It’s nice to have a couple of World Championship titles under your belt. But it’s even nicer to be able to hang an Olympic gold medal around your neck. At only 24-years of age, Artur Aleksanyan (ARM) can do both.
The 98 kg weight class at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was supposed to promise two competing narratives for the Armenian wrestler. The first was to see if there would indeed be a move up on the podium following his bronze at the 2012 London Games. The second — to find out if Rio would be where Aleksanyan might be able to reverse the tide against Russia’s Nikita Melnikov, the one adversary he has struggled against. But with Russia instead sending 2015 World bronze medalist Islam Magomedov (world no. 4), there wasn’t the same air of suspense surrounding the day. This was Aleksanyan’s show from the beginning.
After cruising past Daigoro Timoncini (ITA, world no. 10) and Alin Ciurariu (ROU, world no. 19), it was onto the semifinal against Cenk Ildem (TUR, world no. 6). Aleksanyan has locked horns with Ildem on a few prior occasions, most recently at the 2016 European Championships, a bout the Armenian won 6-2. It wouldn’t be that close this time around, as Aleksanyan ran right through Ildem for a 9-0 technical superiority victory. That set up his final against Cuba’s Yasmany Lugo Cabrera (world no. 8).
Cabrera, a fine wrestler in his own right, did all he could to slow down any oncoming momentum, repeatedly grabbing fingers and hanging tight inside. That would eventually mean a passivity par terre chance for Aleksanyan, which is his wheelhouse. The result was a gutwrench for a 1st period 2-0 lead. Aleksanyan tried to force the action further in the second stanza, but the Cuban didn’t wilt. Cabrera received his own par terre opportunity, though nothing came of it. Later, another passive call on Cabrera resulted in a point for Aleksanyan and another par terre. A lift attempt came up just short. The two tussled around for the rest of the match with Aleksanyan coming away the gold medal winner via a 3-0 score.
Stefanek benefits from late call to give Serbia its first gold
2014 World Champion Davor Stefanek (SRB, world no. 6) was not the favorite at 66 kg entering the day. That honor belonged to reigning World champ Frank Staebler (GER, world no. 1). In a bracket crowded with some of the best talent at any weight in the entire tournament, Stefanek used his quarterfinal upset over Staebler to propel him all the way to the final. Migran Arutyunyan (ARM, world no. ) had also brought his share of electricity throughout the day and seemed to have enough left over to fight it out with Stefanek for the gold. However, his quest would be interrupted by very questionable officiating.
Arutyunyan, as is his calling card, was all over Stefanek from the beginning. Clashing in to work, snatching two-on-ones and circling, ferocious exchanges — the Armenian is always a pleasure to watch. He tried to take it all out on Stefanek, whose strength and cunning ability to avoid trouble were the only things keeping him upright. Stefanek, curiously enough, was awarded the first par terre and couldn’t get anything going. Soon enough, Arutyunyan struck. A two-on-one nearly led to a takedown off the edge, but a step-out point would have to do. 1-0, Armenia. The score would stay that way until close to the bitter end.
After the break (and following a minute for the medical staff to wrap Arutyunyan’s head due to a cut next to his left eye), the action unfolded similarly to the first period — Arutyunyan ditching in to coax openings; Stefanek playing back while trying to offer counters of his own. At this stage, the Serbian wrestler had not been put down yet. It didn’t matter. The pace never really slowed down. Then, out of nowhere with just over a minute left in the match, Arutyunyan was knocked again for passivity, resulting in a point and 1-1 criteria lead for Stefanek. There was nothing more for Arutyunyan to do. He couldn’t go harder, although he had no choice but to try as time wound down. Desperate attempts late were all defended by the Serbian. Stefanek, who undoubtedly had earned his place in the gold medal match with some fantastic wrestling earlier in the day, benefited from unconscionable officiating to see it all the way through.
Immediately following the match, Arutyunyan tore off the bandage around his head, received a yellow card, and walked away in utter agony. He also refused to wear the silver medal on the podium. Despondent, he couldn’t even bring himself to stand next to the other medalists, either. This was an unbelievably entertaining weight class all day long but once again, a great display of wrestling in a World-level event (the Olympics no less!) closes under a cloud of disappointment. The sport didn’t need this. Not today, not now.
2016 Rio Olympics – Greco Roman 66 kg & 98 kg Placewinners
Gold: Davor Stefanek (SRB)
Silver: Migran Arutyunyan (ARM)
Bronze: Rasul Chunayev (AZE)
Bronze: Shmagi Bolkvadze (GEO)
Gold: Artur Aleksanyan (ARM)
Silver: Yasmany Lugo Cabrera (CUB)
Bronze: Ghasem Rezaei (IRI)
Bronze: Cenk Ildem (TUR)