Susaki regains Asian crown but shows cracks in pre-Paris prep

By Ken Marantz

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (April 13) -- Reigning world and Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN) finally showed some chinks in her armor. Not enough to suffer a first-ever loss to a non-Japanese opponent, but enough to give her something to think about with four months to go to the Paris Olympics.

Susaki faced the rare situation of trailing in a match in the women's 50kg final at the Asian Championships but managed to right the ship and defeat Ziqi FENG (CHN) 8-4 on Saturday at Bishkek Arena to regain the title she won in her last appearance in 2017.

"To go through such troubling matches before the Olympics is an important experience in order to win the gold in Paris," said Susaki, who earlier overcame a tough challenge from Yong Ok HWANG (PRK). "I want to make use of this feeling of regret so that after I win the gold, I can say it was good I had this experience."

Japan won two of the four other women's golds at stake on the third day of the competition, with two-time world champion Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) triumphing in her first international foray at the Olympic weight of 68kg and 2022 world U23 champion Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) winning the 55kg title in her senior Asian debut.

World silver medalist Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) sent the home fans happy by rallying to a thrilling victory in the 76kg final to cap the night, which earlier saw world champion Qi ZHANG (CHN) storm to the 59kg gold to follow up her victory over two-time Olympic champion Risako KINJO (JPN) in the afternoon session.

Yui SUSAKI (JPN)Yui SUSAKI (JPN) attempts an unsuccessful front headlock roll against Ziqi FENG (CHN) in the 50kg final during the Asian Championships (Photo: United World Wrestling / Amirreza Aliasgari)

For Susaki, the stop in Bishkek is part of her final preparations in the run-up to the Paris Olympics. Instead, it turned into a wake-up call, although she is trying to see it in a positive light.

"To be in a tough situation and still be able to come out with a victory gives me a boost of confidence," said the four-time world champion.

In the final against Feng, Susaki was facing an opponent she had beaten twice in the past seven months -- an 8-2 win in the semifinals at last year's World Championships in Belgrade and a 10-0 rout in the final of the Zagreb Open in January.

But it became obvious that her opponents are doing their homework on the superstar, who has only three losses in her entire career, all to the same Japanese opponent, Yuki IRIE (JPN).

Feng got on the scoreboard first with a counter lift for 2, but Susaki rolled through it and gained 2 of her own. But she lost the criteria advantage when Feng stuffed her on a front headlock roll for a 4-2 lead. It looked like it would stay that way to end the period, but Susaki came back with a driving takedown off a high crotch just seconds before the buzzer.

In the second period, Susaki kept her composure and scored a pair of takedowns to clinch the victory, which runs her current streak to 54 wins in a row.

"I wasn't trying for any specific tackle and I tried to hit a front headlock roll," Susaki said. "But I realize I can improve on the combination and it makes me want to quickly get back to practice."

Susaki's first bump in the road came in her opening match in the quarterfinals against Hwang, a 2019 bronze medalist who, like the rest of her compatriots, had been out of the international wrestling scene for much of the past five years.

Susaki received two activity points before Hwang came to life and scored a stepout late in the second period. She was close to scoring another when Susaki wriggled out of danger, then stopped a desperate front roll attempt to win 4-1.

"She came up with a strategy to keep the score low and put everything into deciding it at the end," Susaki said. "I allowed her to dictate the match. I'm going to go back to Japan and figure out how to deal with an opponent who avoids contact and saves it for the end."

Even with the close calls, Susaki remains among the most popular wrestlers on the circuit, as attested by the cheers for her from the Bishkek crowd.

"It was my first Asian Championships in seven years," Susaki said. "Seven years ago, it was my first challenge at a senior tournament. It was very moving to be back after seven years. The Kyrgyz people supported me and I was very happy to be able to compete with so many cheering for me. I'm very grateful to the fans."

Nonoka OZAKI (JPN)Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) completes a takedown against world silver medalist Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL) in the 68kg semifinals during the Asian Championships. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

Ozaki had her own issues to deal with, mainly handling a move from 62kg to 68kg over one year, with a stop at 65kg in between to win another world title. The extra weight proved to be no problem, at least on the continental level.

"My objective was winning the title, but it didn't matter if I lost as long I took something away from it," Ozaki said. "I wanted it to be a test of what level I am at."

