The first United World Wrestling “Ranking Series” event of 2023 represents the true first step on the road to Olympic Games qualification, and it will also provide Denmark’s Turpal Bisultanov (87 kg) with a fine opportunity to continue his remarkable rise towards the apex of this sport.
The 2023 Grand Prix Zagreb Open takes place February 3-5 in Zagreb, Croatia.
Bisultanov, who turned 21 in October, has developed into one of Greco’s best upper-weights — and is one of the discipline’s most promising competitors overall. Dating back to September of ’21, the Chechen-born slugger has advanced to the final round ten times out of 11 tournament appearances. The only event in that span which saw Bisultanov miss a gold-medal match was the Oslo Worlds, where he placed fifth. Along the way, he has collected titles from the European Championships, Thor Masters, and the Grand Prix of Germany, among others.
Belgrade aside, there are two silvers on Bisultanov’s resume during his recent tear, and one of them is from last season’s edition of Zagreb. He had fallen to Radik Kuliev of Belarus, though the ranking points haul off of that showing helped in part secure his seed for the Worlds.
Ranking points are surely on the minds of many entering Zagreb, including Bisultanov’s. That is because when the numbers are tallied once the summer ends, seeds at the World tournament will be decided, and those seeds matter even more for athletes in ’23 than they did last year. The arduous task of qualifying weight categories for the Paris Olympics begins at the forthcoming World Championships (also in Belgrade); therefore, it is incumbent upon athletes and their respective federations to exhaust maximum effort to put themselves in position to do just that at the Worlds, lest they risk having to tackle the objective with limited chances available next spring. As a returning silver medalist, Bisultanov figures, almost automatically, to be in the mix at 87 kilograms regardless of where he might sit in the World bracket — but the perception is that assuring a seed in advance might help pave a clearer path.
Oliver Krueger (77 kg) is the only member of the Danish roster for Zagreb who was on last year’s World Team and, like Bisultanov, he immediately entered Thor Masters following the Worlds and put forth a strong performance (silver). It is an interesting time in Krueger’s career. He has remained steady at 77 with solid starts in several events over the past two years, with results becoming increasingly more consistent.
On the younger side for Denmark are Nikolai Mohammadi (60 kg) and Marcel Hein (82 kg). Fluid and convicted describes Mohammadi, whose technically-sound attacks are supported by an intense level of competitiveness. That is how he performed at Thor Masters in September, when he pulled out his first Senior event triumph. Mohammadi was not done after winning in Nykobing Falster. To close out the year in strong fashion, he also took home gold from the Haavisto Cup in Finland.
However, it is still a matter of gathering experience for Mohammadi on the Senior circuit, just as it is for Hein — who himself is only starting to stretch beyond age-group competition. Other than two requisite Thor Masters starts (’20 and ’22) has been Haavisto. Hein placed fifth at Finland’s flagship tournament a month ago, and the tournament was not a well-attended one.
Bisultanov is expected to be a major player in Zagreb, and Krueger has sufficiently hardened to where nothing will surprise him too much come first whistle. For Mohammadi and Hein, it is a different story. They are both being presented with an opportunity to see how they stack up to Senior World-caliber competition for the first time. The lessons they might learn in Zagreb can then undergo further testing during the proceeding training camp — which is precisely why their presence on the trip is so important.
2023 Grand Prix Zagreb Open
February 3-5 — Zagreb, CRO
TEAM DENMARK ROSTER
60 kg: Nikolai Mohammadi
77 kg: Oliver Krueger
82 kg: Marcel Hein
87 kg: Turpal Bisultanov
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