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Olympic Games preview at 66 kg/145.5 lbs. in men's freestyle



This weight class is loaded with superstars, yet remains very competitive. It is difficult to know if the old guard will be able to hold on, or if a young talent will break through this year. The reigning World champion is Russia's Irbek Farniev, who scored an overtime win over Serafim Barzakov of Bulgaria in the 2003 World finals. Farniev emerged last year from a strong field of Russians at this division, which includes 2004 European champion Makhach Murtazaliev and 2002 World bronze medalist Zaur Botaev. Murtazaliev reportedly won the Russian Nationals and could be the choice for Athens. Yet it is hard for Russia to leave a defending World champion back home. Whoever wrestles for Russia will be very talented. Barzakov is a proven star, having won a pair of World title (1998 and 2001), a silver medal at the 2000 Olympics and a number of other important international medals. Certainly, he has the proven track record and recent success to be a gold-medal favorite, as well as the ability to wrestle his best when in most counts. Among the other bigtime veteran stars in the field are Elbrus Tedeev of Ukraine and Ali Reza Dabir of Iran. Neither was able to win a medal in this field at the 2003 World meet in New York. Tedeev was sixth at the World Championships, while Dabir missed out on the top 10, qualifying for Athens with a fifth-place finish at the first Olympic Qualifying event. Tedeev has won three World gold medals, the most recent in 2002. American fans will remember his first title in Atlanta in 1995, when Japan's Takahiro Wada had his arm raised in victory on the mat, but Tedeev emerged from a protest as a World champion. He has continued to remain competitive, winning a silver medal at the 2004 European Championships leading into the Olympic push. Dabir was a 2000 Olympic gold medalist and 1999 World champion down at 57 kg, then moved up in weight when the divisions were adjusted. He captured a 2002 World silver medal at this division, losing to Tedeev in a wild finals showdown. In 2001, he was beaten in the World finals by Barzakov, another tight battle that could have gone the other way. His streak of winning medals at the World level was broken in New York, yet many expect he has the ability to return to the top of the podium. He is a national hero in Iran and respected worldwide, not just for his wrestling but also for his engaging personality. Another recent medalist to watch is 2003 World bronze medalist Kazuhiko Ikematsu of Japan, a big surprise with his performance in New York. However, this year, Ikematsu followed with an Asian Championships gold medal and seems ready to establish himself for good. Just missing out on the medals in 2003 was Serguei Rondon of Cuba. Rondon is a talented star, who seems ready to make a big breakthrough. He had tight victories over American Jamill Kelly at the 2003 Pan American Games, then blew Kelly away with a technical fall at the World meet in New York. Rondon will have to prove consistency, sometimes a problem with Cuban freestylers. Kelly surprised many by making the U.S. team in 2003, beating a number of past World Team members at the World Team Trials. Any doubts about Kelly were erased with wins at the U.S. Nationals and Olympic Team Trials this year. Kelly seems to wrestle a winning style for international wrestling and is comfortable in the clinch, a big factor in tight matches. Otari Tushishvili of Georgia, Nikolaos Loizidis of Greece and Evan MacDonald of Canada all placed in the top eight at the World meet last year. Tushishivili was fifth in the European Championships this year, and also placed in the top 10 at the 2001 and 2002 World Championships. Loizidis is seeking a big performance on the home mats in Greece. MacDonald is young, but may be the most talented athlete coming from Canada in awhile. Korea has qualified at this division, and could decide to enter 1996 Olympic silver medalist and 2000 Olympic bronze medalist Jang Jae Sung, if he gets down to this weight. The choice may end up being Baek Jin-Kuk, who was fourth at the first Olympic