Her level is quite high, to say the least. Ozaki won the gold with a 15-2 victory over 2022 Asian U23 champion RADHIKA (IND), her third consecutive technical fall of the day in which she was on the mat for a combined time of just over seven minutes.

"My transition from standing to the ground position was good and I could get big points," Ozaki said. "I want to continue working on that in practice."

Ozaki, the 2022 world champion at 62kg, suffered a devastating setback when she lost out on the place at the Paris Olympics in that weight class to Sakura MOTOKI (JPN). After moving up to 65kg for another chance to win a world title, which she accomplished, the opportunity to earn a ticket to Paris arose at 68kg, and she grabbed it by beating Ami ISHII (JPN) in a playoff in January.

As a natural 62kg wrestler, Ozaki has a speed advantage over her opponents. Since earning the Olympic spot, she has been spending time filling out into the heavier weight.

"I still have room to get bulkier and put on weight," she said. "I think I'll be much bigger the next time you see me."

Moe KIYOOKA (JPN)Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) scores a two-point takedown in her 7-0 win over Kyong OH (PRK) in the 55kg final during the Asian Championships. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

At 55kg, Kiyooka pulled away in the second period for a 7-0 victory over Kyong OH (PRK), adding the senior Asian gold to the world U23 and U20 titles she won in 2022.

"Last year, I was supposed to be here, but I got injured and that was tough to take," the 20-year-old Kiyooka said. "This makes up for that."

In the final, Kiyooka received an activity point for the lone score of the first period. In the second period, she scored a pair of takedowns, sandwiched around an exposure for stopping a reverse fireman's carry that the Korean wrestlers use so effectively.

"The Japan team has many top-level wrestlers and I got power from them," Kiyooka said. "I was very nervous, but I was able to move just as I do in practice."

To earn a spot on the team to Bishkek, Kiyooka defeated former world champion Haruna OKUNO (JPN) for the first time at the All-Japan Championships in December. She said her goal now is to secure a ticket to this year's senior World Championships.

While Kiyooka's job is done in Bishkek, she still has a future interest in the city. Her older brother Kotaro KIYOOKA (JPN) will be coming in an attempt to earn an Olympic quota in freestyle 65kg at the Asian Olympic Qualifier, which follows on April 19-21.

"I wanted to create good momentum to pass off to my brother," Kiyooka said. "I didn't see him before I left, but he messaged me and said, 'If you stay relaxed, you can win.'"

Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ)Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) celebrates after winning the 76kg final during the Asian Championships in Bishkek on Saturday. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Amirreza Aliasgari)

For Medet Kyzy, her 10-7 victory over Yuanyuan HUANG (CHN) in the 76kg final was similar in nature to a match between them 10 months ago in Bishkek, but far more dramatic and with more at stake.

Medet Kyzy, who trailed 4-0 after the first period, bulled her way to a 4-point takedown -- her second of the match -- with 35 seconds left to regain the Asian title she won in 2022 in her fifth straight trip to the final.

"To be honest, the final match was a little hard for me, but you saw that there were lots of our fans in the stands and each of them needed to see my victory, so I did my best to win," Medet Kyzy said.

At the Bishkek Ranking Series tournament last June, Huang led 3-0 after the first period of the final when Medet Kyzy rallied to a 5-3 win, scoring the winning takedown with 23 seconds left.

Qi ZHANG (CHN)Qi ZHANG (CHN) celebrates after beating two-time Olympic champion Risako KINJO (JPN) in the 59kg quarterfinal during the Asian Championships. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

In the 59kg final, Zhang needed less than a minute to score a takedown, lock up an arm and score four straight rolls to vanquish Anudari BATKHUYAG (MGL) 10-0. That gave her her first Asian title after a pair of bronzes from 2017 and 2019.

It was Zhang's second straight 10-0 win after her victory over Kinjo. The Chinese beat the two-time Olympic champion by getting the latter of two activity points and win 1-1 on criteria.

Risako KINJO (JPN)Risako KINJO (JPN) won the bronze medal at 59kg at the Asian Championships. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

Kinjo rebounds to take bronze

Kinjo, a four-time world and Asian champion, made sure she would not leave Bishkek empty-handed, overwhelming Dilfuza AIMBETOVA (UZB) 13-2 in a 59kg bronze-medal match.

