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Olympic Wrestling 2012: Analyzing the Top Freestyle Wrestlers at London

Levi NileContributor IIIJanuary 5, 2017

Olympic Wrestling 2012: Analyzing the Top Freestyle Wrestlers at London

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    It’s amazing how quickly dreams of glory can change hands in the world of combative sport, and that is doubly true when it comes to the world of freestyle wrestling.

    To display any kind of consistency in the sport is to be known as a dedicated student with many teachers, all of them relentless taskmasters in so much as they are usually your opponents looking to take what you have.

    Such is the Spartan system of refinement in the world of grappling. To survive it speaks to a kind of determination and dedication that few athletes ever know. To emerge near the top and to be chosen to represent your country on the biggest stage in the world—the Summer Olympics—is to know you walk in the footsteps of giants.

    Now, the time has arrived. All the other games and competitions have been nothing but a warm-up; this is the 11th hour, where all is spent for gold and nothing left behind.

    So let’s have a look at some of the top freestyle wrestlers in London.

Djamal Otarsultanov

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    Country: Russia

    Weight Division: 55kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    Standing atop a heap of Russian talent is Djamal Otarsultanov. Taking over the mantle of their best from the capable hands of Viktor Lebedev, Otarsultanov is the clear favorite to win the gold medal at 55kg in London.

    Although he’s never wrestled on such a high level, Otarsultanov has an impressive list of achievements, including two Yarygin titles and World Cup gold. You don’t get all those accolades and defeat Viktor Lebedev without being every bit as good as you seem.

    Still, this division is stacked with talent, most notably Hassan Rahimi and Kyong Il Yang. Otarsultanov is going to have to be at his very best in order to ensure that he lives up to all the hype.

Hassan Rahimi

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    Country: Iran

    Weight Division: 55kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    Expected by many to reach the finals in the division, Hassan Rahimi is yet another capable and skilled wrestler from Iran, looking to bring home the gold and re-establish the national belief that freestyle wrestling is the true property of their country.

    He’s going to have his hands full with Djamal Otarsultanov, but he’s got the ability to pull it off if he can walk the tightrope between offense and defense. He has to be willing to seize any opportunity an opponent gives him; wrestling not to lose will not serve him in this division at this level.

    A finals match between Rahimi and Otarsultanov, should it come to pass, will be a sight to see.

Besik Kudukhov

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    Country: Russia

    Weight Division: 60kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    After winning the bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, Besik Kudukhov is coming off a string of gold-medal performances, and even though he lost a match to Franklin Gomez in Germany, he is still considered by many to be one of the pound-for-pound best wrestlers in the world.

    Consistency and experience are two of the most prized attributes a wrestler can have when the Olympic Games beckon, and Kudukhov has both in abundance.

    If he wrestles to the full extent of his ability, he can not only win the gold but also avenge his recent loss to Gomez along the way.

Franklin Gomez

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    Country: Puerto Rico

    Weight Division: 60kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    NCAA Division I titlist Franklin Gomez has officially stepped into the big leagues, and now the pressure is on.

    Never mind the fact that he won gold at the Pan American Games in 2011; many are going to be watching him with high hopes thanks to his impressive victory over highly touted Besik Kudukhov, who is favored by many to win the gold in London.

    Now, he has the chance to prove that his win over Kudukhov wasn’t a fluke, and if he can do that, he just might walk away with the gold.

Mehdi Taghavi

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    Country: Iran

    Weight Division: 66kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    An aggressive and purposeful wrestler with excellent timing and technique, Mehdi Taghavi is one of those men who concerns himself more with what he will do and worries less (if at all) about what his opponent may do.

    Taghavi is one of the most well-rounded wrestlers in the division, and he looks to take back something that many Iranian people belongs to them as fans of the sport and as a matter of national pride: the actual sport of freestyle wrestling itself.

    A change in rules seems to have created a feeling of injustice, and from there it is a short song that ends with a call for vindication. If anyone can lower the volume and change the music to that of celebration, it’s Taghavi.