Qualifying event, and also placed fifth in the 2004 European Championships. Placing in the top 10 in New York to earn a qualification to the Olympics were Gergo Szabo of Hungary and Stefan Fernyak of Slovakia. Because a Greek wrestler placed in the top 10, the No. 11 wrestler from New York also made the Olympic field, Moldova's Ruslan Bodisteanu. At the last Olympics in Sydney, Bodisteanu placed 10th. This weight class is loaded with athletes from former Soviet republics, all who had strong performances in the Olympic Qualifying Tournaments. In the first qualifier in Slovakia, the champion was Leonid Spiridonov of Kazakhstan and the runner-up was Artur Tavakakhov of Uzbekistan. In the second qualifer in Bulgaria, the champion was Shirayr Hovhannisyan of Armenia and the runner-up was Elman Asgarov of Azerbaijan. Hovahnissyan was fourth at the 2004 European Championships, and Asgarov was fifth in 2001 World Championships, both performances that show they will be right in the battle. Rounding out the field are Ramesh Kumar of India and Omer Cubucku of Turkey, both who placed in the final Olympic Qualifying event. Kumar was fourth at the 2004 Asian Championships, and Cubucku was third at the 2003 European Championships, both solid performances worthy of note. The final entry was wildcard Fred Jessy from Nigeria. Overall, this weight class has depth and talent, making it unpredictable. Nations qualified (alphabetically): Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Canada, Cuba, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, India, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Korea, Moldova, Nigeria, Russia, Slovakia, Turkey, United States, Ukraine, Uzbekistan Past gold medallists expected in field: Irbek Farniev of Russia (2003), Elbrus Tedeev of Ukraine (1995, 1999, 2002), Serafim Barzakov of Bulgaria (1998, 2001), Ali Reza Dabir of Iran (1998, 2000) Top World-level placement for Jamill Kelly: dnp (2003) 66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Freestyle 1st at 2003 World Championships - Russia (Irbek Farniev or Makahach Murtazaliev) 2nd at 2003 World Championships -Bulgaria (Serafim Barazakov) 3rd at 2003 World Championships - Japan (Kazuhiko Ikematsu) 4th at 2003 World Championships - Cuba (Serguei Rondon) 5th at 2003 World Championships - Georgia (Otari Tushishvili) 6th at 2003 World Championships - Ukraine (Elbrus Tedeev) 8th at 2003 World Championships - Canada (Evan MacDonald) 9th at 2003 World Championships -Hungary (Gergo Szabo) 10th at 2003 World Championships - Slovakia (Stefan Fernyak) 11th at World Championships - Moldova (Ruslan Bodisteanu) Host Nation entry - Greece, also 7th at World Championships (Nikolaos Loizidis or Apostolos Taskoudis) 1st at Olympic Qualifier #1 - Kazakhstan (Leonid Spiridonov) 2nd at Olympic Qualifier #1-Uzbekistan (Artur Tavkazakhov) 3rd at Olympic Qualifier #1 -United States (Jamill Kelly) 4th at Olympic Qualifier #1 -Korea (Jin-Kuk Baek, Kim Sung-Sil or Jang Jae Sung) 5th at Olympic Qualifier #1 -Iran (Ali Reza Dabir) 1st at Olympic Qualifier #2 - Armenia (Shirayr Hovhannisyan) 2nd at Olympic Qualifier #2 -Azerbaijan (Elman Asgarov or Rovshan Gadziev) 3rd at Olympic Qualifier #2 -India (Ramesh Kumar) 4th at Olympic Qualifier #2 - Turkey (Omer Cubukcu) Wildcard - Nigeria (Fred Jessy) RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS 2003 World Championships results 66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Gold - Irbek Farniev (Russia) dec. Serafim Barzakov (Bulgaria), 3-1, ot, 7:57; Bronze - Ikematsu Kazuhiko (Japan) dec. Serguei Rondon (Cuba), 6-5; 5th - Otari Tushishvili (Georgia); 6th - Elbrus Tedeev (Ukraine); 7th - Nikolaos Loizidis (Greece); 8th - Evan MacDonald (Canada); 9th - Gergo Szabo (Hungary); 10th - Stefan Fernyak (Slovakia) 2002 World Championships results 66 kg/145.5 lbs. - Gold - Elbrus Tedeev (Ukraine) dec. Ali Reza Dabir (Iran), 5-4, ot, 6:24; Bronze - Zaur Botaev (Russia) dec. Ergun Urun (Germany), 3-0; 5th - Serafim Barzakov (Bulgaria); 6th - Lucian Gralak (Poland); 7th - Sung Jang-Jae (Korea); 8th - Neil Ewers (Canada); 9th - Otar Tushishvili (Georgia); 10th -
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