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|Slay vs. Saitiev is the new “Bout of the Week” on USA Wrestling Audio/Video website|
By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling
USA Wrestling has updated its new "Bout of the Week" which has been posted as a video file on-line on TheMat.com Audio/Video website .
The featured match this week is the 2000 Brandon Slay vs. Bouvaisa Saitiev men's freestyle match at 76 kg/167.5 lbs. at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia.
This match featured Saitiev, at the time considered the greatest active freestyle wrestler in the world, and Slay, a newcomer to the U.S. team and an unknown on the international level. It was a key match in the lives of both athletes, and one of the highlights of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games in wrestling.
Coming into the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, anybody involved in wrestling knew who Bouvaisa Saitiev of Russia was and why he was so important in the sport. Saitiev had dominated the international freestyle wrestling scene for five years, and had dazzled the world with his skill and wrestling style.
Saitiev made his first splash on the international level in 1995, when he won the Espoir World title at the age of 20, then went to the Senior World Championships in Atlanta, Ga. and won the gold medal. Not only was his success at such a young age something that caught attention, but the way that this tall and thin wrestler competed was also eye-opening.
Saitiev wrestled with a high level of technique right from the start. However, his style was very different, a wide-open, creative, flowing approach to the sport that featured some unorthodox positions and situations. There were very few wrestlers to compare Saitiev with, who developed his own way to win matches and outwrestle his opponents.
His career blossomed from that point on. At the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Saitiev captured his first Olympic title. He beat 1988 Olympic champion Kenny Monday of the United States in the semifinals there, then defeated 1992 Olympic champion Park Jang-Soon of Korea in the championship match. To become the best, Saitiev defeated the best that were in the sport at the time.
He continued to excel, winning World titles in 1997 and 1998, along with major titles such as the Goodwill Games and the European Championships. In 1999, Saitiev skipped the World Championships, and his younger brother Adam entered in the weight class instead, and captured the gold medal.
Now Russia had two Saitievs who were World champions at 76 kg, heading into the 2000 Olympic year. A clue of what Russia might do at the 2000 Olympic Games came at the European Championships earlier in the year, when Bouvaisa won the title at 76 kg, and Adam jumped up to 85 kg to win the European title.
Brandon Slay took a different route to this showdown in Sydney. A Texas native, Slay was very successful in USA Wrestling's age-group programs, winning a Cadet National title and placing at the Junior Nationals a number of times. Slay also had considerable international experience at a young age, qualifying for U.S. teams and competing at both the Cadet World Championships and Junior World Championships while still in high school. As a Cadet, Slay won World silver and bronze medals in Greco-Roman.
A respected college recruit, Slay chose an Ivy League school, the Univ. of Pennsylvania, for his collegiate career. Slay was one of the athletes, coached by Roger Reina, that helped build the Quaker program to national prominence. He became one of the all-time greats at Penn, placing second at both the 1997 and 1998 NCAA Championships.
When college was over, Slay had international wrestling dreams, and became a U.S. Olympic Training Center resident athlete, training under National Freestyle Resident Coach Kevin Jackson in Colorado Springs. In his first season on the freestyle circuit, Slay placed sixth at the 1999 World Team Trials, putting his name on the national scene, but certainly making him a longshot to make the 2000 Olympic team.
Entering the 2000 U.S. Nationals as the seventh seed, Slay's progress was quickly established. He qualified for the gold-medal finals, where he defeated 1999 World bronze medalist Joe Williams in the championship finals. Suddenly, it was Brandon Slay who was the top seed at the 2000 Olympic Trials held in his home state in Dallas, Texas. It was expected that Williams might get another shot at Slay in Dallas, but in the Challenge Tournament there, Brian Dolph defeated Williams to make the best-of-three finals. Dolph was a coach and training partner for Slay for years. Slay was able to beat his friend and mentor to qualify for the Olympics.
The Olympic Games has a blind draw system, and for the 2000 Olympics, the competitors were split into pools of three or four wrestlers. An athlete needed to win his pool in order to advance into the championship bracket and the possibility for a medal. This format is no longer in use internationally. Under this system, there is tremendous pressure on the athletes right from the start of the tournament.
At 74 kg/163 pounds, Slay and Saitiev ended up in the same pool, along with Plamen Paskalev of Bulgaria. Only one of the wrestlers would advance, while the others would not have a chance to win a medal.
Slay opened the tournament with a victory over Paskalev, 4-1. Next came the match with Saitiev. Slay started it off with a takedown and a gut wrench turn to lead 3-0, but Saitiev rebounted to tie the score at 3-3 in regulation. The overtime would determine the winner. In this case, it was the underdog who emerged, as Slay scored the winning point for the major upset win.
Saitiev was out of the tournament, but Slay still had a hard road ahead. He won his next match with a overtime 2-2 decision over Gennday Laliyev of Kazakhstan. A 3-1 victory over 1999 World bronze medalist Adem Bereket of Turkey in the semifinals placed Slay in the gold-medal round against veteran star Alexander Leipold of Germany, a 1994 World champion. Wrestling fans will remember that match, a 4-0 win by Leipold which included some controversy concerning the clinch position. In Sydney, it was Alexander Leipold who was the Olympic champion, and Slay returned home with an Olympic silver medal.
Shortly after the Games, it was announced that Leipold tested positive for the steroid nandralone, and on Oct. 16, the IOC Medical Commission recommended stripping his medal. The gold medal was taken from Leipold as part of the penalty for failing the drug test, giving Slay the Olympic gold medal at the weight class. Slay was awarded his Olympic gold medal in New York City on live national television as part of NBC's Today Show. Slay's silver had turned to gold, and he became the only U.S. freestyle wrestler to win an Olympic title in 2000.
Saitiev's wrestling career continued from that point on as it had prior to the match in Sydney. He has won every major event he has entered since that loss to Slay, winning a second Olympic gold medal at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. He also added World titles in 2001, 2003 and 2005. Going into the 2006 year, Saitiev remains the top wrestler in his weight class, winning the European gold medal again this year.
Saitiev is expected to continue competing, looking to add to his amazing record. At this time, he is a two-time Olympic champion and a six-time World champion. The only blemish to his amazing record is that loss to Slay in Australia.
Slay's competitive career ended in Sydney. A few years after his Olympic triumph, Slay returned to the Olympic Training Center for workouts, to do some training and to decide if he would come out of retirement and continue competing. Slay chose not to return to the mats, and has not wrestled since. He is very busy within wrestling, conducting clinics, coaching athletes and giving public speeches. He has also chosen to touch numerous lives with his ministry, sharing his faith with those who attend his activities and inspiring them as athletes and individuals. This popular feature will be changed on a regular basis, allowing members to enjoy many of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
Posted in the archive section of the Members Only web page was 1984 Steve Fraser vs. Frank Andersson men's Greco-Roman match at 90 kg/198 lbs. at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Calif. Many other entertaining and historic matches are in the archive section for the Bout of the Week.