On Saturday morning, Joe Rau (87 kg, TMWC/IRTC, world #7, 5PM #2) became the first United States Greco-Roman athlete to take the mat at an international tournament in just over ten months. He was part of that escapade, too, was Rau. For it was the Pan-American Olympic Qualifier on March 13, where Rau and three other Team USA representatives pulled through to secure their respective weight categories for the Tokyo Olympics.
A lot has happened since then, of course, but Rau has offered a case study in how to sustain a healthy activity level in spite of less-than-amenable circumstances. Over the summer he appeared in the Rumble on the Rooftop event and in October suited up for the US Nationals. In between have been various camps spread across the country and, most recently, Europe.
But this was a different deal. Not only was Rau signing up for one of the more prestigious Senior events on the calendar, he was doing so on his own. No teammates, no coaches, no trainers. Such is his zeal. Yet when wrestling got underway earlier this morning, the two-time World Team member appeared to have little difficulty finding his comfort zone and thus blasted off right out of the gate.
Day 1 of the 2021 Grand Prix Zagreb Open began at 10:30am local time in Zagreb, Croatia (4:30am EST) and streamed live on YouTube.
Against Filip Smetko (CRO), Rau patiently engaged the ties, testing for two-on-one’s and positing different angles. It was a feeling-out process, and one that didn’t last too long. Shortly after the official began pointing at Rau, a precursor to a passivity call, the American exploded forward into a high-dive. He locked and twisted Smetko with the maneuver ending off the edge. There was no doubt it was a four-pointer — but Croatia decided to challenge, anyway. The call was upheld following a short review to provide Rau with a 5-0 advantage.
Rau’s closing sequence vs. Smetko (CRO). pic.twitter.com/hODhCGjvSe
— 5PointMove (@5PtMove) January 16, 2021
After the reset, Rau got back to work right away and snapped Smetko into a front headlock. He then easily yanked Smetko over his shoulder; Croatia was credited with the four, not Rau, though that hardly mattered. Rau had the position and planted himself on top. The signal for the pin arrived moments later.
The quarterfinal then provided the most bizarre conclusion to a bout in recent memory. Rau had amassed a 7-0 lead on Alexander Stjepanetic (SWE) that was the result of the first-period passivity/par terre opportunity. With Stjepanetic prone, Rau achieved his lock and, requiring a bit of work, rotated three guts to come within one point of a technical superiority triumph. But, Stjepanetic managed to survive the first period as Rau did not threaten with another score.
When things fell apart for Rau, they did so quickly and in puzzling fashion.
His demeanor had not changed dramatically, though it was natural to anticipate a re-energized Stejpanetic early in the second frame if only due to a conventional thought process that is commonly produced by the current rule-set: opponents trailing in matches once the second period begins still have a fighting chance should they receive their own inorganic par terre opportunity. Sure enough, that scenario played out, with Stjepanetic getting the nod after the first minute of action — except, when the passivity call on Rau rang in, Stjepanetic opted to remain standing. Rau’s margin was trimmed to 7-1, but he did not have to defend from bottom.
A catastrophic domino effect took hold just the same. First, Rau was penalized for a caution-and-two, finger-grabbing the (apparent) factor; following a restart, Rau was banged again, this time for walking backwards off the line on the back-end of a brief exchange. That 7-1 lead had been whittled all the way down to 7-5 without Stjepanetic acquiring a single offensive point. Unfortunately for Rau, that would change soon enough.
With under :30 left on the clock, Stjepanetic lumbered into Rau from a distance and wrapped around the body. He attempted to throw. Rau landed mostly on his right hip but correct hold points were appropriate. As Stjepanetic pursued towards the boundary, Rau tried to settle in over the top and catch the Swede on his back. Stjepanetic escaped out of the proverbial back door as they clambered onto the line, and Rau finished the sequence having exposed off the edge. The distribution of points was two and two — one pair for the initial correct throw call, another for the follow-up action at the boundary.
Rau gave chase in the run-off portion of the contest. By the time the match resumed, a mere :16 remained. He poured inside, dipped levels, trying to somehow create a wedge that might force a last-gasp scoring attack. Alas, Stjepanetic was in the driver’s seat, needing only to hold on for few measly seconds. Which, he did to the tune of what was an odd and tumultuous 9-7 decision.
There is a silver lining for Rau and the US: Stjepanetic prevailed in the semifinal over Ali Cengiz (TUR), with the victory providing Rau placement in tomorrow morning’s repechage round. The native Chicagoan will face Juuso Pahikainen of Finland. If Rau is successful, he would then battle Cengiz for bronze.
It was a very solid first day of action for World and Olympic medalists — though it bears mentioning that five of the 12 who were isolated in the preview wound up not competing. Those prior Senior medal winners who did make the trip to Zagreb are all in position to reach the podium.
- Victor Ciobanu (MDA, ’18 World silver) — 63 kg final
- Stig-Andre Berge (NOR, ’14 World bronze/’16 Olympic bronze) — 63 kg bronze round
- Gevorg Sahakyan (POL, ’18 World bronze) — 67 kg final
- Aram Vardanyan (UKR, ’19 World silver) — 72 kg bronze round
- Alex Kessidis (SWE, ’19 World silver) — 82 kg final
- Zhan Belenyuk (UKR, 2X World Champion, ’16 Olympic silver, ’18 World silver) — 87 kg final
- Heiki Nabi (EST, 2X World Champion, ’12 Olympic silver, multi-time World medalist) — 130 kg bronze round
Grand Prix Zagreb Open
January 16-17 — Zagreb, CRO
TEAM USA RESULTS
Joe Rau (87 kg, TMWC/IRTC)
WON Filip Smetko (CRO) via fall
LOSS Aleksandar Stjepanetic (SWE) 9-7
DAY 2 TEAM USA DRAW
Joe Rau (87 kg, TMWC/IRTC)
vs. Juuso Pahikainen (FIN)
Sunday, January 17
All times +6 hours EST.
