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Gutches vs. Assanov is the new “Bout of the Week” on USA Wrestling Audio/Video website



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 1997 Les Gutches vs. Eldar Assanov gold medal finals at 85 kg/187.25 lbs. at the 1997 World Freestyle Wrestling Championships in Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

The matchup featured a pair of young wrestlers who had previously never won a Senior World medal and may have been wrestling the best tournaments of their life.

Les Gutches was one of the talented athletes who came through the USA Wrestling system with great expectations. As a youth, he was skilled in both international styles, but had some of his best success in Greco-Roman, where he was a Cadet World silver medalist, and won national titles as both a Cadet and Junior. He also competed for the USA at the Junior World and Espoir World Championships, moving up the ladder of success.

He went on to Oregon State Univ., where he won two NCAA Div. I titles and was a three-time All-American. While still in college, Gutches quickly rose the national rankings in freestyle. In 1999, after his junior year in college, Gutches climbed to No. 2 on the national level, placing behind World and Olympic champion Kevin Jackson at the World Team Trials.

The next year, shortly after capturing his second college national crown, Gutches made the big step to the top of the ladder. He beat Jackson in both the 1996 U.S. Nationals, then in the championship finals at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Spokane, Wash. Just weeks after finishing his college career, Gutches was an Olympian.

Competing in his first Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga., Gutches fell short of winning a medal, placing seventh. The next season, Jackson continued to compete and the athletes met again, with Gutches winning the U.S. Nationals and World Team Trials to retain his No. 1 position in the nation. He earned his first trip to a World Championships, which were set for Krasnoyarsk, Russia, deep in Siberia.

Eldar Assanov of Ukraine also came up through the age-group system in his nation. His first international appearance was for the former Soviet Union, when he was an Junior European champion in 1991. For the new independent nation of Ukraine, he won an Espoir World gold medal in 1993, and was competing on the Senior level by 1995, when he was third in the World Military Championships. He had won a European Espoir title along the way.

Assanov's first appearance for Ukraine at the Senior World Championships would be in 1997 in Krasnoyarsk.

Gutches came to Russia with something to prove. He had a challenging draw, but methodically worked his way through the field. His first match was an 8-0 shutout of Tatsuo Kawai of Japan. He needed overtime to defeat a tough young Iranian opponent Ali Reza Heidari, 3-0. (Heidari would later win a World title at 97 kg). The next match was another dominating performance, as Gutches defeated Plamen Paskalev of Bulgaria, 8-0.

His toughest test came in the pool finals, as he drew 1996 Olympic gold medalist Magomed Magomedov of Russia. Gutches' exciting 3-2 overtime win earned him a spot in the gold-medal finals against the relative unknown Assanov, who emerged from the other side of the draw.

Assanov provided a much more difficult test for Gutches than many expected, and the decision went down to referee's decision criteria, as Gutches emerged as the new World Champion.

Gutches would remain a top star for the USA throughout the rest of the Olympic quadrennium. Ironically, after Jackson decided to retire in late 1998, he went on to become the National Freestyle Resident Coach for USA Wrestling. When Gutches moved to Colorado Springs, Colo. to train as a resident athlete, his former fierce rival Jackson became his coach.

Gutches fell short of his goals at the 1998 World Championships, placing seventh, Gutches returned to top form in 1999, battling back from a loss to win a World bronze medal. Gutches added other important titles to his list, including a 1998 Goodwill Games title, a 1999 Pan American Games title and 1999 World Cup title.

He was the top favorite going into the 2000 Olympic year, and took the first major step in that goal by winning the U.S. Nationals title and earning the top seed at the Olympic Team Trials. However, a back injury slowed him considerably, and Gutches was unable to compete at the Olympic Trials, requesting a delay in his finals series. In a Special Wrestle-off held in Fargo, N.D., Gutches lost twice to the winner of the Trials event, Charles Burton. It was Burton who went to the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, placing fifth.

Gutches would never wrestle again. He served many years as the assistant coach at his alma mater Oregon State, and completed his MBA degree. Gutches has left the coaching profession to pursue his business career.

Assanov continued to wrestle internationally through 2004, but never again reached the World medal rounds. He was 10th at the 1998 World Championships and 14th at the 2002 World Championships for Ukraine, and wrestled a few more times at the European Championships. He did not compete at the 2000 Olympic Games, although he won silver medals in two Olympic Qualification Tournaments which allowed Ukraine to enter at the Olympics in his division. David Bichinichvili wrestled for Ukraine at the Sydney Olympics, however.

The last major international event on his record was a gold medal at one of the 2004 Olympic Qualification events. However, at the Athens Olympic Games, Ukraine entered Taras Danko, who placed seventh.

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 the 1998 Cary Kolat vs. Elbrus Tedeev bronze medal match at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. at the World Championships in Tehran, Iran. Many other entertaining and historic matches are in the archive section for the Bout of the Week.
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