On Day 3 of the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, Alex Sancho (67 kg, Army/WCAP) and ’19 World Team member John Stefanowicz (87 kg, Marines) will attempt to do all they can to salvage a Team USA performance that thus far has not delivered a medal.
Sancho — a National Champion for the first time in ’19 as well as the man who qualified 67 kilograms on behalf of the US last year — opens with ’18 World champ/multi-time medalist Artem Surkov (RUS), the #3 seed. Sancho has never faced Surkov before, but teammate Ellis Coleman did at Budapest ’18, the year Surkov broke through. In that match, Coleman out-maneuvered Surkov in terms of positioning and overall movement but succumbed 3-1 following the second-period par terre. A win for the American in the round-of-16 would offer either Parviz Nasibov (UKR) or Fredrik Bjerrehuus (DEN). Nasibov only recently began his Senior career after earning three pieces of hardware at age-group but is developing rapidly. Bjerrehuus is and has been one of Scandinavia’s top lightweights for several years, and has found the most success at his home country’s annual mega-event, Thor Masters.
Should Sancho advance to the semifinal, he could have any of the following:
Mohamed Elsayed (EGY, #2 seed) — 2X U23 World Champion, ’16 Junior World bronze
Balint Korpasi (HUN) — ’16 World Champion, ’18 World silver, 2X world bronze
Ryu Han-Soo (KOR) — 2X World Champion, ’15 World silver
Karen Aslanyan (ARM) — 3X European Championships bronze
Abdelmalek Merabet (ALG) — ’19 African Championships gold
As for Stefanowicz, his assignment is also an intriguing one — Ivan Huklek (CRO). Huklek is riding a bit of a high entering the Tokyo Olympics thanks to his showing at the World Qualifier in May where in the semifinals he ousted Zakarias Berg (SWE). Though Stefanowicz has not logged any match time against the Croatian, there might be a degree of familiarity: the Marine has trained in Croatia on a few occasions, including this past spring.
If “STEF” can down Huklek, the road won’t, at least for perception’s sake, become any smoother. The quarterfinal round will include the winner between reigning World gold Lasha Gobadze (GEO) and ’15 World silver Rustam Assakalov (UZB). Gobadze defeated Stefanowicz in the ’19 Worlds, so payback might be in order if that rematch is to materialize.
In the semifinal, all of the athletes below are potential opponents:
Zhan Belenyuk (UKR) — 2X World Champion, ’16 Olympic silver, ’18 World silver, ’14 World bronze
Zurabi Datunashvili (SRB) — 2X European Championships gold
Fei Peng (CHN) — ’12 Junior World bronze, multi-time Asian Championships medalist
Bachir Sid Azara (ALG) — 3X African Championships gold
Athlete Insights Into Sancho
“Alex is really good at being able to score a quick four points from his feet or par terre. If he can capitalize on that ability and get a throw on the feet, or get to his lift, then he will be a dangerous Alex Sancho.”
— Max Nowry (55 kg, Army/WCAP, 3X National Champion, ’19 US World Team)
“A very athletic wrestler, but also, very resilient. He went to basic training for the Army and then went on a tear to become #1 in the US. After that, he battled a pec injury to make the Olympic Team. Just very resilient. This might be his first Olympics and first Senior Team, but he is very dangerous. He’s in every match because he is one of the best in the world when it comes to bodylocks. It’s going to be very exciting to watch him lock up with people from outside of the US.”
— Michael Hooker (72 kg, Army/WCAP, ’19 US National Team, 4X Armed Forces Champion)
Athlete Insights into Stefanowicz
“Johnny is resilient and mentally-tough. He lives for adversity and thrives in that environment. His ability to grind out tough matches and persevere is phenomenal. Par terre defense is where I think he’ll make his money. I’d be surprised if someone scores on top of him — but won’t be surprised if he guts every opponent he’ll wrestle. He has improved a lot in all areas of his wrestling since making his first World Team in 2019. The Marines made sure that he was getting all of the necessary training for these Olympic Games. I just wish the Marines and I could be there with him in person cheering him on. I know he’s going to make our country proud.”
— Terrence Zaleski (87 kg, Marines, ’20 Armed Forces Champion)
“He brings the best par terre defense in the US. He brings the ability to score on anyone and push the pace. That’s it. He’s a fricking animal. He’s a fricking animal. He brings the defense, so you can’t score on him; he brings the offense to score on anyone; and he brings the intensity to push everyone to their limits. That’s it. Those are the three things. That’s why he is going to medal.”
— Daniel Miller (97 kg, Marines, 2X US National Champion, multi-time US National Team, 3X Armed Forces Champion)
Day 3 of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games begins on August 3 at 11:00am local time (10:00pm ET, August 2) and can be viewed live in the US here.
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