Longtime German heavyweight Eduard Popp announced his retirement on Sunday, bringing to an end a career that spanned well over a decade and included two appearances in the Olympic Games.
During his time as a competitor, Popp found himself in the bronze-medal round at the World Championships on three occasions (2014, ’18, and ’19) as well as once at the Olympics (’16) but was unable to garner a victory, thus resulting in four fifth-place finishes. However, his performance in ’19 offered a definitive highlight. In what was a World tournament that also availed Olympic qualifying, Popp advanced to the semifinal, which assured Germany a bracket spot at 130 kilograms in Tokyo. Popp ultimately fell to multi-time World Champion Riza Kayyalp (TUR) by decision before coming up short to eventual Tokyo silver Iakobi Kajaia of Georgia in the bronze match.
In his final full international season which occurred during the lead-up to the Tokyo Games, Popp achieved a career milestone by earning bronze at the European Championships. He then followed with a bronze medal at the Wladyslaw Pytlasinski Memorial later that summer. At the Tokyo Olympics, Popp defeated Eduard Soghomonyan (BRA) in the round-of-16 but was ousted by Kayaalp in the quarterfinal. He did not compete again internationally until one year later. This past August, Popp entered his home country’s Grand Prix and made the final where he was edged by Mantas Knystautas (LTU), who one month hence would become a World bronze medalist.
The decision to walk away did not come easy for Popp. In fact, and as evidenced by his entrance in the ’22 German Grand Prix, he had intended to continue competing. “After the Olympic Games in Tokyo, I asked for a little time-off to gather new strength for Paris (2024 Olympics) and to devote a little more time to my family,” he told the German Wrestling Federation this week. But a back injury that had required careful navigation returned, which disrupted his motivation. “I found it incredibly difficult to fight my way back,” admitted Popp. “I noticed that the fire and the drive to get on the mat wasn’t as strong as it used to be. After a long time back-and-forth, I listened to myself and decided to draw a line to pull. Half measures are not my style.”
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