Photos by Richard Immel, USA Wrestling
Women’s freestyle concluded on Friday at the 2017 Cadet World Championships in Athens, Greece, while men’s freestyle debuted. With Japan having the women’s team race wrapped up, only battling themselves as they attempted to top their performance from a year ago, the individual matches held the bulk of the intrigue. Japan’s 94 points was a record, but they lost twice in the finals, in addition to a third wrestler who didn’t make it that far, leaving them one short of their gold medal total from last year. India was a surprising second with 69 while Russia (59), Ukraine (44), and the US (39) rounded out the top five. Two more American women wrestled for medals on Friday, but this was a clear step back after last year’s performance. As we’ve seen several times this week, international tournaments leave little margin for error.
Team USA men’s freestyle had an odd day, producing one finalist, but getting three of the other four wrestlers into the repechage. With a good morning tomorrow, they could put themselves back amongst the top teams. Currently, Azerbaijan has a stranglehold on the top of that table, but there are a lot of points to be earned yet. Perhaps the best performance of the day by an American, other than that of the finalist, was produced by a wrestler who controversially went 0-1 and will not be in the repechage tomorrow.
Through three matches in the early session, Will Lewan (69 kg) provided little drama and that is just how he likes it. His opener against Asian bronze medalist Vishal Kaliramana (IND) was decided on one sequence with Lewan countering a shot for a takedown, then adding a pair of leg laces for a 6-0 lead which would become the final score. Alinur Takirov (KGZ) would fall to Lewan by an identical score after Will used a pair of step-outs to lead 2-0 at the break before adding a single leg and a late counter takedown to finish the match. Lewan’s quarter-final against Soslanbek Budaev (RUS) provided the drama, though it was short lived. The man from Chicago again built a 4-0 lead, but the Russian put him under pressure, driving Lewan across the mat with a shot before Will tried a head-pinch that didn’t come off. That four put the Russian ahead on criteria, but the American jumped back on top with a go behind just before the break. The second period was more of the Lewan we saw in the earlier matches, giving his opponent nothing, then picking his spot to run through the body for a takedown and four point lead. Another late counter sealed a spot in the semi-finals for Lewan, 10-4.
When the blueprint works, why change it? Lewan took the mat across from European bronze medalist Umur Aybey (TUR) with a spot in the gold medal match on the line, but for most of the match, it could have been a replay of the early rounds. A blast double put Lewan on top, 2-0. He found another single and doubled off for two more. In the second period, he got to the body and forced Aybey to the mat to make his margin six. Though the Turk would respond with the first attack to score cleanly against the American all day, it was too late by then. Lewan advance to the Cadet world finals, 6-2. He will take on Daud Ibragimov (AZE).
Kelani Corbett (70 kg) was the final American to wrestle on Friday, taking the mat opposite two-time European bronze medalist Bernadett Nagy (HUN) with a Cadet world bronze medal to the winner. A first-period scramble saw Nagy come out on top for a 2-0 lead that would, ultimately, stand up. The Hungarian went on the clock in the second, but that still left Corbett one point short. Despite consistent attacks, the Hawaiian could not find the winning score, falling 2-1 to finish fifth.
Opening the day with Georgios Pilidis (GRE) was always going to be a tough ask of Jordan Decatur (58 kg). The Greek was already a two-time Cadet world silver medalist and a two-time European champion at this level entering the tournament. This one, of course, was on his home turf in Athens, with the crowd making an incredible racket throughout. Early, Decatur did his best to silence the home fans. Straight doubles from space didn’t convert, but they were simply an entry point for Jordan as he converted a pair of takedowns off the ensuing exchanges, then added a lace to lead 6-0. Decatur continued to work, picking up the back ankle as he tried to push through a Whizzer, but Pilidis cut back for his own takedown and added a gut to make it 6-4 at the break.
The second period was as controversial as it was dramatic with the Greek fans losing their minds, imploring their native son to find a way. The Greek timed Decatur’s jab step to perfection, picking up a leg, but it appeared the American forced Pilidis across his back in the scramble. Two was offered by the judge, but it was not confirmed. The only score on this sequence was a step-out when Pilidis chucked Decatur out of bounds. Jordan stayed down for a few moments as coaches and trainers looked at him, but he returned to action leading by one with 36 seconds left in the bout. Pilidis didn’t need that much time, attacking quickly and scoring a takedown as the two went out of bounds. Now needing points of his own, Jordan found his way in and was on the verge of scoring as time expired. The officials conferenced and replays suggested that Decatur had exposed the Greek with 3:59 showing on the clock, even if the takedown, which was debatable, had not been earned. The American corner obviously believed they had won as celebrations began. However, the final verdict was no points, leading Kevin Jackson to jump on the stage to throw the challenge brick, which caused a brief stir as security converged. It was all for not in the end as Pilidis took the 8-6 win with the failed challenge point. To make matters worse for Decatur, the Greek fell in the semi-finals, giving no second chances on this day.
