Cox and Dlagnev shoot for bronze medals on Day 2 of freestyle

Updated: August 20, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO — There were questions about the Olympic experience of J’den Cox and the health of Tervel Dlagnev prior to their Saturday morning freestyle matches at 86 and 125 kilograms in the Carioca Arena 2.

Both Americans appeared to put an end to any of those questions, especially when both wrestlers pulled off stunning upsets in the first two rounds of their weight classes. But there also proved to be some truth to those doubts as both Cox and Dlagnev each lost semifinal bouts and will now shoot for bronze medals this evening on the second day of men’s freestyle.

Cox, the two-time NCAA champion and senior-to-be from the University of Missouri, ignored the fact that he have very little freestyle experience prior to qualifying for his first ever Olympics as he defeated Amarhajy Mahamedau (Belarus), 7-1, and 2015 World bronze medalist Alireza Karimi, 5-1.

After scoring three takedowns against Mahamedau, the 21-year-old American scored four points in the second period against the Iranian — off two takedowns — to move on to the semifinals.

But the native of Columbia, Mo., lost to 2015 World silver medalist Selim Yasar of Turkey, 2-1, as the final point came for the Turk when officials denied a challenge by American coaches who thought Cox had scored a takedown in the closing seconds.

Because Cox was penalized a caution point when he could not score a takedown during a 30-second shot clock phase, he did not have criteria even after he forced the Turk to step out at the 3:51 mark in the match. But Cox did not force any action until the closing seconds of the bout, pushing the Turk to tonight’s gold medal match.

“I thought I was winning,” Cox said. “I didn’t know until the coach told me afterwards that I was down. I am not placing blame anywhere, there is no place to put blame. If I score more points, I win the match. I learned a valuable lesson today. It’s all good. I’ll figure it out. I have another match to get ready for. That is what I am looking forward to.”

Cox will now wrestle or a bronze medal against either Puerto Rico’s Jamie Espinal or Cuba’s Reineris Salas, who are scheduled to compete in a repechage bout prior to the medal matches.

Dlagnev, competing in his second Olympics, also reached the semifinals against Iran’s Kormeil Ghasemi —  who beat the native of Arlington, Texas, for bronze in the 2012 Olympics — but was not match for the Iranian, who scored a quick takedown and used four straight gut moves to end the match at 10-0 with just 32 seconds gone.

Dlagnev, who has been hampered by a bad back the past two years — which also kept him out of last year’s World Championships and this summer’s World Cup — showed plenty of discomfort while trying to stop Ghasemi’s turns and left the mat in pain.

The 30-year-old Dlagnev — whose family immigrated to the United States from Bulgaria — will also get a chance to earn a bronze medal, but must wait to see what wrestler — Canada’s Korey Jarvis, Egypt’s Aleb Abelmott or Georgia’s Geno Petrisashvili — emerges from a pair of repechage bouts.

“(Dlagnev) has a bronze medal match to wrestle, and that’s a big deal,” said U.S. freestyle coach Bill Zadick. “An Olympic medal is a huge deal. Guys train their entire lives, their entire careers for this. They spend 25 years training, preparing for these moments. We want both guys to reset their minds, and go win these bronze medals.”

Dlagnev — the two-time NCAA Division II All-American from Nebraska Kearney and now trains in Columbus, Ohio — was very impressive in his first two bouts, especially his first-round match against Azerbaijan’s 2015 World silver medalist Jamaladdin Magomedov, who led 5-0 before the American heavyweight battled back with a leg lace and two takedowns, the final one coming with ten seconds left in the match.

In the quarterfinals, Dlagnev defeated Poland’s Robert Baran when he scored on a first-period takedown and second period stepout to before giving up a late takedown to the Pole.