"Am I disappointed, or am I happy, I'm not even sure myself," said Kinjo, who capped her victory with a driving 4-point takedown that ended the match with five seconds left in the first period.

Kinjo was appearing in her first international competition since winning the 57kg gold at the Tokyo Olympics. After that, she got married, gave birth, and missed out on a place at the Paris Olympics at 57kg to world champion Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN), who will be in action on Sunday.

Still wanting to compete, Kinjo moved up to 59kg and won the national title to earn the ticket to Bishkek.

Asked about the loss to Zhang, Kinjo said, "The opponent is the world champion. I don't know if she even knew I had changed my name. She is not an opponent that I can't beat. But strategically the match went her way. I lost, but it was enjoyable six minutes."

Host Kyrgyzstan picked up two bronze medals, and both in dramatic fashion at the expense of opponents from rival neighbor Kazakhstan.

At 55kg, Aruuke KADYRBEK KYZY (KGZ) gave up what should have been a decisive 2-point arm throw to Zulfiya YAKHYAROVA (KAZ) with four seconds left, only to come away with a 5-3 win by managing to score a reversal with less than one second on the clock. An unsuccessful challenge accounted for the final score.

Gulnura TASHTANBEKOVA (KGZ) also gave up early points to Albina KAIRGELDINOVA (KAZ) at 68kg, but came back with a counter to the back and scored a fall at 2:09.

Diana KAYUMOVA (KAZ) took home the other bronze at 59kg with a wild 11-8 victory over Pushpa YADAV (IND). Kayumova was leading 7-7 on criteria when she clinched the win with her second 4-point move of the match -- a Greco-like back suplex.

In a surprise at 76kg, Hui Tsz CHANG (TPE) prevented Japan from having a medalist in every weight class when she overcame a four-point deficit to defeat 2022 world U23 bronze medalist Yasuha MATSUYUKI (JPN) 8-6.

Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ), whose defense of her 76kg title ended with a semifinal loss to Medet Kyzy, also worked her way out of a four-point hole, but did it by pancaking PRIYA (IND) and scoring a fall in the second period.

At 50kg, Shivani PAWAR (IND) used her counter style of wrestling to maximum effect, pulling off a last-second victory with a counter lift to stun three-time world medalist Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL) 9-7.

In arguably the biggest victory of her career, Pawar, the 2021 world U23 silver medalist, had given up a go-ahead takedown to Dolgorjav with 20 seconds left.

Hwang, who won a bronze medal as a member of the last DPR Korea team to appear at the Asian Championships in 2019, will go home with another after defeating Thi Xuan NGUYEN (VIE) 4-2 at 50kg.

Min ZHANG (CHN), the 2023 Asian U23 champion, denied Dulguun BOLORMAA (MGL) a fourth senior Asian medal when she notched an entertaining 15-5 victory at 55kg.

Zhang led by a modest 2-1 in the second period when she scored a takedown and two rolls to go up 8-1. Bolormaa caught Zhang with a 4-point headlock throw, but her inability to secure the fall was her undoing, as Zhang came back with a 4-point takedown and gut wrench to finish the technical fall at 5:26.

World silver medalist Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL) earned her fourth senior Asian medal -- still none gold -- when she edged Zelu LI (CHN) 2-1 for the other 68kg bronze, with all of the points coming on the activity clock.


Day 3 Results

Women's Wrestling

50kg (13 entries)
GOLD: Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Ziqi FENG (CHN), 8-4

BRONZE: Yong Ok HWANG (PRK) df. Thi Xuan NGUYEN (VIE), 4-2
BRONZE: Shivani PAWAR (IND) df. Otgonjargal DOLGORJAV (MGL), 9-7

55kg (10 entries)
GOLD: Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) df. Kyong OH (PRK), 7-0

BRONZE: Min ZHANG (CHN) df. Dulguun BOLORMAA (MGL) by TF, 15-5, 5:22

59kg (8 entries)
GOLD: Qi ZHANG (CHN) df. Anudari BATKHUYAG (MGL) by TF, 10-0, :50

