If there is one thing returning World Champions like to do, it is punctuate an Olympic Year. There is a desire, no, a need, to solidify that World gold at the coming Olympiad. Any competitions that take place between those Worlds and the Games the following summer are intended to be tune-ups. That doesn’t mean the goal isn’t to win every competition. It is simply that the blinders are locked in place, the objective perched on the horizon close enough to see, but too far away to touch. What happens in the meantime is merely theater.
For Ismael Borrero Molina (CUB, world no. 1, 59 kg) and Roman Vlasov (RUS, world no. 1, 75 kg), the horizon has evaporated.
Ismael Borrero Molina caps impressive day in style
Borrero was all business throughout his day at the Carioca Arena 2 in Rio de Janeiro, as he breezed past a few of the planet’s best wrestlers to come away with gold. The first round was actually one of his tougher appointments of the day. Competing against Arsen Eraliev (KGZ, world no. 7), Borrero scored first on gutwrench after Eraliev was put down via a passive call. A takedown in the second period bookended by a caution on Eraliev made it 6-0. Eraliev was awarded a total of three penalty points in the final minute to close the gap to 6-3, but really, it was just Borrero checking into auto-pilot by that stage. Wang Lumin (CHN) was up next for Borrero and got positively blown out of the water. An early passivity opportunity was all it took. Borrero nailed a gut for two, a lift for four, and then another gut to wrap this one up in 1:28 for an 8-0 technical superiority victory.
One guy who many figured to be fighting for a medal at 59 kilograms is Elmurat Tasmuradov (UZB, world no. 9) and there’s a reason for that. Tasmuradov is an opportunistic scorer who also happens to showcase a whole bunch of toughness to complete the package. Borrero was put down first in this affair (rather inexplicably, considering he had attempted an arm-throw a few seconds earlier), but Tasmuradov couldn’t do anything with it. That might have been his best shot in this one. Tasmuradov never stopped being game, though Borrero’s confidence only started to grow even further from there.
A takedown by the Cuban put the first points up on the board shortly before the end of the first period. Another one at the buzzer made the score 4-0. Once that was confirmed, Borrero once again took it down a gear. He was forced to play back because Tasmuradov began coming at him with urgency. And that is one area where Borrero shines the most — he knows what to do with a lead. For the second match in a row, he was willing to mail in a point rather than put himself at risk (though the argument could be made that the third passivity call was a little rushed). It’s not that it is a crowd-pleasing approach, it’s more that it’s indicative of the fact that he never feels like he isn’t in control.
Tasmuradov began pouring it on more and more, but it started to be in vain. Borrero easily asserted himself in every exchange and kept Tasmuradov off-balance with short drags and two-on-one’s. With a 4-1 semifinal win, Borrero moved into the 2016 Olympic finals, where standing across him was one Shinobu Ota (JPN, world no. 12).
Ota himself enjoyed a remarkable run. First, he came back in the last ten seconds against Hamid Soryan (IRI, world no. 14) in a rematch of the Asian OG Qualifier, where Ota upset him in the prelims. He then blanked Golden Grand Prix champion and World no. 3 Almat Kabispayev (KAZ) 6-0. And then in the semifinals, Ota electrified the arena with one of the more memorable falls you’ll ever witness at an event of this magnitude. Rovshan Bayramov (AZE, world no. 2) threw Ota for the first points of the bout. Upon the restart, Bayramov found another bodylock, but Ota clamped onto a front-headlock and took it right over his shoulder, putting Bayramov on his back. Ota reversed his position on top, held on, and the pin came shortly thereafter.
Borrero must not have been too impressed with that outcome.
In the 59 kg final it was a Cuban homecoming. The two jostled in the center, Ota occasionally lowering his level to keep Borrero honest. The one mistake the Japanese wrestler made was locking up Borrero’s arms, for this would lead to both a passivity knock as well as the dawn of his downfall. From the ensuing par terre chance, Borrero lifted Ota for a huge four and immediately gutted for two additional points. Borrero knows how to protect a lead and he also knows how to go in for the kill. With a little over a minute remaining and an on-his-horse Ota attacking from every direction, Borrero turned a two-on-one and got behind for the match-ending points. It was an impressive way for Borrero to cap his 2016 Olympic gold medal performance.
Vlasov survives and thrives en-route to Olympic gold
Roman Vlasov had been there before, although that first time had a whole lot less drama going on. In his first match, Vlasov was forced to do business with a man who if on the other side of the bracket, might have been a favorite to meet him in the finals — Kim Hyeon-woo (KOR, world no. 4). Kim drew first blood (almost quite literally) as he flicked an arm-dump for two. But in order to beat Vlasov, you also have to survive him. That means not giving up the big points. Kim got put down and Vlasov pounced. The Korean held fast at first and was oh-so-close to making it out of par terre alive. Vlasov was having trouble gaining a reasonable lock and Kim was bottomed-out as well as he could have been. The problem is, Vlasov has so many variations he can go to and in this case, he rolled forward off of his shoulder for a quick exposure. Once Kim returned to his stomach, the reigning World and Olympic champ scored on a four-point lift to increase his lead to 6-2.
