2016 Olympics

Monster’s Ball: Lopez and Chakvetadze Stomp to Gold in Rio

mijain lopez 2016 rio olympics
Photo: John Sachs

There wouldn’t be any whispers this time around for Mijain Lopez (CUB). If anything, the volume has been turned up pretty high.

Lopez, 33, claimed his third consecutive Olympic gold earlier today and by doing so, joins an elite club featuring only two other Greco Roman three-timers — Alexander Karelin (RUS, 1988, 1992, 1996) and Sweden’s Carl Westergren (1920, 1924, 1932). In order to earn his coveted title, Lopez was forced to deal with every competitor who was deemed a medal candidate going in. He first got past two-time World Champion and the man he beat in the 2012 Olympic final, Heiki Nabi (EST, world no. 12). Next it was another London placewinner, 2012 Olympic bronze medalist Johan Euren (SWE, world no. 5). Then it was onto rising Russian star Sergey Semenov (world no. 6). Lopez didn’t score above four points in any of his matches prior to the final, but what he did do was shut everyone out. So if people were wondering if the Cuban was motivated going into this thing, his desire to go untouched served as a strong indicator.

The 130 kg final pitted Lopez against Turkish rival and two-time World Champion Riza Kayaalp. These two have a bit of a checkered history. Kayaalp had defeated Lopez in two separate World finals (2011, 2015). In turn, Lopez had beaten Kayaalp at a World final (2014). To complicate matters, allegations of match-fixing have surrounded the pair, making this a battle for Olympic gold dripping with drama before the match had even begun. But once it did, any rumblings were quickly put to rest.

Mijain Lopez CUBA Olympics Rio 2016

Right away, Lopez showed Kayaalp he wasn’t there to play games. He snapped Kayaalp practically at the whistle and pounced to lock around the Turk’s chest. He then lifted it over for four — message sent. By the time Kayaalp had his wits back, Lopez forced him off the edge for a step-out point. It was a lightning-fast 5-0 lead and although still early, this one was practically in the books. Kayaalp upped his activity level accordingly, as he began doing whatever he could to get back in the match. Clubbing, breaking, shucking — none of it was working. If Lopez didn’t want to be moved, then it wasn’t going to happen.

As the second period unfolded, Kayaalp was beginning to realize there wasn’t going to be a way out of this one. Attempts at gaining inside wrist control and any other workable setups were easily defended. Lopez didn’t just cruise, either. Up five, he wasn’t adverse to the idea of ending the bout early. Kayaalp, frustrated at every turn, wound up being nabbed for his third passivity with 1:22 remaining, resulting in a point. 6-0, Lopez. With the clock ticking down on his own gold medal hopes, that frustration Kayaalp had been dealing with boiled over. Following a break by the official, Kayaalp slapped at Lopez. Initially, two more points were added on for Lopez, which would have called a halt to the proceedings. Instead, they took the points off and let it continue. Lopez danced the rest of the way (literally) to seal his history-making third Olympic title.

Chakvetadze takes out Belenyuk yet again

Zhan Belenyuk (UKR) doesn’t have a lot of problems, but Davit Chakvetadze (RUS) is one of them. The top 85 kg wrestler in the world over the last couple of years, Belenyuk has beaten every major name standing in his way when it counted — except Chakvetadze. Belenyuk has lost three times to the the Russian with the most recent being a beatdown in last year’s Golden Grand Prix finals. But even with all that, Belenyuk was thought by most to still be the carrot everyone at 85 kilos would be chasing in Rio and that turned out to be the case.

The Ukrainian navigated a competitive field which included Ahmed Ibrahim Saad (EGY), Nikolay Bayryakov (BUL, world no. 14), and Javid Hamzatau (BLR, world no. 13). Tough, right? Well, that wasn’t much compared to what Chakvetadze had to endure. Greeting him first was three-time Olympian and two-time World silver medalist Saman Tahmasebi (AZE, world no. 5); then it was 2015 World bronze Habibollah Aklaghi (IRI, world no. 9), German upstart (and eventual bronze medalist) Denis Kudla (world no. 6), and another World bronze, two-time recipient Viktor Lorincz (HUN, world no. 2). Chakvetadze needed to be at his best just to make it to the final, but once he was there, the rest took care of itself.

davit chekvetadze 2016 rio olympics gold medalist

Chakvetadze loading Belenyuk for a lift attempt (Photo: John Sachs)

Belenyuk took a 2-0 lead on a gutwrench in the first period. He didn’t seem like he was ready to cruise the rest of the way by any stretch, but the early lead meant Chakvetadze would have to press the action. He’d have little trouble doing just that. Soon into the second frame, Belenyuk’s third passive cost him a point and allowed the Russian a shot from par terre. Close on a lock, Chakvetadze couldn’t quite turn it over. However, that didn’t matter — the official ruled Belenyuk had interfered with the hold, resulting in a caution and a two to put Chakvetadze ahead 3-2. It also gave him another opportunity to score from the mat, which he made full use of by lifting the Ukrainian for four points. 7-2 Chakvetadze. At this stage, Belenyuk was both tired and confused. Even worse, Chakvetadze wasn’t letting up. He bullied in for a couple of late step-out points to increase the score to 9-2, which is how the match would end. Davit Chakvertadze is the 2016 85 kg Olympic gold medalist and at only 23 years old, promises a lot more excitement for Russian fans to look forward to.

2016 Rio Olympics – Greco Roman 85 kg & 130 kg Placewinners

85 kg

Gold: Davit Chekvetadze (RUS)
Zhan Belenyuk (UKR)
Javid Hamzatau (BLR)
Denis Kudla (GER)

130 kg

Gold: Mijain Lopez (CUB)
Riza Kayaalp (TUR)
Bronze: Sergey Semenov (RUS)
Bronze: Sabah Shariati (AZE)

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