BRONZE: Risako KINJO (JPN) df. Dilfuza AIMBETOVA (UZB) by TF, 13-2, 2:54
BRONZE: Diana KAYUMOVA (KAZ) df. Pushpa YADAV (IND), 11-8

68kg (9 entries)
GOLD: Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) df. RADHIKA (IND) by TF, 15-2, 4:28

BRONZE: Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL) df. Zelu LI (CHN), 2-1
BRONZE: Gulnura TASHTANBEKOVA (KGZ) df. Albina KAIRGELDINOVA (KAZ) by Fall, 2:09 (7-2)

76kg (9 entries)
GOLD: Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) df. Yuanyuan HUANG (CHN), 10-7

BRONZE: Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) df. PRIYA (IND) by Fall, 4:25 (2-4)
BRONZE: Hui Tsz CHANG (TPE) df. Yasuha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-6

#wrestlebishkek, #WrestleParis

Rising star Sogabe survives scare to gain Paris 2024 ticket

By Ken Marantz

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (April 21) -- For all the young wrestlers who wonder why they do so much bridging in practice, Kyotaro SOGABE (JPN) showed how it can all pay off in that future situation when the stakes are at their highest.

Sogabe, about to see his Olympic dream ended, fought tenaciously off his back before going on to defeat Meiirzhan SHERMAKHANBET (KAZ) 11-2 and earn a ticket to the Paris Olympics at Greco 67kg on the final day of the Asian Olympic Qualifier on Sunday in Bishkek.

"If I had lost by fall there, my life would have been over," said the 22-year-old Sogabe, the 2023 Asian silver medalist who has long been touted in Japan as a star of the future. "All I've ever thought deep in my heart is that I will definitely win the gold medal in Paris.

"I asked myself, 'Are you going to give up now?' and that really got me going. I was so strongly determined not to lose by fall that I was able to escape."

Iran became the first country to complete the full set of six Greco quotas when Amin KAVIYANI (IRI) and Alireza MOHMADIPIANI (IRI) won their respective bouts at 77kg and 87kg, although neither victory came easy.

Also notably qualifying for Paris was Asia's "greybeard" Rustam ASSAKALOV (UZB), the 39-year-old wonder who earned his third trip to the Olympics with a victory at 97kg.

Kazakhstan came away with three Paris berths, while Korea won two along with Iran. The DPR Korea, which was shut out in freestyle before winning three spots in women's wrestling, gained its first and only ticket in Greco.

Three countries saw bids for historic victories quashed, as Jordan and Saudi Arabia were left still waiting for their first-ever Olympians in wrestling, while Chinese Taipei remains without ever having a male wrestler make the Olympics.

Combined with the results from last year's World Championships in Belgrade, where five quotas per weight class were available, Kazakhstan now has four, Kyrgyzstan, Japan and China three each, Korea and Uzbekistan two apiece and the DPR Korea one. The last chance will be at the World Olympic Qualifier in Istanbul on May 9-12, where three final places will be up for grabs.

Kyotaro SOGABE (JPN)Kyotaro SOGABE (JPN) with the 'qualified athlete' ticket for Paris Olympics. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

For Japan's Sogabe, his victory made up for a controversial loss in the quarterfinals in Belgrade to Mohammadreza GERAEI (IRI), which he lost 11-10 but had the crowd fully on his side as the Iranian waned in the final moments. It also made him determined to leave Bishkek with the ticket to Paris.

"The World Championships last year was devastating, and I have practiced every day with the determination to win the gold medal in Paris," said Sogabe, a 2022 world U23 bronze medalist. "Keeping that tough experience in my head, I worked on fixing things that weren't working well and was able to win here."

Asked about getting the chance to avenge the loss to Geraei in Paris, Sogabe expressed more concern with just winning the gold, regardless of who he faces.

"Today was really enjoyable, and I realized that in the end, having fun is the best way to do wrestling," he said. "I have to think about how I can become the strongest wrestler I can be so I can win at the Olympics. My goal is the gold medal, and I want to win it by being the strongest of all and in an enjoyable way."

Sogabe's victory came two days after Nippon Sports Science University teammate Kotaro KIYOOKA (JPN) earned his Paris ticket at freestyle 65kg. The two are both from the central island of Shikoku, and have been friendly rivals since their elementary school days.