Kim stayed on Vlasov throughout the second period. The longer it went on, the more it began to appear that Vlasov was running on fumes. He just wasn’t offering anything back. Even still, time was a factor. Fortunately for Kim, Vlasov would eventually be penalized late in the frame, cutting the score to 6-3. This is when “Chaos Part I” erupted. From par terre, Kim locked up a reverse gut and looked to have gotten enough lift and exposure to make it a four-point move, which would have given him a 7-6 lead. The officials reviewed it (and reviewed it), and didn’t come to an agreement with the Korean side. A curious scene developed, as the Korean coaches took to the mat. Kim himself was reluctant to take the center following all of the controversy. There were but a few seconds remaining. The decision to not award Kim the points was based on him not maintaining contact/control through the movement. Nevertheless, it was awfully close in the replay. Vlasov escaped in the battle of Olympic champs 7-5 and moved on to face Bin Yang (CHN, world no. 11), whom he dispatched of easily via an 8-0 tech.
Controversy followed Vlasov once more in the semifinals against Bozo Starcevic (CRO, world no. 17). Starcevic was on the verge of his own historic march to Olympic glory. He had defeated three-time World Champion Selcuk Cebi (TUR) and Andy Bisek (USA, world no. 5) and was working with confidence. Vlasov chipped away at that very confidence in the first period with a couple of turns to take a 4-0 lead. The second period is when the rain came down. Vlasov, off another turn on the edge, was content to hold Starcevic in place in order to regroup. Starcevic, from his backside, locked up a front-head, cranked underneath the chin, and turned Vlasov over to his back. The Russian was out cold.
However — he was also technically pinned. And yet again, it was madness. Starcevic, the Croatian corner, the Russian corner, and the officials tried to reconcile what to make of the move. The whole scene interrupted the match for a good while, and certainly long enough for Vlasov to regain his wits. With the score at 6-2, Vlasov was more than happy to give Starcevic a penalty point for passivity, which is how this wild affair ended, putting Vlasov into the finals and Starcevic into the bronze medal round.
The 75 kilogram final was one that made sense: The talented but enigmatic returning champion and a man who has always been close, but not quite at the summit– Denmark’s Mark Madsen (world no. 3). Madsen eliminated his share of top competitors on the day (Saeid Abdevali, IRI, world no. 10; Viktor Nemes, SRB, world no. 7; and Peter Bacsi, HUN, world no. 8) and although Vlasov has proven to be kryptonite for he and everyone else, the showdown brought with it high anticipation.
Madsen maintained his patented running-man stance and worked inside on Vlasov, who greeted the engagements by shuffling to the side and cutting angles. There wasn’t a host of openings for either wrestler. Vlasov (of course) forced the first passivity chance. He took a high lock and turned it up and over for a quick four. Madsen, undaunted, jumped right back in the fire and while he was pulling and prodding for a scoring opportunity, there were none to be found. The tables turned briefly in the second period, as the officials put Vlasov down. If Madsen was going to make something happen, this was the time to do it. Not only did Madsen fail to score, he actually wound up giving a point away.
That’s because he went around the head and locked underneath where initially, Vlasov held onto to his wrist. This momentary failure to clear blocked Madsen from achieving an adequate lock. Vlasov cleared, as instructed, and Madsen’s grip got caught up underneath. Denmark challenged, asking for a penalty. But upon review, the officials didn’t find the evidence Denmark was hoping for. 5-0 Vlasov. Madsen tried and tried to create windows from there on out, but Vlasov is just too comfortable dealing with heavy artillery. The Russian gave another penalty point away to close the gap at 5-1, but that would be it. Roman Vlasov, Teflon and all, is now a two-time Olympic champion. It might not have been his first rodeo, but with all of the controversy before and during the Games, this victory in Rio probably tastes just a bit sweeter than he could have ever imagined.
2016 Rio Olympics – Greco Roman 59 kg & 75 kg Placewinners
Gold: Ismael Borrero Molina (CUB)
Silver: Shinobu Ota (JPN)
Bronze: Stig-Andre Berge (NOR)
Bronze: Elmurat Tasmuradov (UZB)
Gold: Roman Vlasov (RUS)
Silver: Mark Madsen (DEN)
Bronze: Saeid Abdevali (IRI)
Bronze: Kim Hyeon-woo (KOR)