2004 Olympic Gold medalist and 2007 World champion Aleksey Mishin entered the 85 kg division at the Euro OG Qualifier pretty much as a sleeper pick by most experts. It isn’t that Mishin has become relegated to being an afterthought; it’s just that at 37, it was widely assumed that his best days were behind him (this after a silver at last year’s Russian nationals). So much for assumptions.
Mishin appeared energized throughout the day in Zrenjanin, Serbia, ushering back memories of the old days that perhaps aren’t so old after all. He was also on the receiving end of a more than one questionable call to aid him on his quest. However, in a competitive weight class that saw a couple of the day’s favorites go down early, it was Mishin who kept plugging along and taking out the opposition. Mishin’s advancement to the final also means that Russia has maxed out its qualifiers for the Rio Games.
The elder statesmen didn’t exactly race through his side of the bracket. Each one of Mishin’s matches was a tightly-contested bout and it all began in the qualifying round, where he got past Metehan Basar (TUR) 1-0 thanks to a fleeing call following a previous caution. Basar lightly protested, but it was a fairly clear-cut infraction.
Some familiar elements played out in his second match. Facing off against Pedro Garcia Perez (ESP), Mishin worked diligently inside before attempting to goad his younger opponent into lifting his elbows to find space. This would lead to consecutive passivity calls in Mishin’s favor and he took immediate advantage, locking low for a gutwrench and arching through for his first pair, and then once again for his second. Up 4-0 in the conclusive period, Mishin received another caution point for fleeing, although this time the call was questionable. Nevertheless, a 5-1 win was in the books.
There is an art to earning passivity calls and few do it better than Eastern Block wrestlers, specifically ones who have been successful for over a decade on the international stage. Melonin Noumonvi (FRA) found this out the hard way. The French wrestler did all he could to engage Aleksey Mishin, but was unable to contend with his foe’s consistent forward pressure. A par terre chance off a passive ding provided Mishin with the one opportunity he would need. A gut attempt for the Russian delivered two points and also, became the difference in the match, putting Mishin one win away from qualification.
German Denis Kudla fell victim to a passivity call early on in his semifinal showdown with Mishin and unlike the others, fought off the 2004 Olympian’s initial par terre opportunity. The two battled violently in the ties, both working hard to find the tiniest available space to create an opening to score. Mishin himself would be forced into par terre, though Kudla could not do anything with it. The first period offered some interesting, tactical action, but ended without any scoring.
As had been the case all day long, officiating played a role in Aleksey Mishin gaining an advantage. Kudla received a caution soon into the second period for a 1-0 Mishin lead. The gift point seemed to energize the beneficiary, though the following par terre chance failed to yield anything further. More would come in a second. After the re-set, Mishin deftly got behind Kudla, locking around his body and forcing him out of bounds for a 2-0 lead with a little under a minute and half remaining in the match. Wouldn’t you know it, but the official would call another caution on Kudla just seconds later, increasing Mishin’s lead to 3-0, which is how the match would end. Kudla, for his part, withdrew from the tournament following this bout.
The 85 kg final got off to a curious start. Squaring off against Mishin was tough Bulgarian Nikolay Bayryakov, a wrestler known for his own penchant for output. Bayryakov would actually be the one to first force a passivity call. Baryakov must have taken notes, because he kept pressing the action and played Mishin to the edge. This time, the official didn’t give Mishin the benefit of the doubt and had his passive call confirmed right after his signal. Bayryakov was unable to make the most of it, however, and the two re-set.
A short time later, Bayryakov fell victim to a passive knock of his own. Mishin locked on a gut and twisted around to start a roll, nearly making good on the effort. But this time, there would be no capitalization and Bayryakov took a deep breath before returning to action.
Mishin, noticeably tiring, did not get going right away to begin the second stanza. Bayryakov, perhaps sensing the shift in dynamics, upped his activity, in turn forcing the referee’s hand. Mishin, at long last, would finally fall victim to his own medicine. The ref threw out a caution, giving Bayryakov a 1-0 lead. Unfortunately for the Bulgarian, turnabout is fair play. A little less than a minute later, he too would be on the receiving end of a caution, tying the score 1-1 (and thereby giving Mishing a criteria advantage).
Knowing this would be his last, best chance to put the match away, Aleksey Mishin ardently wrapped around Bayryakov’s waist for another gut. He struggled to move Bayryakov on the mat, so he got to his feet, widened his legs, and rolled from a half-standing position, long a staple maneuver of Russian wrestlers. It worked. Two points came in and Bayryakov’s odds were beginning to dwindle while the clock continued to tick down.
Bayryakov was now desperate to score. He repeatedly collided with his opponent, trying to find a handle, if only for a second. Mishin fended off each point of contact just enough to avoid trouble, but not too much to draw the ire of the official. Soon enough, it was all over and Aleksey Mishin walked away with a 3-1 victory and the Euro OG Qualifier gold.
Aleksey Mishin may have been handed more than his fair share of fortuitous calls, but it’s obvious he still knows how to get the job done. There are plenty of wrestlers at 85 kg who will press him, so by no means is he a favorite should he be confirmed as the Russian representative. That being said, there is a value for the sport when a wrestler like this is allowed to do his bidding. He was given every opportunity to advance at the Euro OG Qualifier, but at least, for him and Russia, he made the most of it. And that’s the difference a seasoned, successful competitor like him brings to the table.