Veteran stars Huseynov, Shariati lead Azerbaijan show in World Olympic Qualifier

By Vinay Siwach

ISTANBUL, Turkiye (May 9) -- Two 35-year-old veterans Rafig HUSEYNOV (AZE) and Sabah SHARIATI (AZE) lead a commanding performance from Azerbaijan at the World Olympic Games Qualifier, securing three Paris Olympic spots. This has increased the number of qualified wrestlers for Azerbaijan in Greco-Roman to five with the country winning Olympic spots in 60kg, 87kg and 130kg, adding to the 67kg and 77kg it won at the World Championships in Belgrade.

Apart from Azerbaijan, four other countries won Paris Olympic spots and four Individual Neutral Athletes confirmed their tickets as well on day one of the tournament in Istanbul.

Each weight class offers three Paris 2024 quotas with two awarded on Thursday while the third will be awarded on Friday. The wrestlers eligible for repechage will compete Friday and try to reach the bronze-medal bout against the losing semifinalists. The winners of the bronze-medal bouts in each weight category will compete in a playoff and the winner of this playoff will get the third quota.

Former world champion and Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist was Rafiq HUSEYNOV (AZE) who managed to win the spot at 87kg. The veteran was up against another world champion Lasha GOBADZE (GEO) for the Paris spot and came out on top 4-1. His road to the semifinals included tough wins over Sunil KUMAR (IND) [4-3] in the 1/8 finals and Alex KESSIDIS (SWE) [2-1] in the quarterfinals.

"Everyone knows about my injuries," Huseynov said. "I had three surgeries before the European qualifying tournament in Baku. Now, I am not in optimal form but normal form for competition. After two months, we will be ready for the Olympics and I will get good form."

Huseynov will be looking to better his Tokyo Olympic bronze medal that he won at 77kg. But he also knows that the Olympics can throw several surprising results.

"I have all the medals and I hope that now I can win the Olympic title at 87kg," he said. "The Olympics is a surprise competition. No one knows how it will be. We can't say anything. If I do everything like I did in Tokyo, I think I can win. We will show the best of our wrestling."

Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) won the spot at 60kg after beating Razvan ARNAUT (ROU) 8-2 in the semifinals. Mammadov got the spot on the Azerbaijan team after European champion Nihat MAMMADLI (AZE) lost at the European OG Qualifier in Baku. And he made the most of it.

He opened his day with a technical superiority 10-1 win over Aleksandrs JURKJANS (LAT), defeated Christopher KRAEMER (GER) with a similar scoreline and stopped Michal TRACZ (POL) 5-1 in the quarterfinals. In the qualifying bout, Arnaut never looked like challenging Mammadov who will now be representing Azerbaijan in Paris.

The other spot at 60kg went to Sadyk LALAEV (AIN) who crushed Dahyun KIM (KOR) 8-0 in just 37 seconds in the other semifinal.

Sahab SHARIATI (AZE)Sahab SHARIATI (AZE) defeated Pavel HLINCHUK (AIN) 1-1 in the 130kg semifinals. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

Rio Olympic bronze medalist Shariati had to beat up-and-coming Pavel HLINCHUK (AIN) 1-1 in the 130kg semifinal to earn the Paris spot after the two exchange passivity points. Shiariati got the point in the second period to hold the criteria lead. But in his earlier bouts, Shariati defeated Nikolaos NTOUNIAS (GRE) 8-3, rocked Roman KIM (KGZ) 10-0 and held Mantas KNYSTAUTAS (LTU) to 1-1.

Another veteran was looking to earn a spot at 130kg but 38-year-old Heiki NABI (EST) was denied by 34-year-old Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU). The Romanian managed to qualify for his fourth Olympics after a 1-1 win over Nabi.

Kiryl MASKEVICH (AIN)Kiryl MASKEVICH (AIN) celebrates after beating Turpal BISULTANOV (DEN) in the 87kg semifinal. (Photo: United World Wrestling / Kadir Caliskan)

At 87kg, former world silver medalist Kiryl MASKEVICH (AIN) had to beat another world silver medalist Turpal BISULTANOV (DEN) to earn a ticket to Paris 2024. He scored two turns from par terre in the first period and stopped Bisultanov in the second to post a 5-2 win.

Another world silver medalist who earned a Paris spot was Sergei KUTUZOV (AIN) at 77kg. Perhaps the most dominant wrestler of the day, Kutuzov had two technical superiority wins and an 8-2 victory in the semifinals before the defeated Iuri LOMADZE (GEO) 5-2 in the semifinal.

Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL) managed to hold Riu LIU (CHN) in the semifinal 1-1 and the criteria win helped him win the quota for Bulgaria at 77kg. This was his second 1-1 win as he had beaten Paulius GALKINAS (LTU) in the quarterfinal with the same scoreline.

Before those matches, he defeated former world silver medalist Zoltan LEVAI (HUN) 2-1 and Marcos SANCHEZ SILVA (ESP) in his opening bout.

At 67kg, Moldova and Georgia got the Paris 2024 spots with Valentin PETIC (MDA) and Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) respectively. Petic defeated Etienne KINSINGER (GER) 3-1 in the qualification bout while Zoidze performed a stunning bodylock to beat Lei LI (CHN) 10-0.

"Everything went as planned," Zoide said. "I had surgery on my shoulder. I wasn’t training and competing for 10 months. I have won the Olympic quota. I have a chance to make my dream come true, but now it’s not just a dream, it’s my goal."