    In addition, he may get a chance to do all that at the expense of the man who last defeated him, Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu of Japan. Should he claim the gold at the expense of Yonemitsu, then they can openly and honestly challenge Russia for control of the sport.

Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu

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    Country: Japan

    Weight Division: 66kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    If anyone has a chance of defeating Mehdi Taghavi, it’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu; after all, he’s done it before.

    Yonemitsu defeated Taghavi at last month’s World Cup; revenge, one might say, for Taghavi defeating him at last year's World Championships. Now, it’s a pick-’em contest should these two greats meet in the finals.

    Of course, meeting Taghavi in the finals is far from a given, considering that both men must overcome the likes of Livan Lopez, Alan Gogaev, Sushil Kumar and others, and that won’t be easy by any means.

    Yonemitsu is Japan’s greatest chance at a gold medal, and given that he’s already proven that he can defeat the man favored to win it all, many eyes are going to be watching every move Yonemitsu makes.

Jordan Burroughs

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    Country: America

    Weight Division: 74kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    A great deal of pressure is resting on the shoulders of Jordan Burroughs. It’s not enough that he’s wrestling in the Olympic Games in front of millions. He’s one of the very few Americans actually favored to win the gold for his weight division, and that means there is a great deal at stake for Burroughs.

    Burroughs is a true physical specimen—a wrestler who is simply stronger and faster than anyone he locks up with. And if that weren’t daunting enough, you also have to honestly recognize just how clean his overall technique is.

    Burroughs isn’t just good, he’s great.

    He’s one of those rare athletes who possess that coveted “it” factor, as in there is something special about them, but we don’t know exactly what “it” is, but we know “it” when we see “it.”

    Oscar De La Hoya had this same quality, although to a greater degree. Still, Burroughs is going to be commanding a great deal of attention, and winning the gold could be the beginning of a new era for wrestling: one which sees it afforded more attention than it has known for many years.

Denis Tsargush

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    Country: Russia

    Weight Division: 74kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    If anyone stands a chance at ruining the Jordan Burroughs Olympic coming out party, it’s Denis Tsargush of Russia.

    Tsargush is a true student of the game. He’s tenacious, technical, poised, highly skilled, and if all of that won’t work for him, he can always find a way to make sure the ref is on the wrong side of the action should he feel the need to do a dirty deed.

    In short, Tsargush is a salty veteran with tools both above and below the table, and he’s an expert at using them.

    He’s one of the most complete wrestlers in the weight class, possessing a tight defense and a no-frills yet very affective offense that, if all things go as conventional wisdom predicts, will see him as the biggest threat to Jordan Burroughs' dream for Olympic gold.

Sharif Sharifov

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    Country: Azerbaijan

    Weight Division: 84kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    Just as there are many different kinds of people, there are also many different kinds of freestyle wrestlers. When you become acquainted with Sharif Sharifov, you come to realize that although winning isn’t always exciting, it’s still winning which ergo beats losing when the Olympic Games are at stake.

    Sharifov is perhaps one of the most defensive-minded wrestlers in the games because he has a serious dedication to the basics of the game. He wins because he scores when he can and never gives up points because he tried a risky move and his reach exceeded his grasp. He plays every move close to the chest, and in that way, his game is tighter than anyone’s.

    Sometimes the best in the world are the best because they master themselves first, and with that comes the wisdom of playing to your strengths and minimizing your weaknesses.

Jake Herbert

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    Country: America

    Weight Division: 84kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    This call could end up making me look brilliant or biased to a fault.

    Make no mistake about it: Jake Herbert is a very good wrestler. He wouldn’t be here if he weren’t.

    But I think he’s much better than his record of late would indicate, and being on the Olympic Team tends to bring out the best in athletes, and I think that’s what will happen with Herbert.

    Of course, more than a few people think the same way, and in truth, we could all be wrong. Perhaps many of his recent losses weren’t a matter of hubris or bad habits; perhaps he’s just not as good as the best in the world.