Streaming links can be found here.
10:30am-2:00pm — Repechage round(s) through bronze-medal matches
7:00pm-9:00pm — Finals
*55 kg = round-robin bracket
Ilkhom Bakhromov (UZB) def. Fabian Schmitt (GER) 9-0, TF
Artiom Deleanu (MDA) def. Giovanni Freni (ITA) 8-0, TF
Schmitt def. Freni 9-0, TF
Jasurbek Ortikboev (UZB) def. Deleanu 8-0, TF
Ortikboev def. Giovanni Freni 8-0, TF
Bakhromov def. Deleanu 11-3, TF
Ortikboev def. Ilkhom Bakhromov 5-4
Schmitt def. Deleanu 9-0, TF
Ahmet Uyar (TUR) def. Justas Petravicius (LTU) 5-0
Islomjon Bakhramov (UZB) def. Firuz Tukhtaev (UZB) 3-2
Victor Ciobanu (MDA) def. Stig-Andre Berge (NOR) 10-0, TF
Niklas Ohlen (SWE) def. Dominik Celicek (CRO) via fall
Gevorg Sahakyan (POL) def. Enes Basar (TUR) 9-0, TF
Morten Thoresen (NOR) def. Donior Islamov (MDA) 1-1 (criteria)
Parviz Nasibov (UKR) def. Mikko Peltokangas (FIN) 5-3
Michael Portmann (SUI) def. Marko Nikolic (CRO) 9-1, TF
Lukas Ahlgren (SWE) def .PauliusGalkinas (LTU) 3-1
Furkan Bayrak (TUR) def. Bozo Starcevic (CRO) 1-1
Alex Kessidis (SWE) def. Yaroslav Filchakov (UKR) 3-1
Hannes Wagner (GER) def. Gabriel Lupasco (MDA) 7-3
Zhan Belenyuk (UKR) def. Dogan Goktas (TUR) via fall
Aleksandar Stjepanetic (SWE) def. Ali Cengiz (TUR) 3-2
Vilius Laurinaitis (LTU) def. Tadeusz Michalik (POL) 9-3
Arvi Savolainen (FIN) def. Felix Baldauf (NOR) 5-3
Mykola Kuchmii (UKR) def. Rafal Krajewski (POL) 5-2
Osman Yildirim (TUR) def. Heiki Nabi (EST) 3-1
Firuz Tukhtaev (UZB) def. Ivan Lizatovic (CRO) 9-0, TF
Ahmet Uyar (TUR) def. Ardit Fazlija (SWE) 5-1
Islomjon Bakhramov (UZB) def. Michal Tracz (POL) 8-0, TF
Justas Petravicius (LTU) def. Juuso Latvala (FIN) 10-6
Dominik Celicek (CRO) def. Giovanni Alessio (ITA) 11-2, TF
Victor Ciobanu (MDA) def. Andrej Ginc (GER) 7-2
Niklas Ohlen (SWE) def. Perica Dimitrijevic (SRB) 8-0, TF
Stig-Andre Berge (NOR) def. Deniz Meneske (GER) 7-0
Donior Islamov (MDA) def. Roman Pacurkowski (POL) 4-0
Gevorg Sahakyan (POL) def. Haci Karakus (TUR) 6-1
Morten Thoresen (NOR) def. Mirzobek Rakhmatov (UZB) 2-0
Enes Basar (TUR) def. Daniel Soini (SWE) 6-1
Ahmet Yilmaz (TUR) def. Mateusz Bernatek (POL) 9-1, TF
Parviz Nasibov (UKR) def. Aram Vardanyan (UZB) 3-1
Michael Portmann (SUI) def. Marko Nikolic (CRO) 9-1, TF
Mikko Peltokangas (FIN) def. Kristupas Sleiva (LTU) 9-1, TF
Paulius Galkinas (LTU) def. Jalgasbay Berdimuratov (UZB) 3-3 (criteria)
Furkan Bayrak (TUR) def. Michael Widmayer (GER) 5-2
Lukas Ahlgren (SWE) def. Elmar Nuraliev (UKR) 6-5
Bozo Starcevic (CRO) def. Volodymyr Yakovliev (UKR) 4-3
Alex Kessidis (SWE) def. Vladislav Gutu (MDA) 10-1, TF
Hannes Wagner (GER) def. Matteo Maffezoli (ITA) 2-0
Yaroslav Filchakov (UKR) def. Edgar Babayan (POL) 7-3
Gabriel Lupasco (MDA) def. Filip Sacic (CRO) 4-2
Dogan Goktas (TUR) def. Fabio Parisi (ITA) 3-1
Ali Cengiz (TUR) def. Tomislav Hader (CRO) via fall
Zhan Belenyuk (UKR) def. Vili Ropponen (FIN) 9-0, TF
Aleksandar Stjepanetic (SWE) def. Joe Rau (USA) 9-7
Tadeusz Michalik (POL) def. Damian Von Euw (SUI) 8-5
Felix Baldauf (NOR) def. Jahongir Turdiev (UZB) 8-0, TF
Vilius Laurinaitis (LTU) def. Patrick Neumaier (GER) 5-1
Arvi Savolainen (FIN) def. Elias Kuosmanen (FIN) 4-0
Mykola Kuchmii (UKR) def. Mantas Knystautas (LTU) 4-0
Heiki Nabi (EST) def. Minjon Abdullaev (UZB) 4-3
Rafal Krajewski (POL) def. Franz Richter (GER) 3-1
Osman Yildirim (TUR) def. Muhammet Bakir (TUR) 5-1