Zoide said that he is happy to have proved his doubters wrong after many doubted if he will return after his injury. 

"Many people didn’t believe that I would make it," he said. "They were saying that my injury was very severe and I didn’t have enough time to recover. Today I proved to everyone that I can do it.  Some people were against me competing here. I read some comments on the internet saying that Zoidze is not ready to compete. Now I am happy to prove that I actually can do it."

Tokyo Olympic fifth-placer Arvi SAVOLAINEN (FIN) will return to the Olympics as he won the spot after beating Yuri NAKAZATO (JPN), a surprise semifinalist at 97kg, 4-2. Nakazato led 2-1 at the break but Savolainen got the par terre and a turn to lead 4-2 and win with that score.

The other wrestler qualifying at 97kg was Artur SARGSIAN (AIN) who broke his arm at the World Championships. Apart from a close 2-1 win in the quarterfinal, Sargsian was in complete control of his bouts including the semifinal in which he beat Lucas LAZOGIANIS (GER) 3-1.



60kg Paris Qualification Bouts
Sadyk LALAEV (AIN) df. Dahyun KIM (KOR), 8-0
Murad MAMMADOV (AZE) df. Razvan ARNAUT (ROU), 8-2

67kg Paris Qualification Bouts
Valentin PETIC (MDA) df. Etienne KINSINGER (GER), 3-1
Ramaz ZOIDZE (GEO) df. Lei LI (CHN), 10-0

77kg Paris Qualification Bouts
Sergei KUTUZOV (AIN) df. Iuri LOMADZE (GEO), 5-2

87kg Paris Qualification Bouts
Kiryl MASKEVICH (AIN) df. Turpal BISULTANOV (DEN), 5-2
Lasha GOBADZE (GEO) df. Rafig HUSEYNOV (AZE), 4-1

97kg Paris Qualification Bouts
Artur SARGSIAN (AIN) df. Lucas LAZOGIANIS (GER), 3-1

130kg Paris Qualification Bouts
Sabah SHARIATI (AZE) df. Pavel HLINCHUK (AIN), 1-1
Alin ALEXUC CIURARIU (ROU) df. Heiki NABI (EST), 1-1


Valiev gets 74kg Paris 2024 spot; USA completes Olympic line-up

By United World Wrestling Press

ISTANBUL, Turkiye (May 12) -- A day after he was dealt with a heartbreaking loss, Cherman VALIEV (ALB) pulled off a stunning last-second win over Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) to qualify for the Paris Olympics.

At the World Olympic Qualifier, the last chance to qualify for the Paris Olympics, Valiev lost to Viktor RASSADIN (TJK) in the 74kg semifinal on Saturday after he was docked for a singlet-pull. But 24 hours later, Valiev turned it around. Trailing 2-1 in the Olympic playoff between the two bronze medal winners, Valiev got a par terre position over Demirtas and turned him for two points with just a second left.

Demirtas challenged, asking for a block and two points as he stopped Valiev mid-turn, but blocking was not confirmed on review, giving Valiev another point for a lost challenge and a 4-2 win.

Apart from Valiev's dramatic win to earn Albania's third Freestyle quota for Paris, 70kg world champion Zain RETHERFORD (USA) won the 65kg spot for the United States to complete the line-up for Paris with all six spots. Spencer LEE (USA) won the 57kg spot on Saturday.

China earned two spots for Paris while Georgia and Hungary won a spot each. China won the spots at 57kg and 97kg, Georgia 86kg and Hungary will be represented in 125kg.

Retherford, who lost to Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL) at 65kg, wrestled four bouts on Sunday with his bronze-medal bout against SUJEET (IND) being the closest. Sujeet scored a counter takedown in the first period and tried holding on to that lead in the second. But as he was pushing Retherford towards the zone, the American circled back and took Sujeet down and take a 2-2 lead which he held till the end.

In the Olympic playoff, Retherford got the better of Niurgun SKRIABIN (AIN), 7-0, and earned a sixth Paris 2024 spot for the U.S. Since Retherford won the trials before coming to Istanbul, he will be now going to Paris.

Wanhao ZOU (CHN) and Awusayiman HABILA (CHN) earned the two quotas for China. Zou was up against  Andrii YATSENKO (UKR) and had little trouble beating Yatsenko in the playoff.

Habila wrestled 38-year-old Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB) in the playoff at 125kg and came out on top 2-1. Ibragimov got a 1-0 lead after Habila was out on the activity clock but he failed to score. Ibragimov was put on the clock in the second period but he also failed to score giving Habila a 1-1 criteria lead. Ibragimov made a few attempts in the final seconds but failed to get any points.

Ibragimov challenged asking for fleeing but it was not confirmed on review. The Rio bronze medalist later left his shoes on the mat, symbolizing his retirement from the sport.

Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO), who lost after giving up a late takedown, left nothing to luck on Sunday and defeated Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 8-2, giving Georgia its fourth qualification in Freestyle.

Hungary got its second Paris 2024 spot after Daniel LIGETI (HUN) pinned Jose DIAZ (VEN) in the playoff after building a 5-0 lead.

Paris 2024 Qualification Results

Wanhao ZOU (CHN) df. Andrii YATSENKO (UKR), 5-1

Zain RETHERFORD (USA) df. Niurgun SKRIABIN (AIN), 7-0

Chermen VALIEV (ALB) df. Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR), 4-2

Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO) df. Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 8-2

Awusayiman HABILA (CHN) df. Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB), 2-1

Daniel LIGETI (HUN) df. Jose DIAZ (VEN), via fall...