Seven Olympic Medalists Eye #Tokyo2020 Berth in Sofia
Friday, April 30, 2021 - 12:38 By Eric Olanowski
SOFIA, Bulgaria (April 29) --- More than 400 wrestlers from 84 countries have entered next week's World Olympic Games Qualifier in a final hope to qualify their nation for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Each of the 18 categories will have two tickets up for grabs, with semifinal winners securing their spots. Wrestling will begin May 6th and end May 9th.
While new stars have emerged in the extended five-year cycle, seven Olympic medalists have yet to qualify and will be in Sofia to make sure they have the chance to find Olympic glory once again. A total of seven previous medalists will return headlined by two-time medalists Hyeonwoo KIM (KOR) and Jackeline RENTERIA CASTILLO (COL).
Rio Olympic champion and London silver medalist Vladimir KHINCHIGISHVILI (GEO) withdrew from the tournament this week after testing positive for COVID-19. The Georgian star had planned to compete at 65kg.
"I can just say that in life no one knows what awaits us. I am grateful for everything.' said Khinchigishvili. "I hope that my countryman can still capture the license."
Kim won his Olympic medals at the London and Rio Games, while Renteria Castillo won her medals at the Beijing and London Games.
Kim, who'll wrestle on Sunday, is on a quest to get back to the Olympic Games to potentially grab a third Greco-Roman medal. From late-’17 to the Nur-Sultan World Championships, the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer reached the podium at nine consecutive competitions – five of which were golds – but is still looking to find his stride in ‘21. Since falling to Mohammadali GERAEI (IRI) in his opening match at the ’19 World Championships, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim has only competed once. That was at last month’s Asian Olympic Qualifiers, where he fell to Asian champion Singh GURPREET (IND), (who is also registered at 77kg) and finished in seventh place.
The biggest threats stopping Kim from reaching the 77kg finals are world bronze medalists Fatih CENGIZ (TUR) and Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL), two-time U23 world champion Daniel CATARAGA (MDA) and newly-minted European champion Shmagi BOLKVADZE (GEO).
Two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jackeline Renteria Castillo is trying to join Tonya VERBEEK (CAN) as the only Pan-American woman to win three Olympic medals. The Colombian is registered at 62kg. Other wrestlers entered alongside Renteria Castillo include world silver medalists Elif YESILIRMAK (TUR) and Liubov OVCHAROVA (RUS).
Other Olympic Medalists in Action
Greco-Roman Rio gold medalist Davit CHAKVETADZE (RUS), and Rio bronze medalists Stig Andre BERGE (NOR) and Rasul CHUNAYEV (AZE) will all be action on Sunday.
Chakvetadze will replace Russia’s European Olympic Qualifier and European championship representative Milad ALIRZAEV (RUS) at 87kg. Alirzaev took bronze at the European Championships but dropped to a fifth-place finish at the European Olympic Qualifier.
The World Olympic Qualifier will be Chakvetadze’s first competition back since falling in the finals of December’s Individuals World Cup in Belgrade. Prior to his loss, he picked up convincing victories over defending European champion Semen NOVIKOV (UKR) and world bronze medalist Hossein NOURI (IRI), before running into the red-hot Kiril MASKEVICH (BLR) in the gold-medal match.
The top threat that’s on Chakvetadze’s radar is Zurabi DATUNASHVILI (SRB), who just last weekend won European gold. Another threat to pay attention to is two-time world champion Metehan BASAR (TUR).
Berge, the Rio Olympic bronze medalist, is entered at one of Greco-Roman’s most loaded weight classes, 60kg.
In his two appearances down at the Olympic weight class, the 38-year-old Norwegian has struggled mightily, going 0-2 and dropping his first-round matches to Sailike WALIHAN (CHN) Erik TORBA (HUN). Berge’s loss to Walihan dropped him to a 24th-place finish at the World Championships, and his loss to Torba left him finishing in 14th at the European Olympic Qualifier.
Some roadblocks that Berge will have to navigate through to reach the finals are world champion Nugzari TSURTSUMIA (GEO) and European champions Edmond NAZARYAN (BUL) and Victor CIOBANU (MDA).
Chunayev, who will compete at 67kg, will be making his first appearance since falling to two-time world champion RYU Hansu (KOR) at the ’19 World Championships. Other wrestlers that Chunayev will have to get past included four-time world medalist Almat KEBISPAYEV (KAZ), world bronze-medal winner Gevorg SAHAKYAN (POL) and European champion Morten THORESEN (NOR).
Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) and Albert SARITOV (ROU) are the pair of freestyle Olympic medalists registered for Sofia.
Demirtas will wrestle in freestyle's cant-miss weight-to-watch, 74kg.
To earn an Olympic berth, Demirtas will have to put an end to Tajmuraz SALKAZANOV’s (SVK) hot streak that he’s looking to carry over from last weekend’s European Championships. The Slovakian became his nation’s third-ever European champion. Salkazanov defeated two-time world champion Frank CHAMIZO, world runner-up Avtandil KENTCHADZE (GEO) and U23 world champion Razambek ZHAMALOV (RUS) en route to winning the 74kg title.
Other guys who can make some noise at 74kg are former Russian-turned Serbian world champion Hetik CABOLOV (SRB), African champion Ogbonna JOHN (NGR) and European champion Mahamedkhabib KADZIMAHAMEDAU (BLR)
Albert SARITOV (ROU) is the final Olympic medalist that’ll be in action. It’ll be his third competition of the season. He’s wrestled at the International Ukrainian Tournament, European Olympic Qualifier and European Championships and finished with a bronze medal in Ukraine.
The Rio Olympic bronze medalist finished with a bronze medal at the International Ukrainian Tournament. In addition to Erik THIELE (GER), the guy who beat Saritov for bronze at the European Olympic Qualifier, world bronze medalist Abraham CONYEDO (ITA), is another guy the Romanian will have his eyes on.
74kg - Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR): Rio bronze medalist
97kg - Albert SARITOV (ROU): Rio Olympic bronze medalist
60kg - Stig Andre BERGE (NOR): Rio Olympic bronze medalist
67kg - Rasul CHUNAYEV (AZE): Rio Olympic bronze medalist
77kg - Hyeonwoo KIM (KOR): London gold and Rio bronze medalist
87kg - Davit CHAKVETADZE (RUS) - Rio Olympic gold medalist
62kg - Jackeline RENTERIA CASTILLO (COL): Beijing and London Olympic bronze medalist