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Olympic Games preview at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in men’s freestyle

7/26/2004 Gary Abbott/USA Wrestling

Winning the World title for two straight years here has been Eldar Kurtanidze of Georgia, a veteran who also owns two career Olympic bronze medals. Kurtanidze is a short, powerful wrestler with tremendous strength and experience. He seems to be getting more successful as he gets older.

In the 2002 and 2003 World finals, Kurtanidze defeated Ali Reza Heidari of Iran, a World champion back in 1998. Heidari won his first World medal at 85 kg in 1997, then added a World silver at 97 kg in 1999. Heidari has experience and confidence, two factors that make a big difference at the Olympic level. He will also be looking to move up from his sixth place finish at the Sydney Olympics, which was disappointing to him after so many World-level medals.

Russia should be very talented at this division. The 2001 World champion was Georgi Gogchelidze. His top domestic challenge may come from Khajimurad Gatsalov, who has moved up in weight and won some European titles here, including the 2004 gold medal. Russia also boasts the defending Olympic champion, Saghid Mourtasaliyev, who has retired. These athletes all continue a tradition of strong Russian athletes in the upper weight classes.

Krassimir Kotchev of Bulgaria was a 2003 World bronze medalist and 2001 World silver medalist. He placed sixth at the 2004 European Championships, but don’t overlook him as a serious medal contender in Athens.

The U.S. entry, Daniel Cormier, was fifth in 2003, losing a fierce battle to Heidari in the quarterfinals in New York City. Cormier has had some very good international performances, including a gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games. Cormier offers his opponents many challenges. He is a great thrower, and can go upperbody with anybody. Yet he also has good skills in all positions, so he can also win a close low-scoring battle as well. With recent success comes high expectations for him.

2001 and 2002 World bronze medalist Vadim Tasoev of Ukraine placed eighth at the 2003 World Championships to earn the trip to Athens. Tasoev comes into the Athens Games with a silver medal from the 2004 European Championships, losing only to Russia’s Gatsalov. He missed out of the top 10 at the Athens Olympics, and looks for another shot at a medal.

2000 Olympic silver medalist Islam Baraimukov of Kazakhstan had to qualify in the last chance event, the second Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

Earning positions for their nation by placing in the top 10 at the 2003 World meet in New York were Tuvshintur Enkhtuya of Mongolia, Nico Jacobs of Namibia, Bartolomiej Bartnicki of Poland, Radovan Valach of Austria and Alexandr Shemarov of Belarus.

Of this group, Shemarov is perhaps the most accomplished, placing fifth in the 2002 World Championships and seventh in the 2000 Olympic Games. Bartnicki and Valach had strong performances at the 2004 European Championships, placing fourth and fifth respectively. Enkhtuya was fourth at the 2004 Asian Championships.

The 2004 Asian champion was Magomed Ibragimov of Uzbekistan, who was very strong in winning a gold medal at the first Olympic Qualification Tournament. The Asian runner-up this season was Alexei Krupniakov of Kyrgyzstan, who qualified with a gold medal at the second Olympic Qualification Tournament. Winning one of these qualifiers, with all the pressure and the talented opponents, shows that both wrestlers have medal-winning capabilities.

Greece gets an automatic entry, and Aftandil Xanthopoulos is expected to be the choice. He placed fourth at the 2002 World Championships and fifth in the 2000 Olympic Games. Those achievements, plus the home field advantage, could make him a difficult draw in Athens.

Turkey is traditionally strong in the upper weights as well, and Fatih Cakiroglu qualified the nation by taking second at the first Olympic Qualifier. Turkey only had one placewinner in this four-year Olympic cycle, with Ozale Taskin taking seventh in the 2001 World Championships.

Among the others in the field, working their way through the Olympic Qualifying events, are Ruslan Agaev of Azerbaijan, Wang Yuanyuan of China, Rolf Scherer of Switzerland and Peter Pecha of Slovakia. Of this group, Scherer is the only one with recent success on the World level, placing eighth at the 2002 World Championships and 10th at the 2000 Olympics.

