Cox challenge brings Olympic bronze, Dlagnev back leads to pain

Updated: August 20, 2016

By Bryan Van Kley, WIN Publisher

RIO DE JANEIRO — It was a day of dramatic ups and downs for a pair of U.S. men’s freestyle wrestlers in Carioca Arena 2 on Saturday, when Olympic rookie J’Den Cox won bronze at 86 kilos and could have been wrestling for gold.

Opposite him, a hot, seasoned veteran in Tervel Dlagnev may have finished with a medal at 125 kilos as well if it wasn’t for a flare up of his lingering lower back problem that provided the ultimate pain.

For Cox, the two-time NCAA champion and senior-to-be from Missouri, his final two matches in his first Olympics came down the final seconds. And a few hours after the native of Columbia, Mo., saw his gold medal chances end in a  2-1 semifinal loss to Turkey’s Salim Yasar, when he thought he had won, the 189-pound Cox was the one smiling as a video challenge in the closing seconds helped him beat Cuba’s Reineris Salas by disqualification for a bronze medal.

The talk between sessions among the U.S. contingent was how “close” the 21-year-old American was to a spot in the Olympic finals. But it took Cox minutes to put a disappointing loss behind him and was ready to wrestle for bronze.

“I told people, I don’t believe in disappointment,” said Cox, who thought he held criteria in a 1-1 deadlock with the Turk before he realized a 30-second shot clock violation against him gave the victory to Yasar.

“You can’t control failure. Failure is just as much a part of life as success. You can linger in disappointment or you can go and do something about it and change how you feel. I choose to enjoy what I do, and let it be in the past because I can’t change it.”

With about a minute left in his bronze medal bout, Cox was leading the Cuba 1-0 but was put on a 30-second shot clock and eventually forced a scramble that lasted until 5:54 when the official first ruled that the American had not scored, which meant the Cuban would have received a point and the 21-year-old American would have lost another match on criteria.

But U.S. national freestyle coach Bill Zadick protested a “no-takedown” call on the mat just before action stopped where it looked like Cox had both hands around a sitting Salas with control down on the mat for two points. After watching it several times, two points were awarded for the 3-0 Cox lead.

Cuba’s coaches stormed the mat, pleading the head table to look at the video again, and they gave them a yellow warning card, sending them back to the corner. Salas then refused to come back to the middle to wrestle and was disqualified. A flag was thrown out to Cox as he celebrated first up on the raised mat, then with his parents and friends in the stands afterwards.

Meanwhile, Dlagnev came up short again in a bronze medal match for a second straight Olympics when it took only 32 seconds for Georgian Geno Petriashvili to take down the heavyweight and turn him four times with a gut that resulted in literally a painful 10-0 loss for the native of Bulgarian, who grew up in Arlington, Texas.

Nearly, the same thing happened in Dlagnev’s semifinal bout with Iran’s Komeil Ghasemi, which also resulted in a 10-0 loss for the U.S. heavyweight. This came after Dlagnev rallied from a 5-0 deficit to beat 2015 World runner-up Jamaladdin Magomedov of Azerbaijan, 6-5, then followed that victory with a 3-2 win over Poland’s Robert Baran for his spot in the semis.

It was in that quarterfinal victory that Dlagnev reinjured a back that has hampered him the last two years and kept him out of the 2015 World Championships last September and 2016 World Cup this summer.

Dlagnev shared with reporters the severity of his back injury.

“I walked on the treadmill for the last 17 days, that was my workouts,” said Dlagnev, the former two-time NCAA Division II champion from Nebraska-Kearney and trains in Columbus, Ohio, where he took an assistant coach job at Ohio State.

“It’s a bummer. It’s been a slow fade, but I’m really not too shaken up about it. I wasn’t even planning on walking out there for the last match. I kind of got talked into it.

“It’s pain to the point where I feel like something’s going to snap. Especially when I’m in my stance, every time I get my head pulled, something is shifting around in a weird way and it freaks me out.”

The two-time World bronze medalist said he’s looking forward to coaching but also said he wouldn’t rule out a comeback in a “year or two” if he solves his back problem

“You’re measured by your results, that’s how we do it,” he said. “I’m committed to not just being defined by my failures or successes. I want to be defined by my faith and what kind of person I am. That’s why I’m passionate about coaching.

“I want guys to know they’re more than their wins and losses. I think I have an interesting enough story to have lived both sides. I didn’t win the big one, but I did a lot ‘checking off my list.’ I know that success won’t complete you and failure won’t break you. Maybe someone can take something away from that.”

The men’s freestyle team will wrap up its 2016 Olympics on Sunday when 65-kilogram Frank Molinaro and 97-kilo World champion Kyle Snyder take to the mat; looking to continue the United States’ streak of winning a gold medal since 1972.