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|GOING FOR GOLD! Jake Varner storms into finals at Olympic Games
Craig Sesker USA Wrestling
Jake Varner takes down World champion Georgi Gogshelidze of Georgia in the Olympic semifinals. John Sachs photo.
LONDON – Jake Varner is going for gold at the Olympic Games.
Third in the 2011 World Championships, Varner delivered with a clutch semifinal win over past World champion Georgi Gogshelidze of Georgia before a sellout crowd of 6,500 fans at ExCeL North Arena 2.
Varner scored on a pushout early in the third period to earn a hard-fought 0-2, 1-0, 1-0 win over Gogshelidze, a four-time World medalist and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.
Varner pumped his right fist in celebration of his victory.
Varner now will face Valeri Andritsev of Ukraine in the gold-medal freestyle wrestling match at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. Andritsev was second in the European Championships this year and is a past Junior World champion. They have never faced each other.
The medal matches are set for 1:45 p.m. (8:45 a.m. Eastern Time) in London. Varner is the last match of the night, and he will go at approximately 2:30 p.m. local time. The match can be seen at nbcolympics.com.
“You have to find a way to win,” Varner said. “I just stuck to my game plan and stayed focused.”
Varner will look to join teammate Jordan Burroughs, who won an Olympic gold medal for the U.S. on Friday.
Varner also will be looking to match what his coach and mentor, Cael Sanderson, did in winning an Olympic gold medal in 2004. Sanderson, the Penn State head coach, is in Varner’s corner coaching him here.
Varner trains with Sanderson as a member of the Nittany Lion Wrestling Club in State College, Pa.
“Cael told me to get my shots going and keep moving,” Varner said. “I’m glad I listened to him. I just have to stick to the game plan that we have in the finals.”
“That was huge for Jake,” Sanderson said. “In the semifinals of the Olympic Games, it’s do or die. If you want to be a gold medalist, that’s the time to shine. Jake did an awesome job.”
The U.S. is looking for its 49th Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling. The U.S. is looking to win multiple Olympic gold medals in freestyle for the first time since 1996.
Varner has earned $50,000 from the Living the Dream Medal Fund by virtue of reaching the finals. He would collect $250,000 with a win in the gold-medal match.
Varner scored on two takedowns – on an ankle pick in the first period and a throw-by in the second period – to sweep Canada’s Khetag Pliev 1-0, 1-0 in the quarterfinals.
Varner opened by earning a hard-fought 1-0, 0-1, 1-0 win over past World bronze medalist Kurban Kurbanov of Uzbekistan. Varner was the aggressor the whole way and his persistence paid off when he spun behind Kurbanov midway through the period for the eventual winning takedown.
Varner, 26, a two-time NCAA champion for Iowa State, is competing in his first Olympics. He is a native of Bakersfield, Calif.
American Jared Frayer dropped his opening match to Ali Shabanau of Belarus at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. Frayer won a ball draw after a scoreless second period, but was unable to finish in the leg clinch.
“Jared just made a mistake out of the clinch,” U.S. Olympic Coach John Smith said. “He had the leg up and then dropped the leg. We obviously weren’t able to finish and it cost us.”
Shabanau won the match 3-0, 1-0. Frayer was eliminated when Shabanau fell short of making the finals. Frayer told reporters it was the last match of his career.
Frayer, 33, an NCAA runner-up for Oklahoma, was wrestling in his first Olympics. He is an assistant coach at Oklahoma.
“It’s frustrating because I know how much the coaches put into me and I know how good I was feeling,” Frayer said. “I ran into an unorthodox guy and I didn’t wrestle the way I’m capable of. It’s hard.”
ExCeL Center, London, England
66 kg/145.5 lbs.
Sushil Kumar (India) vs. Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu (Japan)
96 kg/211.5 lbs.
Jake Varner (USA) vs. Valeri Andritsev (Ukraine)
66 kg/145.5 lbs. – Jared Frayer, Norman, Okla. (Gator WC)
WIN Ali Shabanau (Belarus), 0-3, 0-1
96 kg/211.5 lbs. – Jake Varner, State College, Pa. (Nittany Lion WC)
WIN Kurban Kurbanov (Uzbekistan), 1-0, 0-1, 1-0
WIN Khetag Pliev (Canada), 1-0, 1-0
WIN Georgi Gogshelidze (Georgia), 0-2, 1-0, 1-0
vs. Valeri Andritsev (Ukraine) in gold-medal match