The European Greco OG Qualifier begins tomorrow at Medison Hall in Zrenjanin, Serbia and judging by the number of participants, looks to be stacked with elite competitors. A large number of world-ranked wrestlers will be making their way onto the mats this weekend in hopes of nailing down those final spots on their country’s respective teams, which means the action will be tense, fierce, and interesting to watch.
Countries who fail to qualify their weights for the Rio Games will have two more chances: next week in Ulaanbaata, Mongolia; and two weeks later in Istanbul, Turkey. But the longer weights are left unqualified, the more compressed those last two tournaments will be. And if we have seen anything so far this spring, it is that upsets early on in big competitions tend to happen. Many of the countries participating in the European Greco OG Qualifier are sending their number-one guys in an attempt to get this part of the process out of the way, so there are a lot of stars to keep an eye out for.
European Greco OG Qualifier Weight by Weight
The 32 year-old Stig-Andre Berge (NOR) is a former Olympian (2008, 2012) and world medalist. But he hasn’t had the strongest run of late and is looking to rebound back into serious contention. This tournament is probably his best chance to get the job done, and he surely knows that.
Kristijan Fris (SRB, world no. 14) enjoyed a decent showing at the European Championships, coming up just short of taking a bronze. But that event was a madhouse, with Mingiyan Semenov (RUS) running over the field and Donior Islamov (MDA) opening some eyes with his performance. The hometown wrestler is going to want to impress and perhaps with enough support, has a shot at making it through. Sanal Semenov (RUS), could throw a wrench into the works. While he might not share the same love for chain-wrestling as his twin brother Mingiyan, Sanal has some pop and makes everything a fight.
Virgil Munteanu (ROM), he of the double-overhook tosses and feisty attitude, returns to the big stage once again. Munteanu is as scrappy as they come and also looking to bounce back from an inconsistent season, especially after going down so early at the Euros.
There are a few talents to keep an eye on at the European Greco OG Qualifier, but one of the biggest might be Shmagi Bolkvadze (GEO, world no. 12. The past Junior World Champion is more and more starting to appear as if he’s coming into his own. Georgia is showing some confidence going with him right off the bat, so it’ll be worth checking in to see how he does throughout the day.
But Bolkvadze is certainly not the favorite. That honor goes to Hungarian Grand Prix winner and 2012 Olympic silver medalist Tamas Lorincz (HUN, world no. 4), a strong, opportunistic wrestler who is either at the beginning of his prime or at the end of it, depending on your perception. Lorincz does not play around; if he gets an opponent in trouble he usually frantically tries to finish him off. You can bet he’ll have that kind of motivation on overdrive in this event.
Every weight brings the potential for a series of intense showdowns and aside from a surprisingly deep 130 kg field, 75 is where the action will be.
There is the potential here for numerous rematches from last month’s Euros. Zurabi Datunashvili (GEO, world no. 6) won the European Championships last month and is expected to be one of the precious few to emerge as the tournament progresses. Karapet Chalyan (ARM) took third in that event, losing to Datunashvili in decisive fashion in the quarters (if you count an 8-0 TF decisive, that is). But he wrestled back through the repechage to earn his bronze, taking out Emrah Kus (TUR, world no. 20), who is also making an appearance in the bracket.
The other Bolkvadze, Gela (GEO, world no. 16) is coming off an impressive U23 gold just a few weeks ago and Bozo Starcevic (CRO, world no. 13) won the Zagreb this year. But an interesting entrant in this bracket is Jim Pettersson (SWE). Pettersson is a past World bronze medalist (2014) at 80 kg and is moving down to 75 to try and make his first (and what is likely his last) Olympic team. The Swedes have a habit of turning it on late, so his performance could become “must-watch” theater if you’re up for it.
Poland’s Damian Janikowski (world no. 3) stormed through the Hungarian Grand Prix, earning him the “favorite” label in this weight class. The 2012 Olympic bronze medalist lost a tight 2-1 battle to Zhan Belunyuk (UKR) at the Worlds last September and has been on a peaking trajectory ever since.
The always-entertaining Robert Kobliashvili (GEO, world no. 4) is going to look to take his penchant for big points and nasty turns into the medal rounds. Kobliashvili hung in there with Belunyuk in the Euro finals, falling 5-2. But the dissatisfaction from that loss is likely to serve as fuel for Serbia. Fiery Dennis Kudla (GER, world no. 9) will try to bring some offense of his own. He’ll need it, as some of the match-ups here haven’t favored him in the past.
Cenk Ildem (TUR, world no. 7) turns it on. And then he turns it off. One moment he’s a machine of kinetic energy, moving from one technique to another. The next, he is waiting for his opposition to dictate the pace. That can’t happen here. 98 is not one of the strongest weight classes in the tournament and any kind of slip-up could be disastrous. Ildem battled two-time world champ Artur Aleksanyan (ARM, world no. 2) in the semifinals of the Euros and did enough to stay in the game, but not enough to push the Armenian to the brink. He came back and wrestled well versus Dimitri Timchenko (UKR, world no. 5) to snag his bronze. When this guy ups his game, he is competitive with everyone. It’s just when he doesn’t where it can get frustrating.
Hungary’s Adam Varga (world no. 16) has steadily begun to assert his presence. Thanks to a more measured approach on his feet and an improvement in par terre defense, Varga is starting to take opportunities and make the most of them. This could be a big weekend for the strong, durable Hungarian, as this weight is in need of some more contenders to push the top guys.
It is pretty rare that the heavyweight division stands as the most exciting of the bunch, but it might be in this case. Ioseb Chugoshvili (BLR, world no. 5) is the type of 130’er that presents a difficult challenge for anyone. He’s hard to move; has excellent reflexes; and is not afraid to try and go for a lift if the situation calls for it. Eduard Popp (GER, world no. 17) might seem as if he is maybe not quite ready for the next step, but if he is, chances are this could be where it happens. Popp has impressed as he has gone along and as one of Germany’s top team, is a threat everywhere.
Two wrestlers who did well at the U23 European Championships are also expected to make some noise. Iakobi Kajaia (GEO, world no. 15) had a couple of dicey moments in that event, but was for the most part dominant. Mantas Khystautas (LTU, world no. 20) got attention with a big win over Miloslav Metodiev (BUL) at the U23’s, but fell into quicksand in a semifinal loss to Mykola Kuckimi (UKR). Game Croatian Stjepan Lavric (world no. 14) rounds out the bracket coming off a third place finish at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
The European Greco OG Qualifier is an important tournament and one that should be an entertaining event to keep track of. We’ll have updates and match breakdowns as they become available (or of note), so check back regularly. Also, follow our Twitter feed throughout for quick results and links (despite the time difference!).