Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
The 2017 Cadet World Championships kicked off in Athens, Greece, Monday. While most of the country was taking it easy on this holiday weekend, five of the nation’s best Cadet Greco wrestlers were carrying the flag against the rest of the world. Before the day was over, three wrestlers would advance to the quarter-finals with Cohlton Schultz (100 kg) making history for Team USA. With the repechage and medal matches still to come tomorrow, starting at 3:30 am eastern and 11:00 am respectively, along with the other five weights, the team race is just getting underway, but already two of the traditional powers are trying to separate themselves at the top. Iran put two in the finals with one wrestling for bronze, while Russia has one finalist, two wrestling for bronze, and one still alive in the repechage. They are the only two countries with three of their five athletes already in medal matches after day one.
A pair of falls got Schultz into the semi-finals, but that fails to tell the story of how difficult his morning session was. First, Edson Acuna Salazar (MEX) capitalized on a Schultz mistake to lead, 2-0, then continued to hang around with Cohlton holding a 2-2 lead on criteria at the break. The Mexican stymied a few more attacks from the American before Schultz found one that worked, getting the fall in 2:43. The quarter-final against Kantemir Shibzukhov (RUS) was more of the same, though Schultz wasn’t making any mistakes. Neither man could find a way through as they traded passivity points in the opening two and a half minutes of the match. However, a correct throw by the Russian put Schultz in a 3-1 hole with just 40 seconds remaining. Moments later, when the grapplers hooked each other’s heads, it appeared the position was going nowhere. Instead, Schultz ducked to the outside, pulling the Russian’s head down as he did so, taking Shibzukhov to his back for four points and, eventually, earning his second fall of the day, this one in 3:40.
With the first finals appearance by an American in Greco at the Cadet World Championships since 1998 on the line, Schultz squared off with Asian champion Seyedmojtaba Hosseini (IRI). Neither man could find a gap in the other’s defenses in the first period, with Schultz leading 1-0 on a passivity point. As the final two minutes began, the expected passivity call against the American loomed large if no one could score as it would give the Iranian criteria. Schultz kept moving forward, though, and made it difficult to make the call against him. The Iranian had no offense, but neither did Schultz. Despite a warning with 1:20 to go, the second call never came and Schultz survived 1-0. He became the first American to reach the Cadet world finals in Greco since Matt Hasbrook in 1998. Schultz will wrestle for Team USA’s first Greco gold at this event since Joshua Etu in 1997 tomorrow at 11:00 am eastern.
The two other Americans to find their way into the quarter-finals were Lucas Byrd at 50 kg and Ridge Lovett at 54 kg. Byrd nearly made quick work of his opening round opponent, Yordan Nedzhat (BUL), when he countered a throw attempt to put the Bulgarian in danger. Though Nedzat would fight off his back, Byrd was unrelenting building a 6-0 lead in the first period before getting the fall in late in the second. Lucas remained on the attack as his next match, against Cadet Asian bronze medalist Din Koshkar (KAZ), opened racing out to a 3-0 lead. The Kazak proved dangerous, but Byrd kept scoring countering yet another arm throw attempt late to secure a 10-6 victory. 2015 Cadet European champion and 2016 Cadet world bronze medalist Vladimir Zabeyvorota (RUS) awaited in the quarter-finals. The Russian’s defenses proved impenetrable. Three takedowns gave Zabeyvorota enough of a margin to absorb a caution and two for fleeing with less than 10 seconds to go as he defeated Byrd, 6-4. Zabeyvorota lost a controversial semifinal, eliminating Byrd from medal contention.
Lovett, like Byrd, seemed determined to wrestle an attacking style, though it almost bit him as he opened the tournament against Muhammed Acar (TUR). The Turk countered an arm spin attempt by Lovett for a takedown, then lifted the American and took him through for four more. However, Lovett responded quickly, locking the body over both arms and launching Acar over the top. Though what looked like a five point move was only given four, that argument was rendered immaterial when Lovett held his opponent in danger and got the fall. A more reserved Lovett started his round of 16 clash with two-time Cadet Asian champion Mohammad Hosseinvand (IRI), but after a passivity point got the Iranian on the board, the Ridge saw his opportunity. Bundling both arms and throwing Hosseinvand to his back was the first step, but just like his throw in the first match, Lovett held his opponent in danger and got the fall in 1:14. The call was upheld after a challenge looking for a leg foul, much to the Iranian wrestler’s dismay.
When Lovett wasn’t pinning his foes in the early session, it allowed even more wildly entertaining wrestling to flourish. In the quarters against Cadet European champion Beka Guruli (GEO), Lovett’s duck under put the first of many points on the board. It was 6-0 at the break and 7-0 with 1:30 to go before the Georgian threw a left handed headlock, seemingly out of nowhere, off the whistle for four to get back in the match. After a step-out made the score 8-4, Guruli threw Lovett again, though this one wasn’t clean and the two had to scramble for position. However, when they settled Lovett was on his back, having to hit a high bridge to avoid the fall. Clinging to a one point lead after a step-out ended the last scramble, Lovett went for the win, locking around the body and driving the Georgian backward only to see Guruli plant his feet on the edge and hit a beautiful double over throw for four to take an 11-8 lead late. Lovett never surrendered, but couldn’t find the points he needed, falling just short in one of the best matches of the day. Unfortunately, Guruli got off to another slow start in his semifinal and never recovered, eliminating Lovett from the tournament.
Malik Johnson fell in his opener to Cadet European silver medalist Mustafa Yildirim (TUR), 3-3 on criteria and was not pulled back into the repechage. Mason Phillips thrashed Shintaro Yoshinaga (JPN), 12-4, but was dispatched by 2016 Cadet European champion Shant Khachatryan (ARM) in the round of 16. The Armenian fell in the quarters, ending Phillips’ tournament.