Nations qualified (alphabetically): Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, China, Georgia, Greece, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Namibia, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United States, Uzbekistan

Past gold medalists expected in field: Eldar Kurtanidze of Georgia (2002, 2003), Georgi Gogchelidze of Russia (2001), Ali Reza Heidari of Iran (1998)

Top World-level placement for Daniel Cormier: 5th (2003)

96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Freestyle

1st at 2003 World Championships – Georgia (Eldar Kurtanidze)

2nd at 2003 World Championships – Iran (Ali Reza Heidari)

3rd at 2003 World Championships – Bulgaria (Krassimir Kotchev)

4th at 2003 World Championships – Mongolia (Tuvshintur Enkhtuya)

5th at 2003 World Championships – United States (Daniel Cormier)

6th at 2003 World Championships – Namibia (Nico Jacobs)

7th at 2003 World Championnships – Poland (Bartolomiej Bartnicki)

8th at 2003 World Championships – Ukraine (Vadym Tasoev)

9th at 2003 World Championships –Austria (Radovan Valach)

10th at 2003 World Championships – Belarus (Alexandr Shemarov)

Host Nation entry – Greece (Aftandil Xanthopoulos)

1st at Olympic Qualifier #1 – Uzbekistan (Magomed Ibragimov)

2nd at Olympic Qualifier #1– Turkey (Fatih Cakiroglu)

3rd at Olympic Qualifier #1 –Azerbaijan (Ruslan Agaev or Vusal Muslumov)

4th at Olympic Qualifier #1 –China (Wang Yuanyuan)

5th at Olympic Qualifier #1 –Switzerland (Rolf Scherer)

1st at Olympic Qualifier #2 – Kyrgyzstan (Aleksei Krupniakov)

2nd at Olympic Qualifier #2 –Slovakia (Peter Pecha)

3rd at Olympic Qualifier #2 –Kazakhstan (Islam Bairamukov)

4th at Olympic Qualifier #2 –Russia (Khajimurad Gatsalov, Taimuraz Tiguev or Georgi Gogshelidze)

Wildcard – Brazil (Antoine Braga Abau Jaoude)

RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS

2003 World Championships results

96 kg/211.5 lbs. – Gold – Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia) dec. Ali Reza Heidari (Iran), 4-0; Bronze - Krassimir Kotchev (Bulgaria) dec. Tuvshintur Enkhtuya (Mongolia), 5-1; 5th – Daniel Cormier (United States); 6th – Nico Jacobs (Namibia); 7th – Bartolomiej Bartnicki (Poland); 8th – Vadym Tasoev (Ukraine); 9th – Radovan Valach (Austria); 10th – Alexandr Shemarov (Belarus)

2002 World Championships results 96 kg/211.25 lbs. - Gold - Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia) won by ref. dec. over Ali Reza Heidari (Iran), 2-1, ot, 9:00; Bronze - Vadim Tasoev (Ukraine) won by tech. fall over Alexandre Xanthopoulos (Greece), 10-0, 4:24; 5th - Alexander Shemarov (Belarus); 6th - Georgi Gogshelizhiev (Russia); 7th - Wilfredo Morales (Cuba); 8th - Rolf Scherrer (Switzerland); 9th - Dean Schmeichel (Canada); 10th - Zoltan Farkas (Hungary)

2001 World Championships results 97 kg/213.75 lbs. - Gold - Georgi Gogchelidze (Russia) dec. Krassimir Kotchev (Bulgaria), 3-0; Bronze - Vadim Tasoev (Ukraine) won by tech fall over Zoltan Farkas (Hungary), 10-0; 5th - Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia); 6th - George Torchinava (Netherlands); 7th - Ozkale Taskin (Turkey); 8th - Johannes Rossouw (Great Britain); 9th - Magomed Ibragimov (Uzbekistan); 10th - Wilfredo Morales (Cuba)

2000 Olympic Games results 97 kg/213.75 lbs. - Gold – Saghid Mourtasaliyev (Russia) dec. Islam Bairamukov (Kazakhstan), 6-0; Bronze – Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia) dec. Marek Garmulewicz (Poland), 4-1; 5th –Aftandil Zanthopoulos (Greece); 6th – Ali Reza Heidari (Iran); 7th – Aleksandr Shemarov (Belarus); 8th – George Torchinava (Netherlands); 9th – Arawat Sabejew (Germany); 10th – Rolf Scherrer (Switzerland); 11th – Vadym Tosoiev (Ukraine); 12th – Gabriel Szerda (Australia); 13th – Davud Mahammadov (Azerbaijan); 14th – Wilfredo Morales (Cuba); 15th – Victor Kodei (Nigeria); 16th – Ahmet Dogu (Turkey); 17th – Ricardas Pauliukonis (Lithuania); 18th – Melvin Douglas (United States); 19th – Dean Schmeichel (Canada)

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