One of the chief priorities of the United States Greco-Roman program since the dawn of the current quad is centered around youth involvement. Therefore, it seems perfectly appropriate that the country’s brightest young star should be adequately acknowledged for his contribution to the cause.
Kamal Bey, take a bow.
Recognized throughout the sport for his dynamic throws and crowd-pleasing approach, Bey began 2017 as more than a potentially successful age-grouper. Wins at the Dave Schultz Memorial in February and a dominating run to gold in Austria a month later served as mere warm-ups for what was to come before the year was out, though it wasn’t always a smooth ride.
Bey was pegged as a sizable favorite to win the 75 kilogram class at the US World Team Trials in April and appeared to be in position to do just that after advancing to the best-of-three finals on the strength of two tough victories over Michael Hooker and Jon Jay Chavez, respectively. However, Bey’s mission to compete at the Senior World Championships was stopped short by Mason Manville, who earned the victory in a wild Match 1 that saw Bey suffer a concussion following a clash of heads. He wasn’t the same from then on, and Manville sealed the finals series up in Match 2, capping one of the biggest upsets of the season.
A little more than a month had passed when Bey was called upon to do battle once more. A special provision allowed the Illinois native to participate in a wrestle-off against primary stateside rival Jesse Porter to decide the 74 kilogram spot on the Junior World Team. Held in Lincoln, Nebraska as part of the men’s freestyle World Team Trials, Bey defeated Porter in two straight bouts to secure his place at the table in Tampere, Finland, the site of the Junior World Championships.
The loss to Manville had what Bey’s coaches might refer to as the desired effect. He resumed training with a renewed sense of purpose. The sting of the Trials loss to Manville hadn’t completely evaporated, but was instead replaced by the understanding that the next opportunity in front of him demanded priority. “Going here (to Finland), I’m still going to be getting good competition, I am still going to be wrestling good guys, young guys, and they are the ones I am going to have to beat, so I like it,” Bey said in June. “Nothing at the World Championships is going to stop me. If they’re going to try to put me down, I’m trying to score. If I am on top, I’m trying to score. It’s just wrestling.”
Bey didn’t hesitate to make his presence known once action commenced in Finland. Facing off with Pilkeun Bong (KOR) in the qualification round, Bey raced out to a 5-0 lead and finished things off in the second frame with a thunderous four-point throw. Next up was Karan Mosebach (GER), who had the verifiable displeasure of being introduced to the skies on two separate occasions before Bey ended that affair early with a takedown.
2016 Cadet World silver medalist Nasir Hasanov (AZE) presented a different sort of challenge. Crafty, cunning, and explosive in his own right, Hasanov offered different dangers than Bey’s first two opponents. There was seemingly good reason for the American to play this one a little closer to the chest, if he could help it. Of course, he couldn’t, and that’s a good thing. Bey went for a big score at the first available opportunity, bodylocking Hasanov for four and then converting his lock into another pair of points to jump out in front with a quick 6-0 lead. But just when it appeared Bey was on pace for a speedy tech win, the Azerbaijani wrestler struck back, scoring four off of a counter toss. One more attempted throw by Hasanov was defended by Bey, although Azerbaijan opted to have the sequence reviewed. The officials stuck with the original call and Bey advanced to the semis with a 6-4 victory.
A positively heart-pounding first period was the story for Bey’s semifinal contest opposite Per Albin Olofsson (SWE). As had been the case all day long, it was Bey who scored the first offensive points, this time via correct hold. Olofsson answered with two off of a reverse arm spin, and on and on it went. Bey worked from an over/under clinch to deposit Oloffson on his back and he collected two more off of a caution. 8-2, Bey. But the ensuing par terre delivered near bewilderment. Two reverse gutwrenches engineered by the American resulted in Oloffson receiving the points, not the other way around. The Swede benefitted once more when Bey was called for a step-out. After the officials conferred, the scoring was adjusted to 10-7 in Bey’s favor, with the previous six-point cushion now whittled down to just three. Thankfully, that wouldn’t matter too much longer.
Realizing he could practically score at will even in the midst of chaos, Bey headlocked Oloffson for two and shortly after, netted two more on another Oloffson caution. Madness. Just before the end of the period, Bey dashed in and scored on a bodylock to widen the gap to 14-7. One more bodylock, a violently majestic five, closed Olofsson out at 19-7 soon into the second, giving the United States its first Junior Worlds finalist in over a decade and a half.
There was still one more task left on the checklist. Bey likes the lights. He likes the big stage, camera flashes, and an ambient buzz emanating from the rafters that crescendos as if dictated by a conductor. A World final, especially in the digitized, social media-crazy era of today, provides all of the attention one might thirst for and more. Only, to the athletes on the mat, it is still the zenith of competition. Lofty prices are paid simply to be able to participate. A year’s worth of sacrifices and open-ended questions gone unanswered represent the required capital.
For a moment, Bey went off course. It was 2016 Cadet World Champion Akzhol Makhmudov (KGZ) who drew first blood first on a step-out. Bey responded in kind by ushering Makhmudov off the line to knot the score and take criteria. This was a more deliberate Bey; he hadn’t revved the engine just yet. That came soon enough, naturally.
Bey diligently labored to wrangle a clinch. As soon as he felt secure, he unleashed a four-point bodylock. However, before any follow-up points could be yielded, Makhmudov reversed, and next thing you knew, they were back to the feet. Makhmudov, now emboldened, upped his attack plan and attempted a throw only to have Bey adjust and land on top. To give Makhmudov credit, he was never deterred. He got behind Bey after the reset for a takedown and initiated a lift that fell flat, but he was able to convert it into a gutwrench to narrow his deficit to 7-6. That wouldn’t be enough. Who expected otherwise? With his back to the edge, Bey locked double underhooks, cut an angle, and pulled Makhmudov over for four. He had an answer for everything, did Bey.
The paint-trading had calmed in the second period. Both athletes knew full well the stakes involved, and neither wanted to wanted to make a tactical error. Bey held the advantage up by five. He could coast — he wouldn’t and didn’t, but he also did not have to put himself in a vulnerable position. On the other hand, Makhmudov had to drum up some offense without walking into a potentially match-ending sequence. So they pecked and prodded into the latter half of the period, the witching hour. Just a minute read on the scoreboard clock when Makhmudov worked double underhooks, moving and sagging his grip. Bey didn’t stay dormant. He went with double overhooks and tried to hurl Makhmudov over. As he cascaded the lock, Makhmudov landed on top and then proceeded to nail a gutwrench. Instantaneously, Bey ambled out and reversed for two, but the score had become frighteningly close.
Now in desperation mode, Makhmudov attempted one more throw, which Bey snuffed out. It was two points, two huge points. The Kyrgyzstan side challenged the call, just because that’s what you do when all hope is lost. Inconsequential, the disruption. The LED display in front of the mat offered the only information that meant anything of substance — Kamal Bey had won a World title for the United States.
Kamal Bey (2017)
- Dave Schultz Memorial gold medalist
- Austrian Open gold medalist
- Grand Prix Zagreb Open bronze medalist
- US Senior World Team Trials runner-up
- Junior World Champion
- U23 World Team member
About the Five Point Move Athlete of the Year
The Five Point Move Athlete of the Year award is decided by a reader vote narrowing down a list of nominees to five final candidates who are to be considered by the 5PM AOTY Voting Committee. All voters are provided with a list of each candidate’s achievements for that calendar year. In addition, all committee votes shall remain anonymous UNLESS committee members choose to reveal their votes after the fact.
Previous AOTY recipients
2016 — Jesse Thielke
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