"We are in the same class, and ever since we were young, I have not wanted to lose to him," Sogabe said. "'If I lose here, I'll be a step behind [Kotaro],' I thought. We are rivals, but we push each other and make each other better. I want us to win gold medals in Paris together."

Sogabe saw how quickly fortunes can turn in the sport in his clash with Asian Games silver medalist Sharmankhanbet, the 2021 Asian champion and a 2018 world bronze medalist.

Sogabe secured a body lock on Sharmankhanbet and slammed him down for four points -- only to have Sharmankhanbet roll Sogabe onto his back and secure a tight front headlock. A fall seemed imminent, but Sogabe's bridge kept his shoulders off the mat, and after a few tense seconds, he managed to extricate himself from the danger.

The Kazakh side made a seemingly dubious challenge for a suspected hand block of the leg, which was not only denied to give Sogabe a 5-2 lead but would work against them when an actual challenge situation arose later on and they could not contest it.

While his aggressiveness got him into trouble, Sogabe said he has no plans to change his style. "I have used attacking wrestling all this time, so I'm definitely not going to veer away from it," he said. "I will continue attacking right up to the very end."

In the second period, Sogabe drove Sharmankhanbet down for a takedown, although it looked like he may have stepped on his opponent's foot. But because the Kazakh side could not challenge, the points stood and Sogabe had a comfortable 7-2 lead. He stopped a desperation throw for 4 in the final seconds to make it officially a technical fall.

Among the crowd at Bishkek Arena were Sogabe's family and Nippon Sports Science University head coach Shingo MATSUMOTO, who flew in for the occasion. "For my whole family to come all this way, and coach Matsumoto here to support me, I'm really happy that I was able to get the job done," said Sogabe, who had to beat Asian Games champion and senior training partner Katsuaki ENDO (JPN) to earn the right to compete in Bishkek.

Sogabe's path to the final started with an 8-0 victory over 36-year-old Hansu RYU (KOR), a two-time Olympian and two-time former world champion, which may have marked a generational change in the weight class.

Amantur ISMAILOV (KGZ)Amantur ISMAILOV (KGZ) tries to pin HUSIYUETU (CHN) in 67kg semifinals. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Amirreza Aliasgari)

The other Paris berth at 67kg went to Amantur ISMAILOV (KGZ), who thrilled the home crowd with a second-period surge that gave him a 9-1 victory over HUSIYUETU (CHN).

Leading 1-0 off a passivity point in the first period, Ismailov started the second by fighting off a throw for a takedown, then charged ahead with a reverse body lift for a 2-point exposure. China challenged the original takedown, only to see it not only affirmed, but Husiyuetu assessed a 2-point penalty for touching the leg while he was being sent to his back.

The penalty, while giving Ismailov a 7-1 lead, also put him on the top in par terre, and he turned Husiyuetu over to end the match at 3:58.

Amin KAVIYANI (IRI)Amin KAVIYANI (IRI) celebrates after winning the Paris Olympic 77kg quota for Iran. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Amirreza Aliasgari)

At 77kg, Iran's Asian Games silver medalist Kaviyani was made to work hard for his Paris ticket, clinching a tense 6-5 victory over Rui LIU (CHN) by scoring the last of three consecutive stepouts with 49 seconds left.

Liu got off to a good start in his bid to avenge a 1-1 semifinal loss at last October's Asian Games in China when he completed a roll from par terre, and had a 2-point leg blocking penalty tacked on for a 5-0 lead. Kaviyani cut the gap with a counter takedown before the break.

"Everything was under control, but unfortunately I got a two-point warning," Kaviyani said. "In my opinion, there was no foot fault but it made the fight more difficult for me."

In the second period, Kaviyani received a passivity point but allowed Liu to pop out from par terre, leaving him trailing 5-3. But then the three-time Asian medalist launched his succession of stepouts to march to victory and a likely trip to Paris.

"At the Asian Games where the Chinese were the hosts, against the Chinese wrestler who is powerful, I won the match with a 1-1 score, but today I was able to get more technical points in this match," Kaviyani said. "I was under a bit of pressure and I had to get the best result. I’m thankful that I could get that result and the Olympic quota."

