United World Wrestling (UWW) is no stranger to controversy. Just last year referees were kicked out of the Rio Olympics for suspicious officiating in a match that Franklin Gomez lost and that was before the high profile Mongolian protest saw two coaches strip down to their underwear after a call that, at best, went against the direction given out prior to the competition. Match fixing and corruption have long plagued international sports with wrestling not being immune. Still, what we saw on Friday morning was shocking. It was only through the remarkable composure of the Korean coaches that the sport avoided another meltdown.
It happened in the round of 16 at 86 kg when Russian Vladislav Valiev met Gwanuk Kim of South Korea. With Kim trailing by two points late in the match, the wrestlers went to the edge of the mat before the Korean tossed Valiev to his back for four points and a 6-4 lead. Russia challenged the call and it was denied, giving another point to Kim, making the score 7-4. At that point, the clock read 5:58. At this point, it is important to point out that international clocks tick up to avoid the situation that occurs going the other way where the clock can read 0:00, but there is still a fraction of a second remaining. This means that 5:58, in reality, means that at most there could be two full seconds left in the bout. Then the chaos began.
The Russian, who had fallen to his knees in despair when the challenge was denied, raced back to the center with the whistle blowing at just before the time stamp on the video goes from 9:31 to 9:32. This is what it looked like on the video right then.
This is the shot as the video timestamp moves from 9:34 to 9:35.
Three full seconds have now passed (9:32-9:35 and remember that the whistle actually blew just before 9:32) which means time should have been out at least a full second ago. As you can see, Korea’s back is just now starting to expose. This move was officially awarded two points, confirmed by both the score sheet and the paddles raised in the arena. Some speculated it might have been given four points given that the next turn didn’t come until here, at 9:37.
This was after Kim claps his hands assuming he has won, but with the two and two, the Russian pulled ahead, 8-7 on the scoreboard. That would mean that five seconds were allowed to be wrestled with 5:58 showing on the clock. On the mat, this is a tough situation. The whistle shouldn’t be watching the clock and two seconds with that kind of pressure can feel like an eternity so it is somewhat understandable that this could have been missed, but we have replay! Obviously, Korea was going to challenge and the call would be reviewed. Surely, given all we just looked at the call would be reversed. Of course, had it been, this would have been a footnote. Instead, the challenge was denied, giving Russia one more point for the 9-7 victory. We have reached out to UWW asking for what exactly the officials in that situation are allowed to use in regards to timing. This article will be updated if we hear back.
UPDATE: UWW has confirmed that only the on mat clock, which remained at 5:58 the entire time, was usable for the review.
That Russia was involved, former Soviet country Uzbekistan was involved in both the Gomez and Mongolia matches mentioned above, is either a terrible coincidence or not surprising depending on your leanings. The Russians have been the dominant force in international wrestling since the sixties and wield a great deal of power with Mikhail Mamiashvili, the head of the Wrestling Federation of Russia, the current Vice President of UWW. Mamisahvili has been tied to corruption before, allegedly punched a female wrestler after she lost in Rio, and he has close ties to organized crime. This is the cloud that hangs over any incident such as this, suggesting that what could otherwise be dismissed as alarming incompetence is something more insidious. We may never know for sure, but it looks bad and it keeps happening. Here we are again, wrestling world, what are we going to do about it?