This coming Friday begins the 2019 European Championships, this time from Bucharest, Romania (which was also the sight of the U23 Worlds this past fall). Everyone knows what to expect out of the Euros. It is arguably the second most difficult and competitive tournament on the international calendar next to the World Championships or Olympics. Each weight class is stacked with medalists and/or champs, and most nations send their top guys for this very reason.
But there is one weight class in particular that stands out in 2019: 77 kilograms. 87 isn’t far behind (and we’ll get to it in a moment), but 77’s depth might be more appealing, especially to the hardcore populous. Multi-time World/2016 Olympic champ Roman Vlasov (RUS) is the obvious headliner. Thing is, he’s surrounded by a balanced mixture of highly-experienced vets like himself as well as several severely-talented athletes who are beginning their own respective ascensions.
Check out this grouping of entries. It’s craziness and these are just the guys who have (Senior) medals (though Junior and U23 hardware is listed also).
Daniel Cataraga (MDA) — 2016 World silver, two-time U23 World Champion
Fatih Cengiz (TUR) — 2017 World bronze, 2017 U23 World Champion, 2018 U23 World bronze
Arsen Julfalakyan (ARM) — 2014 World Champion, 2012 Olympic silver, 2010 World silver, two-time World bronze, 2007 Junior World Champion
Elvin Mursaliyev (AZE) — Two-time World bronze, 2008 Junior World Champion, 2007 Junior World silver
Viktor Nemes (SRB) — 2017 World Champion, 2018 World bronze
Laszlo Szabo (HUN) — 2016 World bronze
Roman Vlasov (RUS) — Two-time World Champion, 2016 Olympic Champion, 2013 World silver, 2010 Junior World Champion
If you were to bother to count them all up, the number comes out to 17 World-level medals combined with five golds, four silvers, and four bronze.
What about the others?
Sweden’s Alex Kessidis and Evrik Nikoghosyan (FRA via ARM) are far apart in age (Kessidis just turned 24, Nikoghosyan is 33) but not in terms of what they offer the field. Both figure to potentially be in the mix on Friday and should be accounted for. Kessidis has appeared on the cusp of a breakout as he gradually improves his placement at the big events. Nikoghosyan, who remains a monster back up in the mid-70’s, actually doesn’t have the same experience in World tournaments as Kessidis, but 77 is an interesting spot for him and seems worth noting. This year already, he put in back-to-back runner-up showings at Deglane (where he was downed by Julfalakyan) and the Granma Cup, respectively.
Like Nikoghosyan, Pavel Liakh (LTU) is another athlete who is new to 77 kilos in 2019. Liakh can be entertaining to watch if he’s pressed. 2016 Olympian Daniel Alekdandrov (BUL) performed brilliantly at Zagreb and then won the Petrov over Vlasov a month later — by default.
In the United States, 87 kilograms is the weight class, but it will also be plenty potent in Romania this week.
Metehan Basar (TUR) — Two-time World Champion, 2011 Junior World bronze
Zhan Belenyuk (UKR) — 2015 World Champion, 2016 Olympic silver, 2018 World silver, 2014 World bronze, 2011 Junior World silver, 2010 Junior World bronze
Davit Chakvetadze (RUS) — 2016 Olympic Champion
Robert Kobliashvili (GEO) — Two-time World bronze
Denis Kudla (GER) — 2017 World silver, 2016 Olympic bronze, 2014 Junior World silver
Maskim Manukyan (ARM) — 2017 World Champion, 2018 World bronze
Most of 87’s heavy hitters are in their mid to late 20’s, but there is a trio of wrestlers to watch out for who have performed well at U23 — Islam Abbasov (AZE), Ivan Huklek (CRO), and Erik Szilvassy (HUN). Of the three, Abbasov (bronze at U23 Worlds the past two years) might have the highest viewability factor. He’s a big lifter and generally employs a good tempo for the weight category. Odd to mention, if only because Szilvassy won the inaugural U23 tournament and demonstrates the most polish in this group. Huklek was Szilvassy’s runner-up. More of a brawling type. But he’s coming up and is definitely Croatia’s star of the future.
The issue with 87 is that it doesn’t have the same wildcard feel as 77. Chakvetadze didn’t have his best season a year ago reportedly due to a knee injury, which allowed Bekhan Ozdoev (RUS) a chance to finally shine. Chakvetadze washed out of Petrov last month, so that isn’t a confidence booster. But even with that, it would still feel like a substantial upset if he wasn’t in the running along with his fellow prior World medalists listed above. It is for that reason why 77 — on paper days before the tournament — at least looks like it holds the potential to deliver more fireworks and surprises.
The European Championships can be viewed live in the US on Trackwrestling (subscription required).
J-Will From Europe
For the second year in a row, 2018 US National runner-up Jessy Williams (NYAC/NYRTC) jumped aboard the US trip to Denmark last month that included the Thor Masters Invitational. And again, for the second year in a row, Williams is hanging out in Europe post-tour to get even more foreign training in before the Open.
A year ago, Williams used his time overseas to propel him to the National final and he is hoping to kick off the push to the World Team Trials the same way this time around. After the US Seniors arrived home from Denmark late last month, Williams remained in Scandinavia for additional training. This week, he finds himself in Spain for another opportunity, and when he returns to the NYRTC, a pair of Swedish athletes will be joining him. Quite the way to prep for a major domestic event.
Williams sent us these insights on Sunday before he hopped on the flight to Spain.
“Overall, I feel being over here so long that I’ve found a bit of the love for the sport that I had when I was younger. Throughout the past few years, I feel I had let anxiety, injuries, coaches, individuals, and other things get in the way of my love for the sport. Training here, and having had been here before and now not being injured, the stress is so much less. I can feel that my wrestling is far past what it was before. It’s becoming more and more of my own style and it’ s all that I think about. After talking with my mother recently (and growing up a little), mentally, I’ve realized that I’m only going to be here once, I’ll blink and be old, so I can worry about other things in my life when that time comes.
“Sweden camp was good, more drilling and technique work overall then at Thor (Denmark). Also, having a week with the Swedes by myself before the other Americans came for the camp helped me. We made a lot of it Individual work with my Swedish coaches and friends, and I was able to make adjustments throughout training. I made big strides in the right direction that I’m happy about and ready to take this next camp In Spain to push to new limits.
“Right now I am feeling good and I’m where I want to be with how long I have left till the Open. I will be in Spain until the 15th, where I’ll have about a week and a half back in Ithaca to train before leaving for the Open. We will have two Swedes coming back from Spain to train with us at the NYRTC, which will be good for both us and them. All of the NYRTC athletes improved with the training, along with the other Juniors who came on the trip. I had a good time with the kids who came. Excited to see them wrestle at the Junior Trials as well as my NYRTC teammates.”