IOWA CITY, Iowa – Jesse Thielke had two kings to kill when he woke up Saturday morning. By Saturday evening, it was he who sat atop the throne
Thielke (NYAC) defeated Ildar Hafizov (Army/WCAP) in two straight matches to capture the 59 kg Olympic Trials championship before a crowd of over 11,000 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. It was quite the day for the Wisconsin wrestler. After getting past Jermaine Hodge (Army/WCAP) 8-4 in the quarterfinals, Thielke shocked two-time Olympian Spenser Mango 8-0 on the strength of a counter and subsequent turn that completely kept the momentum in his favor. Mango unlaced his shoes and placed them in the center of the mat following the match, signaling his retirement from the sport.
Hafizov loomed as the largest threat outside of Mango. In fact, the Uzbek-national was ranked first in the weight according to USA Wrestling. Thielke did not seem too impressed. He was consistently on the attack against the more polished Hafizov, looking for scoring opportunities again and again, forcing his opponent to play a far more defensively-oriented game than he was apparently accustomed to.
In the first match, both athletes came out aggressively. Hafizov nearly got behind Thielke off an arm drag but the attempt was blocked. It was constant clashing from the outset, as the two repeatedly collided while hand-fighting. However, any time Thielke came close to gaining an edge inside, Hafizov would explode the other way. The WCAP representative tried an arm spin as the period was winding down before Thielke deftly pulled loose.
A passivity call against Thielke would actually turn into a benefit. After Thielke set himself in position, Hafizov was given a caution for starting early. On the next attempt, Hafizov once again jumped the gun, resulting in a two-point penalty. Confusion ensued and complaints were levied. Hafizov appeared exasperated on the mat, but he would cool down in between periods.
The second frame is where the big action took place. Another passivity call against Hafizov meant it was his turn to hit the deck. Thielke hopped around for a front-headlock, but nothing was happening. Once they re-set on their feet Hafizov tried pressing the action. A big lift attempt backfired as Thielke countered mid-lock and flipped the script. What was a two-point lead grew to four. A Hafizov challenge would go denied which awarded Jesse Thielke another point, making it a 5-0 lead.
But that would not be the end of things in the first match. Hafizov got a charge and went in hot pursuit, looking for any window to generate offense as the match was nearing its end. Offense would be generated, except it would come from Thielke, who closed the show with an electrifying five point throw that got the crowd on its feet. The match would be stopped with five seconds left, a 10-0 tech fall victory for Thielke.
Both men entered the second match appearing stoic as they waited for the officials to get set. By this point, Thielke had defeated Mango and Hafizov in consecutive matches, an accomplishment of its own merit.
It would take one more.
A body-lock attempt by Jesse Thielke was met with a duel-armed front headlock as Hafizov tried to slow things down. Despite this, Hafizov did look to be chipper in the early going. A passivity warning was soon doled out to Thielke. A two-on-one by the Uzbek didn’t find any traction, and the two reconvened in the center.
Following a passivity warning to Hafizov, Thielke clasped around for another lock except this time, he immediately hipped forward and turned it into a beautiful dump-off while Hafizov tried to weave out of his clutches. The Carver-Hawkeye faithful let out a chorus of cheers as the referee held up four for the action. Only two would be confirmed but either way, Thielke took an authoritative early lead.
Once they re-set, Hafizov got off a nice lift attempt of his own only for it to be called back for offensive legs. Clearly knowing time was of the essence, Hafizov began pushing the pace just a bit. But it was as if he didn’t know where to start. Thielke’s composure and confidence started to emit through every engagement and the momentum was all his.
With a 2-0 lead that felt more expansive than the score indicated, Thielke took the initiative and zoomed in for a high-dive to open up the second period. For some reason, another passivity call was initiated by the referee, giving Hafizov par terre top. He locked up a gutwrench and loosened his grip just enough to create some space for a little air; Thielked did his best to stay pasted to the mat and the action returned standing up.
Time was beginning to dwindle. Hafizov rushed into a bodylock at the edge that didn’t earn takedown points but one was awarded for the effort. Another tight front-head attempt was on its way. Thielke at first looked to be trying to duck out of it but instead inched up and locked around Hafizov’s head in a half-nelson while reaching around his back with his far arm. The ensuing scramble resulted in a commanding four-point lead and the crowd roared in approval. With 30 seconds left, Hafizov wanted to engage but seemed as if he was without a plan.
As the seconds ticked away, Jesse Thielke walked into another lock attempt that found its home and collapsed his opponent to the mat. Hafizov immediately latched onto a headlock as he left his feet and his corner wanted four points for the exposure. The officials checked with each other, but by this point it wouldn’t matter; Thielke would be given a cluster of points, as well. He was, and the final score read 9-3 (Hafisov earned two points for the headlock, not four).
The buzzer sounded and Jesse Thielke flexed and raised his arms. In one unbelievable day, he had managed to help send a legend into retirement before downing the weight class’s top-ranked competitor. That is three straight matches going back to the semifinal with Mango that Thielke had to overcome and by doing so, earns the privilege of traveling to Mongolia next week in effort to qualify the weight for Rio.
Image: Austin Bernard/OWrestle.com