Julian Tagg (50 kg) was another American who preferred to work from space, opening the scoring against Danila Shyrokau (BLR) on a shot from an outrageous distance, using his long arms to pull the leg in and finish. The Belarussian was content to work from space as well which made for a decidedly different looking match than we usually see in international competition. A step-out and takedown put Tagg behind at the break, but Julian put the pedal down in the second, peeking out for a takedown, working a leg gut to extend the lead, then tacking on two more takedowns to ice a 10-3 victory.
2016 Cadet world silver medalist Mahir Mammadzada (AZE) was making it look easy against Tagg in the round of 16, getting to a seat belt for a four point opener, then pushing the lead to 9-0 in the second before Julian could respond. Just when it looked like Tagg was out, he found a leg and got on the board with an exposure. As the two continued to scramble, Tagg elevated and took Mammadzada through for four. A leg lace cut the deficit to a single point, but as Tagg tried to work for another, his progress stalled. Julian could not score off of the restart with 18 seconds to go, falling just short, 9-8. That was the closest match the Azerbaijani had all day as he worked into the finals, keeping Tagg alive in the repechage. He’ll have African champion Mohamed Lakel (ALG) to begin the day.
Gavin Hoffman (85 kg) got off to a strong start against David Losonczi (HUN) scoring a step-out on an early single, then limp arming out of a whizzer to lead 3-0 at the break. He stretched his lead to 8-0 in the second before giving up a pair of step-outs late. Asian champion Abbas Foroutanrami (IRI) would not go down as easily, though Hoffman did pick up the first takedown. Unfortunately for him, his gut attempt out of the quadpod position slipped underneath and the Iranian stepped over for a reversal. Two gut wrenches later, Gavin was in a 5-2 hole. It was 7-2 at the break after a head-pinch couldn’t thwart Foroutanrami’s double leg. That was a bridge too far for the American as he could only manage a step-out in the second after conceding another takedown. The Iranian breezed into the finals, though, bringing Hoffman back for the repechage. He is slated to face Brayan Valderrama (COL) tomorrow, though the Colombian did not wrestle on Friday so that could be a forfeit. That would put Hoffman two wins from a bronze and see him face Bekzat Urkimbay (KAZ).
From the beginning of her match with European bronze medalist Regina Miller (RUS), Caitlyn Walker (40 kg) displayed her intent to work upper body and look for a throw. She missed twice with headlocks, both deemed slips, but still managed a 3-0 lead when she broke the Russians quadpod position just after the shot clock expired. That was the only scoring in the opening two minutes, but Miller came on strong in the second, working behind Walker off of a two on one, then winning a long scramble to take a 4-3 lead. As time was getting short, Walker finally found that headlock, scoring two with 10 seconds remaining to steal a 5-4 win and a spot in the bronze medal match.
With a Cadet world medal on the line Asian silver medalist Simran Simran (IND) gave Walker fits with her length. It looked like the American was about to work her way behind for an opening takedown off a front headlock, only to have Simran catch a leg, putting Walker in a precarious position. The takedown was followed quickly by an exposure and Walker did well not to concede the fall. When the two reversed positions later in the opening period, with Walker chasing a leg and Simran out front, the Indian scored again to lead 6-0 at the break. That length came into play again in the second with Simran dumping Walker to her back with short offense and getting the fall in 3:00. Walker finished fifth.
Cole Skinner (42 kg) also had a rough draw, catching Alihasan Amirli (AZE) in the opener. The Azerbaijani rolled Skinner, 11-0 in 1:36, then did the same to the rest of the bracket, outscoring his opponents 34-1 across three bouts. Skinner will be back for the repechage tomorrow, battling Kudaiberge Murat (KAZ).
Olivia Shore (46 kg) built an 8-4 lead over Jekaterina Jermalonoka (LAT) in the repechage, also using a headlock, before getting pancaked and pinned just before the first-period buzzer sounded.