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2006 World Championships preview at 120 kg/264.5 lbs. in menís Greco-Roman wrestling

Cuba's talented Mijial Lopez had a dominant performance in winning the 2005 World gold medal, breaking through at this division after a few years where he fell short of the medal rounds. Lopez seemed to have disappointing efforts at the World-level events. His fifth place at the 2004 Olympic Games was his best previous finish. Lopez won the World Cup and the Pan American Championships this year, and enters as a strong favorite to repeat.

Lopez defeated four-time World silver medalist Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Greece in the World finals last year. The wrestling community has to wonder if Deak-Bardos will forever be a runner-up at the World level, taking second in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005. Deak-Bardos remains active on the international scene, taking third in the World Cup and fourth in the FILA Golden Grand Prix finals so far this season. Perhaps this is the year that he finally breaks through with a title.

Khassan Baroev of Russia, the 2004 Olympic champion and 2003 World Champion, was third at the European Championships and second at the World Cup this year. He did not represent Russia at the World meet last year, when Aleksander Ekimov competed and did not place in the top 10. When Baroev is wrestling at his best, he can dominate opponents.

2002 World champion Dremiel Byers of the United States will compete in China, but was unable to place at the 2005 World Championships. Byers has as much experience as anybody in this division. He spent many years battling World and Olympic champion Rulon Gardner for the spot on the U.S. team, and they often trained together. Byers lost to Lopez at the Pan American Championships this spring, and is hungry for another chance at facing the Cuban star. His ability to lift and throw makes him among the most exciting big men to watch in the world.

Georgia Tsurtsumia of Kazakhstan,the 2004 Olympic silver medalist, won the gold medal at the FILA Golden Grand Prix finals this year, beating veteran David Soldadze for the title. Tsurtsumia was the athlete who beat Gardner in the semifinals at the 2004 Olympic Games, and also scored a victory over Byers last year at the World meet, when he placed fifth. Tsurtsumia was also the 2006 Asian champion, the fourth straight year he has won that prestigious title.

Winning World bronze medals last year were Sergei Artsiukin of Belarus and Yetka Yilmaz of Turkey. Artsiukin was fifth at the European Championships this year, but was the European champion back in 2005. Turkey entered a different athlete at the European Championships this year, Ismael Guzel, who won the gold medal. Guzel also won the Junior World Championships and the Junior European Championships this year, Yilmaz has represented Turkey at the last four World or Olympic events, but with Guzel having such a strong year, it is possible that there may be a change in the lineup in China.

A veteran who can make an impact is Juha Ahokas of Finland, who has wrestled in three Olympic Games (1992, 1996, 2004). He was second at the 2006 European Championships and was seventh in the World last year. At 37, his age may play a factor in his performance. His best finish at a World tournament has been fourth place, so Ahokas is still very motivated to come back with a medal.

Another talented aging veteran in the battle could be Sergei Mourieko of Bulgaria, who was 10th in the world. Mourieko was an Olympic bronze medalist in 1996, and won a number of World medals in the 1990's, but his best performance in the new century was his fourth place at the 2001 World Championships. At 36, his best days have most probably passed.

Sajad Barzi of Iran, who was fourth at the 2004 Olympic Games, placed second at the Asian Championships this year. Iran entered a different athlete at the World meet last year, Ghesmanat Sharabiani, who finished 16th. The University World champion this year is also an Iranian, P Alijjanihadi.

Mindaugus Mitzgaitis of Lithuania was fifth at the World Championships last year, but his best finish was fourth place in the 2003 World Championships. Other wrestlers who placed in the top 10 at the World meet last year were Konstantyn Stryzhak of Ukraine and David Vala of the Czech Republic.

Many expected Xenofon Koutsioubas of Greece to rise up and become a star, after winning a World bronze medal in 2001. However, he has placed fourth, fifth, seventh and 11th in the next four World-level events, dropping in placement each year.

There are some other athletes in the field who could make an impact with a good performance, including Marek Mikulski of Poland , Rocco Ficcara of Italy and Nico Schmidt of Germany.

There is a strong field of talents in the super heavyweight division this year, with past World champions Lopez, Baroev and Byers in the mix. Deak-Bardos will attempt to finally turn his four silvers into a gold. Expect many very competitive matches, as there should be numerous veterans battling for medals this year.


2005 World Championships results
120 kg/264.5 lbs.- Gold - Mijial Lopez (Cuba); Silver - Mihaly Deak-Bardos (Hungary); Bronze - Sergei Artsiukin (Belarus); Bronze - Yetka Yilmaz (Turkey); 5th - Georgi Tsursumia (Kazakhstan); 5th - Mindaugas Mizgaitis (Lithuania); 7th - Juha Ahokas (Finland); 8th - Kostayantyn Stryzhak (Ukraine); 9th - David Vala (Czech Republic); 10th - Serguei Mourieko (Bulgaria)

2004 Olympic Games results
120 kg/264.5 lbs.- Gold - Khassan Baroev (Russia); Silver - Gerogiy Tsurtsumia (Kazakhstan); Bronze - Rulon Gardner (USA); 4th - Sajad Barzi (Iran); 5th -Mijail Lopez (Cuba); 6th - Yannick Szcepaniak (France); 7th - Xenofan Koutsioumpas (Greece); 8th - Serguey Moreyko (Bulgaria); 9th - Haykaz Galstyan (Armenia); 10th - Mihaly Bardos-Deak (Hungary)

2003 World Championships results
264.5 - Gold - Khassan Baroev (Russia) dec. Mihaly Deak-Bardos (Hungary), 3-1; Bronze - Georgiy Tsurtsumia (Kazakhstan) dec. Mindaugas Mizgaitis (Lithuania), 4-0; 5th - Xenofon Koutsioubas (Greece); 6th - Serguey Moreyko (Bulgaria); 7th - Juha Ahokas (Finland) ; 8th - Yannick Szcezepaniak (France); 9th - Haykaz Ghalstyan (Armenia); 10th - Rulon Gardner (USA)

2002 World Championships results
120 kg/264.5 lbs. - Gold - Dremiel Byers (United States) dec. Mihaly Deak-Bardos (Hungary), 3-0; Bronze - Yuri Patrikeev (Russia) dec. Xenofon Koutsioubas (Greece), 9-4; 5th - Helger Hallik (Estonia); 6th -Yuriy Yevseychek (Israel); 7th - Giuseppe Giunta (Italy); 8th - Georgiy Tsurtsumia (Kazakhstan); 9th - Roe Kleive (Norway); 10th - Nico Schmidt (Germany)

2001 World Championships results
130 kg/286 lbs. - Gold - Rulon Gardner (United States) won by ref. dec. over Mihaly Deak-Bardos (Hungary), 2-0, ot; Bronze - Xenofon Koutsoubas (Greece) dec. Sergei Mourieko (Bulgaria), 8-0; 5th - George Tsurtsumia (Georgia); 6th - Mijain Lopez (Cuba); 7th - Eddy Bengtsson (Sweden); 8th - Yuri Patrikeev (Russia); 9th - Alireza Gharibi (Iran); 10th - David Vala (Czech Republic)

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