The 2016 Greco European Championships in Riga, Latvia concluded over the weekend with some dominating and memorable performances. There were a few upsets and a few questionable calls too, but for the most part the event provided an adequate snapshot of some international talent expected to make waves in Rio.
Greco European Championships Summaries By Weight Class
At 59 kg, Minigyan Seminov blitzed through the competition, teching out the house on his way to a gold for the Russians. While the argument could be made he still has some big challenges to face coming out of his own country, there is little doubt Seminov is poised for what the rest of the year might bring. Stepan Maryanyan and Ibragim Labazanov have been tested on big stages before in their own right, so it’s anyone’s guess what this does for the Russian contingent. Either way, to say Seminov was impressive would be an understatement.
Islam-Beka Albiev followed up on Seminov’s whirlwind performance with one of his own. The second ranked Russian at 66 kg and topping in at no. 11 in the world, Albiev was briefly tested by Shmagi Bolkavadze (world no. 13) of Georgia, but still managed to clean things up with an 8-4 win in the quarterfinals. Albiev, like Seminov, might be considered part of Russia’s “B” team, but a tournament victory in the Greco European Championships is certain to build his case moving forward over the next few months.
In one of the tightest-contested weights of the tournament, Varhsam Boranyan of Armenia emerged with a 3-0 decision in the finals over Aleksandar Maksimovic of Serbia to take home the 71 kg title. This particular weight presented plenty of “understudies” from the participating countries, but that also meant it was filled with wrestlers with something to prove. Boranyan might be green, but after battling Balint Korpasi (currently world no. 7) in the semifinals and coming away with a gritty W, the Armenian showed he has what it takes to compete at this level.
Viktor Nemes (SRB) was the one favorite observers tabbed at 75 kg, but Zurabi Datunashvili, the Georgian upstart, spoiled the party with a 2-2 nailbiter in the finals. Nemes might not have needed the Greco European Championships to lock down his place in Serbia’s Rio plans, and it isn’t as if a silver medal is a massive disappointment. Even still, Datunashvili’s march through the bracket was a bit of a surprise.
80 kg saw Pascal Eisele (GER) lay a beatdown on the weight class, literally and figuratively. The intense German was never rarely challenged throughout, with three techs and a pin over a world-ranked competitor (in the semifinals versus Raibek Bisultanov of Denmark). There is video up of his performances and they are worth a look if you like watching aggressive, score-first approach in action.
The deepest weight class of the tourney was at 85 kilos, with world number one Zhan Belenyuk staying strong and breezing through. Unlike a lot of the other weights on display in the Greco European Championships, this was one of the few where wide point margins were few and far between (only four tech falls through the entire bracket!). Belenyuk met Robert Kobliashvili (UWW no. 10) in the gold medal match, coming away with a measured 5-2 victory. Belenyuk used a bodylock early in the first to set the tone, but it was a late gutwrench in the final period that provided the breathing room for his second Euro title. Still, an impressive performance by Kobliashvili.
World no. 8 Nikita Melinikov (RUS) didn’t have too much trouble passing through on his way to the gold at 98 kg, but that wasn’t the only story. Silver medalist Artur Aleksanyan of Armenia (world no. 1) got the chatter started early by rolling over world no. 3 Dimitriy Timchenko (UKR) during the round of 16 via tech fall (8-0). Aleksanyan might be a stud of epic proportions, but the complete controlled he displayed was something to behold. Timchenko entered the repechage and battled back to the bronze rounds before injury defaulting to Cenk Ildem (TUR). Melinikov capturing gold might have been noteworthy, but the Ukrainian’s departure early in the tournament served as interesting news in what was an entertaining bracket. Matchups like Aleksanyan and Timchenko in a round of 16 are why events like this one are can’t-miss viewing.
Another world no. 1 decided to put some work in, and that was Turkey’s Riza Kayaalp at 130 kilos. Not a ton of ranked big guys entered the Euros, so Kayaalp’s entrance might be seen as slightly risky. He was tested by both Vitalli Shchur (RUS) and Johan Euren (SWE), and escaped some sizable trouble (no pun intended) in the finals against Oleksandr Chernetskyy (UKR). A failed arm-spin attempt that led to Chernettskyy finishing on top yielded no points, despite the protest of the Ukrainian staff. In the second period, Chernetskyy locked on a front-headlock throw which scored, but found the big Ukrainian fall to his back unable to recover. Kyaalp took position immediately and held on for the fall.
It was a fun couple of days that saw some new talent make its way to the surface along with a few familiar faces getting in matches to harden up for Rio. United World Wrestling has all of the brackets and most of the matches up on its website, so if you didn’t catch the live stream hop on over and check them out. It’s a fun way to catch a peak at the fresh faces and established names who might be on the podium come the Olympics.
Main image: Tony Rotundo/United World Wrestling