in Mensah bounced back in repechage, scoring 6pts early on 2015 Junior World 5th at WFS67KG Yauheniya Andreichykava of Belarus via a 2pt takedown and 2x2pt exposures. With about :30 left in the first period, Mensah hit another takedown and gut-wrench, to win by tech fall 10-0. In her final match of the event, Mensah pinned Romania’s Popescu, running-through Popescu from a front headlock to earn the fall in under a minute and a half to claim a bronze medal.
In the final day of qualifying for the 2016 Olympic Games, the hopes of the United States came down to one more weight-class: MFS65KG. Frank Molinaro looked to make the MFS team 6 for 6 in Rio, while wrestling in a field loaded with US collegians. Molinaro started the tournament with a formidable foe in 2012 Olympian and 2013 World Champion Devid Safaryan of Armenia. Molinaro would survive 3-2, scoring on a shot-clock violation and a takedown to lead 3-0 before Safaryan was able to score a takedown of his own. In the next round, Molinaro met 2015 Junior World Silver at MFS66KG, Yuhi Fujinami of Japan. Around midway through the first period, Molinaro scored on a high-c lift to a takedown. Fujinami, though, would answer, scoring his own high-c and a gut-wrench to lead 4-2 over Molinaro at half-time. With a little over a minute and a half remaining in the match, Molinaro got to his high-c lift again, this time returning Fujinami hard to the mat to score a 4pt throw and take the lead, 6-4 USA.
See Frank's 4pter:
Fujinami continued to wrestle, though clearly looking for his composure as time dwindled. Scoring a takedown of his own, the score read 6-6 (USA with criteria) with less than :30. Fujinami turned his motor into high gear, looking to score what-would-be a match winning point. After a failed challenge at the end of the match by the Japanese coaches, Molinaro would prevail 7-6, setting up a meeting with Cal Poly-SLO 3x All-American Borislav Novachkov of Bulgaria in the quarter-finals.
The two wrestlers scrapped to a 2-0 lead for Bulgaria after the first period, as Novachkov scored on a pushout and shot-clock violation. At 4:00 elapsed, Molinaro got in deep on his high-c shot, but Novachkov was able to “sit-the-corner” and locked up a Jagger’s (nearside) cradle to expose Molinaro for 2 more points, making it 4-0 BUL. In the final exchange of the match, Molinaro was able to score a 2pt exposure off a chest-wrap, but Novachkov continued the sequence, scoring a reversal to make the final score 5-2, ending the Olympic run for the US at MFS65KG in Turkey (or so it would seem, there have been rumblings about a potential slot-in for the US after a wrestler that had previously qualified for the Olympics tested positive for banned substances).
When Novachkov outlasted 2014 and 2015 World 5th (at MFS65KG and 70KG respectively) Azamat Nurykau of Belarus in the semi-finals, 8-4, Novachkov made the finals and qualified for the Olympic Games and Molinaro was pulled back into the repechage. Molinaro would claim Bronze after beating Zhumagazyyev of Kazakhstan 4-1 and Nurykau (BLR) 5-2.
Claiming the “other Bronze” (the repechage system splits the losers to finalists into two tracks to two separate Bronze medals) at MFS65KG was Edinboro University All-American David Habat, representing Slovenia. After picking up 13-3 Tech Fall and 10-0 FALL wins, Habat lost to Veranes Garcia of Canada (who would also reach the finals to qualify) in the quarterfinals. Habat bounced back, winning 9-5 and 11-7 in the Bronze match.
Also competing with US ties, at MFS74KG, was Harvard Volunteer Assistant Coach, 2012 NCAA All-American at Clarion University, 2014 Asian Games Champion and World Bronze at MFS70KG Bekzod Abdurakhmonov. Abdurakhmonov represented his native-land of Uzbekistan whilst dominating the field to earn his Olympic berth, winning 4-0 FALL, 2-0 FALL, 12-0 Tech Fall, and 12-2 Tech-Fall before winning the gold medal by injury default.
Matches can be viewed in their entirety at: https://unitedworldwrestling.org/event/2nd-og-worl...