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2005 World Championships preview at 96 kg/211.5 lbs. in menís freestyle wrestling

The 96 kg/211.5 lbs. weight class in men's freestyle wrestling might be one of the toughest weight classes in any of the three styles for a young wrestler to break through in. Returning are the two wrestlers who have won the last three gold medals at this weight class - Khadsimurad Gatsalov of Russia and Eldar Kurtanidze of Georgia.

In fact, the last time a non-Georgian or non-Russian won gold at this weight was in 1998, when Abbas Jadidi of Iran stood atop the podium.

Gatsalov, listed as only 22 years old, won the Olympic gold medal last year in only his fifth event up at 96 kg. Previously, he had competed at 84 kg/185 lbs. where he was behind and Olympic champion and a World champion in Russia.

This year, Gatsalov placed third at the European Championships, losing only to Kurtanidze in the semifinals. Before this year, Gatsalov had won the previous two gold medals at the European Championships, defeating Kurtanidze in the quarterfinals in 2003.

Kurtanidze, 33 years old, has dominated at the World-level since 1993, when he won a silver medal at the World Championships. He has placed in the top 10 at every World Championships and Olympic Games since, including bronze medals at the 1996 and 2000 Games. He won World titles in 2002 and 2003. However, with his age, he does not seem to be missing a step, after posting a three-period victory against Gatsalov in the European Championships.

Last year, Kurtanidze lost a 3-2 overtime pool match to Ali Reza Heidari of Iran, who went on to win the bronze medal at the Olympic Games. Heidari also has some years under his belt, turning 29 earlier this year. He has won five World medals overall, including a gold in 1998 and silver medals in 1999, 2002 and 2003.

Heidari has not competed since the Olympic Games, when he defeated Daniel Cormier of the United States in the bronze medal match. Hamiv Sefi won gold at the Asian Championships and may be ready to step on the mats for Iran. Heidari has been somewhat of a thorn in Cormier's side the last two years, so believe that Cormier will want to see Heidari on the mats this year.

Cormier lost to Heidari in overtime in Athens last year, one round after losing to Gatsalov in overtime in the semifinals. He is one of the World's up-and-coming young stars, and has not been tested in U.S. competition in the last three years. However, he did lose to Vasili Tesmenetzki of Ukraine at the World Cup this year. Cormier has improved every year on the World level, and coaches are hoping that improvement this year leads him to a medal.

Before last year, Magomed Ibragimov of Uzbekistan had placed as high as ninth at the World Championships. Then, Ibragimov stunned Heidari in the Olympic semifinals and he went on to a silver medal. Since then, Ibragimov has not competed, though he is only 22 years old.

Uzbekistan did not have a representative in the European Championships and Ruslan Khinchagov competed in the World Cup, but only placed sixth.

Two-time World bronze medalist Vadim Tasoev of Ukraine moved up to 120 kg for the European Championships and won a silver medal, so it would not be too shocking to see the 30 year-old at heavyweight for the World Championships. Tesmenetzki won gold at this year's World Cup and a bronze at the 2003 World Cup before placing fifth at this year's European Championships.

Krassimir Kotchev of Bulgaria, another two-time World medalist, may also move up in weight. He won a bronze medal at 120 kg in the European Championships, while Dimitar Kumchev placed seventh at 96 kg.

Rustam Agaev of Azerbaijan and Yuanyuan Wang of China placed fifth and sixth at the Olympic Games, respectively, but like some of those that placed in front of them, have not competed since Athens.

At the continental championships, a variety of veterans and youth were present. The European Championships were loaded with past medalists, as Kurtanidze downed two-time Olympian Vincent Aka Akesse of France, who did compete for the Ivory Coast until 2003. The European Championships silver was by far the highest placement for the 29 year-old Akesse at a major international tournament. Gatsalov and Fatih Cakiroglu of Turkey won bronze medals.

The Asian Championships on the other hand, were dominated by a slew of young faces. Sefi defeated Nurzhan Kataev of Kazakhstan for the gold medal. Sainbayar Bold of Mongolia and Tae-Hyun Ku of Korea won bronze medals.


2004 Olympic Games results
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Gold - Khadsimurad Gatsalov (Russia) dec. Magomed Ibragimov (Uzbekistan), 4-1; Bronze - Ali Reza Heidari (Iran) dec. Daniel Cormier (United States), 3-2, ot, 7:45; 5th - Rustem Aghayev (Azerbaijan) by fall over Wan Yuanyan (China), 0:58; 7th - Aleksandr Shemarov (Belarus); 8th - Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia); 9th - Fatih Cakiroglu (Turkey); 10th - Islam Bairamukov (Kazakhstan)

2003 World Championship results
96 kg/211.5 lbs. - Gold - Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia) dec. Ali Reza Heidari (Iran), 4-0; Bronze - Krassimir Kotchev (Bulgaria) dec. Tuvshintur Enkhtuya (Mongolia), 5-1; 5th - Daniel Cormier (United States); 6th - Nico Jacobs (Namibia); 7th - Bartolomiej Bartnicki (Poland); 8th - Vadym Tasoev (Ukraine); 9th - Radovan Valach (Austria); 10th - Alexandr Shemarov (Belarus)

2002 World Championships
96 kg/211.25 lbs. - Gold - Eldar Kurtanidze (Georgia) won by ref. dec. over Ali Reza Heidari (Iran), 2-1, ot, 9:00; Bronze - Vadim Tasoev (Ukraine) won by tech. fall over Alexandre Xanthopoulos (Greece), 10-0, 4:24; 5th - Alexander Shemarov (Belarus); 6th - Georgi Gogshelizhiev (Russia); 7th - Wilfredo Morales (Cuba); 8th - Rolf Scherrer (Switzerland); 9th - Dean Schmeichel (Canada); 10th - Zoltan Farkas (Hungary)

2001 World Championships results
97 kg/213.75 lbs. - Gold - Georgi Gogchelidze (Russia) dec. Krassimir Kotchev (Bulgaria), 3-0; Bronze - Vadim Tasoev (Ukraine) won by tech fall over Zoltan Farkas (Hungary), 10-0; 5th - Ezdar Kurtanidze (Georgia); 6th - George Torchinava (Netherlands); 7th - Ozkale Taskin (Turkey); 8th - Johannes Rossouw (Great Britain); 9th - Magomed Ibragimov (Uzbekistan); 10th - Wilfredo Morales (Cuba)
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