Alireza MOHMADIPIANI (IRI)Alireza MOHMADIPIANI (IRI) defeated Jalgasbay BERDIMURATOV (UZB) to win the 87kg quota for Iran. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Amirreza Aliasgari)

A short time later at 87kg, Mohmadipiani was also taken to the limit in securing Iran's sixth Olympic quota with a 3-2 victory over Asian Games champion Jalgasbay BERDIMURATOV (UZB).

Berdimuratov was only able to gain a 1-point stepout from a throw attempt out of par terre in the first period, and that would make the difference when Mohmadpiani, the world silver medalist at 82kg, got 2 from a throw in the same situation in the second period.

"I’m thankful that I could get the Olympic quota one year after the World Championships, especially when I was able to go from 82kg to 87kg," Mohmadpiani said. "I feel really good that I could keep this weight and I hope I can defeat my opponents in the Olympics."

Looking toward Paris, Mohmadpiani added, "My plan for the Olympics is to fix my flaws and add some new techniques so I can wrestle some mistake-free matches in the Olympics and shine."

Rustam ASSAKALOV (UZB)Rustam ASSAKALOV (UZB) celebrates after beating Uzur DZHUZUPBEKOV (KGZ) to win the Paris 2024 quota. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

At 97kg, the ageless Assakalov rumbled to another Olympics with a 3-1 victory over Tokyo Olympian Uzur DZHUZUPBEKOV (KGZ), who was his own worst enemy by committing a 2-point penalty for grabbing the singlet.

Assakalov, coming off a bronze-medal performance at the Asian Games, was put in par terre first, but was unable to add points against Dzhuzupbekov, a five-time Asian medalist and 2019 champion.

In the second period, Assakalov initiated a challenge to get Dzhuzupbekov tagged for grabbing the singlet that had gone unnoticed by the referee. The challenge worked, and Assakalov now had a 3-0 lead.

All he had to do was survive a stint on the bottom of par terre, which he did, and then used his vast experience to hold off Dzhuzupbekov while avoiding a passivity caution.

Assakalov, whose longevity is a testament to his love of the sport, has a long list of career achievements. He finished eighth at both the 2016 Rio and 2021 Tokyo Olympics, won a world silver in 2015 and bronze in 2017, and has eight Asian medals, including three golds.

It was singlet-grabbing that also proved the downfall for Ibrahim FALLATAH (KSA) in the other 97kg match, in which he lost 5-1 to Seungjun KIM (KOR) to fall short of becoming Saudi Arabia's first-ever wrestler in the Olympics.

Fallatah was hit with a 2-point penalty for grabbing the singlet in each period, while both wrestlers received a passivity point but were unable to score in par terre.

The loss by Sultan EID (JOR) to Haitao QIAN (CHN) in the other 87kg match was much more straightforward, as the Chinese held the upper hand throughout in a 7-0 victory in denying Jordan its first-ever Olympic wrestler.

Qian, a 2019 world bronze medalist at 82kg, was put in par terre in the first period and took advantage with a pair of gut wrenches for a 5-0 lead. In the second period, he used an underhook for a driving takedown to put the victory on ice.

Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ)Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ) scores a match-winning takedown against Dowon LEE (KOR) at 77kg. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

In the other 77kg match, veteran four-time Asian medalist Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ) seemed to be heading straight to defeat when his opponent Dowon LEE (KOR) suddenly crumbled late in their bout, giving Zhadrayev a 5-2 victory and a possible second trip to the Olympics.

Lee began brightly with a nice arm drag for a takedown that gave him a 2-0 lead at the break. And when he gave up a passivity point and was put on bottom, he kept a one-point lead by slipping out of a roll attempt for no points.

But with Zhadrayev viciously pressing ahead at the edge, Lee was holding out quite well until he suddenly ran out of gas and was crushed to the mat for a takedown with 30 seconds to go. Lee then limply went over for a 2-point exposure.

For the wrestlers at 60kg, the tournament provided a golden opportunity for an Olympic place, as Asian nations swept all five places in the weight class in Belgrade -- the only region to do so in any of the three styles.

Two-time world bronze medalist Aidos SULTANGALI (KAZ) came out the winner in the opening match of the night session with a victory by fall over Jui Chi HUANG (TPE).

