RaVaughn Perkins (NYAC, 66 kg) had himself quite a day but in the end, it wasn’t enough to secure a spot to Rio. In fact, none of the US Greco Roman athletes qualified, meaning they will be staying overseas for at least another two weeks.
Perkins won two consecutive matches to start his day at the 1st OG Qualifier in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, defeating Benedikt Puffer (AUT) 7-0 ahead of taking out the short but dynamic Mirambek Ainagulov (KAZ) in the round of 16. He would lose in the quarterfinal to Tero Seppo Vaelimaeki (FIN) in what was a tensely-fought battle right until the end, with the US side issuing a last-second challenge on a potential fleeing call. It wasn’t to be. However, Vaeklimaeki advanced to the finals, pulling Perkins back into the repechage. The NYAC wrestler had found new life.
In his first repechage bout Perkins went up against Hugo Da Silve Passos (POR) and quickly got to work. A big takedown followed by a gut gave him a snappy 4-0 lead. It was clear from the outset that Perkins was in charge and he seemed to know it, easily moving in and out while controlling the ties in the center of the mat. Passos didn’t stop trying. He was just having trouble getting inside and staying there, as the American’s output stayed more on the aggressive side. The first period yielded no further points.
Passos came out firing in the second stanza. Down 4-0, the Portuguese wrestler once again did everything he could to penetrate his rangy opponent’s defenses. But Perkins was too confident by this point and still looking for more points. As the period began to draw to a close, the momentum was still very much in Perkins’s favor. And he used it to his full advantage, hitting a final takedown with 15 seconds left to walk away with a 6-0 repechage victory.
That left Perkins two wins away from qualifying 66 kg. The Greco Roman athlete kept the good times rolling in his next match versus Pavel Liakh (BLR). As had been the story throughout the day, Perkins was at his best when he dictated the tempo. Liakh found himself down after two passivity calls, which gave Perkins a chance for a turn. Using his long arms for a wrap-around style gutwrench, Perkins nailed it for two. Liakh just couldn’t seem to keep up. Another passivity knock earned Perkins an additional point for a 3-0 lead and two more would arrive soon after thanks to another gutwrench. It was 5-0 Perkins at the break and the US wrestler was still hitting his stride.
It’s never academic at an Olympic qualifying tournament, but it certainly seemed that way. Perkins was clearly in better condition in the second period and while he didn’t over-extend himself for a risky maneuver, still searched for scoring opportunities. Liakh was partly in survival mode and partly intent on trying anything he could to find a handle. It didn’t matter. RaVaughn Perkins was the stronger, more conditioned athlete and he picked up an additional two points later in the match for a 7-0 bronze medal win and a chance to see this thing all the way through.
Edgaras Venckaitis (LTU) turned out to be the man standing between Perkins and a ticket to Rio. The Lithuanian, a 2012 Olympian and 2014 World bronze medalist, charged from the outset, doing his best to take it to Perkins and not fall into the wet cement the American’s previous opponents found themselves in. A step-out point against Perkins gave Venckaitis a 1-0 lead about midway through the first period. Venckaitis seemed committed to not misfiring on an opening, playing an aggressively-defensive game. He would attempt to go to work inside on Perkins but at the same time, not leave himself vulnerable to getting locked up. It didn’t make for much excitement, though it proved to be a useful strategy.
An opportunity for Venckaitis presented itself soon into the second, as he hit a takedown for two points. Down 3-0, Perkins wanted to up his game. The problem was Venckaitis, a shrewd and experienced wrestler in his own right, anticipated the work-rate well and adjusted, using his feet to control the distance that usually trends in Perkin’s favor. Another takedown via a throw-by gave the Lithuanian two more points and the 5-0 win that would send him on his way to his second consecutive Olympics and also, end Perkin’s day.
Joe Rau (Minnesota Storm, 98 kg) saw his repechage chances disappear when Carl Schoen (SWE) fell to Revazi Nadareshvili (GEO) in the semifinal.
It wasn’t the day the US Greco Roman athletes planned for. The goal was to qualify all three weights in Ulaanbaatar to avoid having to stay in Europe ahead of a trip to Turkey. That is where the 2nd OG Qualifier will take place in two weeks, beginning on May 6th. It is out of their hands, making this a time to regroup and recharge. You can bet that between now and then will be a lot of practice and discussion to improve on what happened earlier today. There is no other choice at this juncture. It’s Istanbul or bust.