    But I think differently. I think he and his coaches will have identified his problems and polished them so smooth that they drag no air on his way in for a deep shot or a scramble. I think Herbert has a very good chance of rising higher than anyone imagined; after all, most of the pressure is on other players, and the role of underdog is well suited for the man who gets to spoil the party.

    And I think Jake Herbert is in just such a position.

Abdusalam Gadisov

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    Country: Russia

    Weight Division: 96kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    Abdusalam Gadisov had a tough road to travel in order to get to London, but he’s here as the new heir apparent to the throne previously held by Khadsimourad Gatsalov, whom Gadisov bested in the finals of this year’s Russian nationals.

    Gadisov is widely considered to be the most technically sound of all the wrestlers in Russia, which is no small feat considering how dedicated they are in the mastery of all the intricacies inherent to the game.

    In short, Gadisov is the real deal, and he has all the physical advantages that an Olympic coach could dream of.

    When he steps on the mats in London, it would seem the gold medal is his to lose.

Reza Yazdani

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    Country: Iran

    Weight Division: 96kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    As the new standout from Iran, Reza Yazdani comes into the London Games with all the typical fanfare afforded a true monster, and when you add to that fact that he’s in his prime, you have a man who could take the gold by force.

    Although he’s dropped a match here and there, he’s still favored to medal, and given that it’s the Olympic Games, he’ll be wanting to prove that he’s the one to be feared at 96kg and no one else.

Bilyal Makhov

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    Country: Russia

    Weight Division: 120kg

    Medal Prediction: Gold

    Just when the world was beginning to forget the name Alexander Karelin, Bilyal Makhov steps onto the mats and we’re stuck by how similar both men are in their attitude about competition.

    Makhov is a monster of a man who has recommitted himself to the cause, and it shows. He looks like a younger version of himself, and he moves like a tornado. Make no mistake about it: This is the best Makhov we’ve ever seen to date.

    And there’s a lot of him to see. He stands around 6'4" and weighs in at the 263-pound limit—and again, that’s probably the fastest 263 pounds in the weight class. Size alone is nothing without the skill and aggression needed to make it count, and Makhov has proven he has all of the latter, in spades.

    That’s not to say that he won’t face some stiff competition in the Games. He’ll have to contend with men like Aleksei Shemarov, David Modzmanashvili, Artur Taimazov and American Tervel Dlagnev; but in the end, Makhov looks to be the biggest, meanest shark swimming in these deep waters.

    This is a man on a mission, and odds are that once the dust settles in London, he’ll be the one with a gold medal around his neck.

Tervel Dlagnev

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    Country: America

    Weight Division: 120kg

    Medal Prediction: Silver

    Tervel Dlagnev is an interesting study that advocates that late bloomers can still become the tallest trees in the forest.

    Raised in Texas, Dlagnev didn’t start wrestling until after his freshman year of high school. As if confounding one notion wasn’t enough, Dlagnev also wrestled for the University of Nebraska, Kearney: a NCAA Division II school.

    Still, despite a late start and attending a college ranked in the second tier in the world of collegiate wrestling, by his senior year Dlagnev was without a doubt the best heavyweight in college wrestling, divisions be damned.

    Now, he’s wrestling for Team USA in the 120kg division, and chances are good he may find himself in the finals, squaring off against Russian juggernaut Bilyal Makhov—a man who looks to be cut from the same cloth as Olympic legend Alexander Karelin.

    Dlagnev is a true student of the game, and his coaches describe him as the most technical wrestler on Team USA. If he makes it to the finals, it would be a good time to become the teacher and show why it’s been claimed by many that he has the goods to become one of the greatest wrestlers America has ever produced.

    And claiming a gold medal—in a huge upset—would be a damn fine start. After all, that’s one of the cornerstones of Olympic lore: Anyone can rise to the occasion and take the gold, no matter what the odds.

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