The final day of the 2017 Cadet World Championships had the promise of another thrilling finish in the team race as the Team USA entered the day trailing Russia by a single point. While that drama fizzled early, the Americans put on a show in the medal matches, adding three golds and a bronze to their overall haul. That gave the US four Cadet world champions in men’s freestyle, a mark they had not hit since 1983 when the tournament had 13 weights and was a different age group, 15 and under. It was another stellar day for Team USA’s men’s freestyle program, concluding an outstanding six-week run that started with the Junior World Championships last month.
As expected, the team race hinged on the 54 kg repechage as Robert Howard and Imam Ganishov (RUS) tried to work their way through separate brackets to earn berths in the bronze medal matches that would yield crucial team points. Entering the day outside the top 10, both grapplers could earn six points by making it to the bronze medal bout and eight for bringing home a medal. With those who had already earned spots in medal matches having earned the bulk of their points already, this was the way to make a big move.
Howard needed one more win than the Russian to reach the third place tilt, but got on level terms early in the day, controlling an 8-0 win over Damirbek Maqsudov (TJK) that included three takedowns and a final leg lace that nearly earned the American the tech. However, Vladyslav Ostapenko (UKR) would end Robert’s run, having an answer in every position, building a 9-0 lead at the break and ending the bout early in the second. That meant Howard would remain outside the top 10 and not earn team points. When Ganishov (RUS) used an early takedown and three guts to build a big lead over Madalin Baranga (ROU), Team USA’s title hopes hung by a thread. That thread was cut once the Russian finished the tech, the Americans could do no better than second place.
While US fans may have been briefly disappointed when the chance at adding a Cadet men’s freestyle team title to those already won at the Junior and Senior-level this year, the feeling wouldn’t last. Kurt McHenry kicked off the medal matches for Team USA by twice whipping European champion and 2016 Cadet world bronze medalist Giorgi Gegelashvili (GEO) to his back, adding a go behind for a 6-0 lead at the break. It looked to be smooth sailing for Kurt when he came within two points of becoming the third American to win a pair of Cadet world championships at 8-0, but Gegelashvili got a takedown of his own and locked up a trapped arm gut long enough to make the score 8-4.
When the Georgian lost the trapped arm, he dropped down to McHenry’s left leg, cranking it towards the outside in a move immediately stopped by the official. Kurt stayed down on the mat needing attention from the medical staff while Gegelashvili paced and gesticulated, clearly indicating he wanted to get on with the match. The crowd booed as well, believing the American to be taking a break. There was no question the Georgian would be storming forward on the restart, but no one could know what McHenry’s condition would be. The restart with 24 seconds to go saw Kurt backpedal a bit, then throw the Georgian past for two, securing the gold.
The final score was 12-4 after one more score off a desperation attempt, but when the Georgian stayed down in despair, McHenry put his hands out to either side, facing his opponent in a gesture that looked quite similar to what the Georgian had done while McHenry was injured. This got the crowd whipped up again and while Kurt was circling the mat with the American flag, the traditional wrestling celebration, something came flying out of the stands in his direction. Security reacted quickly and no one was hit. In the end, McHenry joins Yianni Diakomihalis and Gable Steveson as two-time Cadet world champions from Team USA.
Though those three are the only ones to do it, Yianni and Gable did it last year, their group could soon be a mob. Will Lewan won gold yesterday and two more Americans would follow McHenry to the top of the podium on Sunday. Aaron Brooks and European champion Arsamag Khostikoev (RUS) scrapped from the opening whistle in their final at 76 kg, putting on a show in a rollicking first period. A head-pinch on the edge of the mat opened the scoring with four points going in Brooks’ direction, quickly followed by a fifth when a challenge from Russia was denied. After the restart, a wild scramble saw both men taken through by the other, though it was not clear either exposed. The whistle initially ruled no points despite incredible action, but after an officials conference, Khostikoev was awarded two points. Brooks shook the Russian off his back during yet another scramble moments later for an exposure, then earned a step-out on the edge to lead 8-2. Aaron kept shooting, putting two additional takedowns on the board in the first versus a reversal for Khostikoev to make it 12-3 at the break.
Despite holding a nine-point lead, it never felt like Brooks was the vastly superior wrestler as the Russian always looked dangerous enough to get back into the bout. That looked to be happening when Khostikoev shot through the American for a quick takedown in the second, then snagged a single to get within five points with 1:27 remaining. Just as it looked like we might be in for a classic finish, everything stopped. Despite only wrestling for two and a half minutes, having breaks for a challenge, an officials conference, and the between periods break, so intense was the action that the Russian had very little left in the tank. Brooks sat back, yet there was no movement for almost a full minute as the two mostly stood head to head with collar ties in the middle of the mat. When the attempts did come from Khostikoev, they were largely weak, yielding just one more point on a step-out. Brooks got one of his own late and won the title, 13-8. Brooks was not the trials champion for Team USA, but when Travis Wittlake was deemed too injured to compete, Brooks was ready to go. He goes home with an impressive gold medal for his troubles.
The final match of the night may not have featured a team race hanging in the balance, but Greg Kerkvliet and Ismail-Bek Nirov, another European champion from Russia, fought a tense battle for the gold medal at 100 kg. Kerkvliet was trying to keep this particular title in Minnesota after Steveson had claimed it the past two years. The tall, lean American launched all of the attacks in the first, but could not get through, notching only a shot clock point for his efforts which was matched later by Nirov when a counter attack led to a step-out. So passive was the Russian that he went back on the clock in the second, a call that saw very little complaint from anyone. That staked Greg to a 2-1 lead with 50 seconds to go. The Russian did finally pick his spot late, firing off an attack that had Kerkvliet fighting hands and racing out of his opponent’s grasp, but he could not score. The counter got the American an attention that meant a fleeing call could come at any moment, but Kerkvliet shot to a leg and hung on as time expired, winning the fourth American men’s freestyle gold and fifth overall at this event.
If the matches here were four minutes and one second in length, Jacori Teemer would have joined his teammates in the finals on Sunday. Instead, he wrestled for bronze, putting an exclamation point on his tournament by locking up African champion Francois Rossouw (RSA) in a cradle and pinning his man in 1:36 to earn his medal. The perfect final session left the US with 66 points, seven short of Russia and one less than last year. Azerbaijan (61), Iran (53), and Japan (42) rounded out the top five.