photo courtesy of Kadir Caliskan; Germany Wrestling
On Monday, September 10th, it was announced that two-time Cadet World finalist and 2017 world champion Daniel Kerkvliet would have to miss the 2018 Junior World Championships due to injury and Missouri freshman Zach Elam would be his replacement. Tigers Associate Head Coach Alex Clemsen confirmed with TOM that is the approximate time that Elam learned he would be competing in the Junior World Championships. 11 days later Zach sits in the world finals after dismantling each of his first three opponents via tech fall.
It only took 32 seconds for the wrestling world and the rest of 97 kg weight class to be put on notice that Elam wasn’t just happy to get the opportunity to compete in the World Championship, he was there to win the whole thing. At the 32 second mark of his opening match against Kunai Nurdavletov (Kyrgyzstan), Zach hit a five-point back arch which wowed the crowd and helped ease any nerves he may have had wrestling in his first international tournament at any level. Over the course of his three matches, Elam displayed how well-rounded he is on the wrestling mat. At times he was graceful and showed a bit of finesse for a 97 kg competitor. Other times when it was needed, Zach was able to channel a rugged sense of physicality and bullied his opponents. At one turn he was hitting crisp high-C’s and the next he was eager to engage in upperbody throws.
What’s more amazing is the level of competition that Elam nonchalantly destroyed. His three victories came over wrestlers that won silver (Serik Bakytkhanov) and bronze (Nurdavletov and Hyunsu Han) at the Asian Championships. This wasn’t a matter of him defeating opponents that pulled upsets themselves, he beat three legitimate medal contenders. Zach’s finals opponent happens to be the tournament favorite Magomedkhan Magomedov (Russia).
The success of Elam also has to make you appreciate the level that Kerkvliet is on, as he teched Zach twice without surrendering a point. Credit has to be given to Elam and the Missouri coaching staff for keeping him in the proper condition to be able to jump into such a difficult tournament with less than two weeks notice. As Elam noted in his post-match interview throughout high school he had split time between football and wrestling, so now that he is focusing solely on wrestling, he has and will continue to improve at a rapid pace.
This is not the first time that an injury replacement has found success at the world level for Team USA. You need to look no further than a few of Zach’s teammates for proof. Fellow Missouri freshman Cevion Severado filled in for Elijah Varona last year and parlayed that opportunity into a berth in the Junior Greco finals. Elam’s Junior World teammate Aaron Brooks was a replacement for Travis Wittlake at the 2017 Cadet Freestyle World Championships and ended up taking the gold medal. This year Brooks joins Wittlake in the world finals after an impressive run of his own.
The low point of an otherwise exciting day for the men’s freestyle team was the upset loss in the semifinals by defending world champion Daton Fix. In his 2017 world title run Fix only gave up one point and before the semi’s this time around he did not allow a single score. Against Naveen Naveen (India) in the semi’s, Fix gave up a pair of takedowns, neither of which actually looked like a takedown. The second was deemed as continuation as the two were going off the mat, an area where international referees tend to be more liberal when handling out takedowns. Bad call or not, Fix will be wrestling in tomorrow’s bronze medal match at 57 kg.
Penn State’s redshirt freshman Brady Berge will be in the repechage tomorrow morning after running into a buzzsaw in Razambek Zhamalov (Russia). The Russian teched Berge and his next two opponents as well. Brady will see Aliaksandr Kuryshta (Belarus) in the first round of repechage.
The women’s freestyle tournament also officially came to an end. A day after losing a controversial semifinal herself, Alisha Howk fell to Enkhtsetseg Batbaatar (Mongolia) 11-0 in the bronze medal match at 53 kg. The women’s team came in seventh place overall.