|2005 World Championships preview at 55 kg/121 lbs. in menís freestyle wrestling|
By John Fuller USA Wrestling
Last year, two young wrestlers with bright futures met in the finals of the Olympic Games at 55 kg/121 lbs. in men's freestyle competition - Mavlet Batirov of Russia and Stephen Abas of the United States. Batirov defeated Abas in what many expected to be one of many meetings between the two for medals.
This year, Abas did not compete at the U.S. World Team Trials and Batirov is not expected to compete at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
In place of Batirov, Russia could send 2001 World bronze medalist Alexander Kontoev or newcomer Zelimhan Kucaev, who won this year's Russian National Championships. The U.S. team will counter with 1998 World champion and 2000 Olympic silver medalist Sammie Henson, who is training full-time for the first time since his preparation for the 2000 Games.
Kontoev won a bronze medal at the European Championships, losing only in the semifinals to 2003 World silver medalist Ghenadie Tulbea of Moldova. He also won a bronze medal at the World University Games, but while wrestling at 60 kg/132 lbs.
This weight class has not had a repeat gold medalist, World or Olympic, since 1993-94 when Alexis Vila of Cuba stood atop the podium, and even that was at the light weight of 48 kg/105.5 lbs. However, this year, many past champions are expected to return to the World Championships.
Along with Henson, Dilshod Mansurov of Uzbekistan is expected to be on the mat in Budapest. He won a World title in 2003 and placed 10th in the Olympics last year. He also recently won a gold medal at the Asian Championships. At only 22 years old, Mansurov has an opportunity to become one of the most dominant wrestlers at this weight class early in the century.
Chiakara Tanabe of Japan had always been known as a tough competitor internationally, but also a wrestler that could not win the big match, placing seventh and sixth in the 2003 and 2002 World Championships, respectively. Last year, he dumped that stereotype with a bronze-medal victory over Amiran Kartanov of Greece at the Olympic Games. Now, Tanabe is the highest returning medalist from Athens going into Budapest.
Kartanov, who won a bronze medal at the 2000 Olympic Games, has not competed this year.
Rene Montero of Cuba, a World champion in 2002, has not wrestled since the Olympic Games last year when Abas knocked him out of pool competition in a 4-3 match. Andy Moreno wrestled for Cuba at the Pan American Championships. Moreno is new to the World level, and especially with Batirov and Abas out, do not be surprised to see Montero looking for another gold medal.
Oleksandr Zakharuk of Ukraine is 30 years old, but has wrestled at a high level for the last eight years in-a-row. The two-time Olympian won World bronze medals in 1999, 2002 and 2003. He placed fifth in the 2000 Olympic Games and seventh in the 2004 Olympic Games.
Gevork Margaryan represented Ukraine at the European Championships this year. However, he also competed at the European Championships last year before Zakharuk competed in the Olympics. Margaryan is also only one year younger than Zakharuk, leaving no reason that Zakharuk won't be in the Ukraine lineup this year.
One other young wrestler, Naranbaatar Bayaraa of Mongolia, will look to step onto a platform finally. Bayaraa competed in the 2004 Olympic Games and recently won a gold medal at the World University Games.
A few of the above-mentioned wrestlers competed in the championships for their respective continents.
Tulbea defeated Radoslav Velikov of Bulgaria for the gold medal at the European Championships this year. Velikov also placed ninth at the 2004 Olympic Games. Kontoev and Besarion Gochashvili of Georgia won the bronze medals at 55 kg.
At the Asian Championships, Mansurov defeated Jon Hyon Kuk of North Korea for the gold medal, though North Korea could also send O Song Nam, who placed eighth in the 2004 Olympic Games, or World University Games bronze medalist Kim Chol Kang to the World Championships. Taqi Dadashi of Iran, a newcomer to the Senior World scene, and Tomchiro Matsunaga of Japan won bronze medals at the Asian Championships.
There should be a strong mix of veterans and youth at the World Championships this year. Tanabe and Zakharuk are 30 and Kartanov is 29. Tulbea is maturing at age 27. The others in this weight class - Montero (26 years old), Bayaraa (25), Kontoev (24), Velikov (23) and Mansurov (22) - also have a great amount of experience for their ages.
RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS
2004 Olympic Games results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Mavlet Batirov (Russia); Silver - Stephen Abas (USA); Bronze - Chikara Tanabe (Japan) dec. Amiran Kartanov (Greece), 7-0; 5th - Li Zhengu (China) dec. Kim Hyo Sub (Korea), 6-4; 7th - Oleksandr Zakharuk (Ukraine); 8th - O Song Nam (P.R. of Korea); 9th - Velikov Radislav (Bulgaria); 10th - Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistan)
2003 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistan) dec. Ghenadie Tulbea (Moldova), 7-4; Bronze - Oleksandr Zakharuk (Ukraine) dec. Mohammed Aslani (Iran), 5-2, ot, 6:22; 5th - Stephen Abas (United States); 6th - Amiran Kartanov (Greece); 7th - Tanabe Chickara (Japan); 8th - Ramazan Demir (Turkey); 9th - Bauyrzhan Orazgaliyev (Kazakhstan); 10th - Bayaraa Barabbaatar (Mongolia)
2002 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Rene Montero (Cuba) dec. Namik Abduallayev (Azerbaijan), 4-1; Bronze - Oleksander Zakharuk (Ukraine) dec. Adcham Achilov (Uzbekistan), 3-1; 5th - Martin Berberyan (Armenia); 6th - Chikara Tanabe (Japan); 7th - Oularbek Tuganbay (Kyrgyzstan); 8th - Zunbayan Tumendemberel (Mongolia); 9th - K. Kumar (India); 10th - Ercan Cetin (Turkey)
2001 World Championships results
54 kg/119 lbs. - Gold - Herman Kontoev (Belarus) dec. Babak Nourzad (Iran), 5-1; Bronze - Alexander Kontoev (Russia) dec. Maulen Mamyrov (Kazakhstan), 4-1; 5th - Tumendemberel Zuunbayan (Mongolia); 6th - Goha Kirkitadze (Georgia); 7th - Dilshod Mansurov (Uzbekistan); 8th - Arif Farmanov (Azerbaidjan); 9th - Mevlana Kulac (Turkey); 10th - Amiran Kardanov (Greece)