Sultangali got four points by driving Huang onto his back in defense of an awkward arm throw, then added a gut wrench and a throw that ended up being ruled a stepout. A challenge by the Chinese Taipei downgraded the original 4-pointer to two, leaving Sultangali with a 5-0 lead.

Sultangali, the 2021 Asian champion, went right back to work, sticking Huang with a textbook-perfect headlock throw and securing the fall at 2:28.

Huang was attempting to become Chinese Taipei's first-ever male wrestler to qualify for the Olympics. The nation has had just one wrestler in the Olympics, Wen-Ling CHEN (TPE), who appeared in women's 69kg at the 2016 Rio Games.

Se Ung RI (PRK)Se Ung RI (PRK) won the DPR Korea's first Greco-Roman quota for Paris Olympics at 60kg. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

In the other match at 60kg, Se Ung RI (PRK) scored a first-period takedown and held on for a 3-0 victory over Dahyun KIM (KOR), who was thrown off his feet twice in the match but somehow managed to keep the moves from scoring points.

Ri looked like he would take an early lead when he hit Kim with a hip throw, but the Korean cartwheeled out of it and landed on his feet for no points. When Ri received a passivity point and was put on top of par terre, he lifted Kim off the mat but was unable to get enough height for points.

Ri got on the scoreboard again with a nice duck-under takedown for a 3-0 lead at the break, and in the second period, he kept the pressure on to avoid giving Kim a chance in par terre.

Korea picked up its second victory of the night at 130kg, when Seungchan LEE (KOR) cruised to a 9-0 win over surprise semifinalist Sota OKUMURA (JPN). Lee gained a passivity point and proceeded to reel off four straight rolls to win in 1:36, the shortest bout of the night.

Okumura, who was looking to become the first Japanese heavyweight in Greco to make the Olympics since 1996, had never won a match in eight previous international tournaments before he rallied to defeat Tamurbek NASIMOV (UZB) 12-6 to move one step away from Paris. That had avenged a loss to Nasimov at the Asian Games.

Alimkhan SYZDYKOV (KAZ)Alimkhan SYZDYKOV (KAZ) hung on for a 7-7 victory over Roman KIM (KGZ) at 130kg. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

Asian Games bronze medalist Alimkhan SYZDYKOV (KAZ) capped the tournament by fighting off fatigue and home favorite Roman KIM (KGZ) to eke out a 7-7 win in the other 130kg match.

The match between the three-time Asian medalists started with a bang, or a slap as it were. After scoring a stepout, Syzdykov was awarded two points when Kim lashed him with a sharp slap to the ear like the type seen more in sumo wrestling. Kim then spun behind for a takedown to cut Syzydkov's lead to 3-2 at the break.

Syzydkov padded the lead to 7-2 with a takedown and gut wrench, but after that, it was obvious he was running on fumes. Kim put the pressure on and scored a pair of stepouts, with a fleeing point tacked onto the second one to make it 7-5, before Syzydkov was assessed a 2-point penalty for inactivity.

Leading 7-7 on criteria, Syzydkov dropped to the mat at one point complaining of knee pain and received treatment much to the chagrin of the partisan crowd. But Kim had little left in the tank himself and was unable to muster enough energy for a final push.


Paris 2024 Qualification Matches


Aidos SULTANGALI (KAZ) df. Jui Chi HUANG (TPE) by Fall, 2:28 (10-0)
Se Ung RI (PRK) df. Dahyun KIM (KOR), 3-0

Amantur ISMAILOV (KGZ) df. HUSIYUETU (CHN) by TF, 9-1, 3:58
Kyotaro SOGABE (JPN) df. Meiirzhan SHERMAKHANBET (KAZ) by TF, 11-2, 6:00

Demeu ZHADRAYEV (KAZ) df. Dowon LEE (KOR), 5-2

Haitao QIAN (CHN) df. Sultan EID (JOR), 7-0
Alireza MOHMADIPIANI (IRI) df. Jalgasbay BERDIMURATOV (UZB), 3-2

Seungjun KIM (KOR) df. Ibrahim FALLATAH (KSA), 5-1

Seungchan LEE (KOR) df. Sota OKUMURA (JPN) by TF, 9-0, 1:36
Alimkhan SYZDYKOV (KAZ) df. Roman KIM (KGZ), 7-7