Follow WIN during Postseason College Wrestling
WIN Magazine will provide comprehensive coverage of the 2023 NCAA Division I...
Photo: Gable Steveson, just 21 years old, captured the first Olympic gold medal by an American heavyweight since 1992 when he scored a takedown with .04 seconds left in his 125-kilo bout with Geno Petriashvili of Georgia. (John Sachs photo)
By Bryan Van Kley
TOKYO – Destiny is a sometimes a word that is overused in sports. However, the U.S. freestyle teams were destined to show the world at the Tokyo Olympic Games how exceptionally talented its men and women were.
And that was on full display and exploded in front of an international audience here on Friday night when Gable Steveson erased a three-point deficit in the final 13 seconds of the gold-medal match to win the second men’s freestyle gold of the Games in the most dramatic fashion imaginable.
Steveson become the third American freestyle wrestler to claim a gold medal; joining Tamyra Mensah Stock (68 kilos), who captured USA’s second women’s all-time gold medal on Tuesday, and David Taylor (86 kilos), who earned a top step on the medal podium by also scoring a last-second win over Iran’s Hassan Yazdani on Thursday.
Kyle Snyder, the 2016 Olympic champ, woke up Saturday hoping to repeat in his 97-kilo gold medal bout with Russia’s Abdulrashid Sadulaev and give the USA its most gold medals since 1984. The two rivals met in the 2017 and 2018 World finals with each wrestler capturing one of those bouts.
Steveson, the talented 21-year-old American — and named after legendary wrestler Dan Gable — made the finals against Georgia’s three-time World champ and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Geno Petriashvili after breezing through his first two matches 10-0 and 8-0, the second win against Taha Akgul of Turkey, the defending Olympic champion. In the semis, Steveson defeated Mongolia’s Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur 5-0.
The 2021 Hodge Trophy winner got out of the gates fast in the final, taking a 4-0 lead after benefitting from the Georgian not scoring on the activity clock two minutes into the match; on a single-leg takedown at the 3:41 mark and then a push-out with nine seconds to go in the first period.
To start the second period, Petriashvili struck first on a counter to Steveson shot for a takedown of his own for his first points of the match at the 2:40 mark. Steveson quickly got a reversal to make it 5-2, which is where the match stood till the 1:19 mark. Then the Georgian took the match’s momentum.
What happened in the last 1:19 of the bout will go down in wrestling folklore and discussed for decades.
First, the Georgian converted on a single-leg that pulled him within one, and then 10 seconds later rolled Steveson through on a gut-wrench and another 11 seconds later that gave the three-time Worlds champ an 8-5 lead with about 30 seconds left.
“My emotions were going up and down. I was on high then I was on a low,” Steveson said about giving up the guts.
The two big men were brought back up their feet after a few seconds and Steveson tried to create some angles with shots and moving the Georgian, but was unable to score.
But with 10 seconds left on the clock, Steveson got a takedown and got behind the Georgian, quickly standing up with both hands on his back similar to a folkstyle wrestler cutting an opponent to get them back to neutral. The official brought both wrestlers back to their feet.
Then in the final seconds, Steveson moved the Petrashvili one direction, faked a shot, snapped him down and spun around as the final seconds ticked off the clock, finishing behind him with:.02 seconds left as the official awarded two points for the 9-8 win.
Pandemonium ensued, no one believing what they just saw. The Georgian coaches challenged the call, adding further suspense to the moment. Then, with every coach, wrestler and member of the press on the edge of their seats or standing in awe, the lead official announced the takedown and was good and Steveson had the win.
The American contingent went crazy as Steveson raised both hands in the air, eventually going to the corner to celebrate with his coaches. This also marked the first time that an American heavyweight won an Olympic title since Bruce Baumgartner won his second Olympic title in 1992.
After running around the mat with the U.S. flag acknowledging the fans, Steveson showed the world his customary celebratory backflip which he did at the NCAA Championships after he won and at the Olympic Trials.
“I’ve been in many matches where there’s been deep waters,” Steveson said. “But that was a way different scenario. If someone asks me about those 13 seconds, it’s something you just can’t describe. There were so many crazy emotions that went into that.
“Heart and dedication in 13 seconds, it’s almost impossible to get two takedowns. And I got two takedowns on a three-time World champ. It’s something outrageous.”
“It was unbelievable, especially being at the Olympics against the best guys in the world,” said Steveson’s coach Brandon Eggum, who also mentored the Gopher heavyweight at Minnesota. “At the break, he was dominating 4-0. It was a great feeling. It feels over and secured. Then in a matter of minutes, seconds, it’s changes to a spot where it’s like, ‘It’s over. We’re on the other end (losing). 7 seconds isn’t enough. It was great.”
In addition to his physical gifts, Eggum said Steveson’s mentality is what makes him so special.
“Like the guys who are the greatest, they have some mentally in how they like to compete,” Eggum said. “The great ones compete even better in the lights. He does and it’s home for him. You can almost see things get easy for him. He’s almost more relaxed before he goes out there. That’s special. When he’s out on the mat, he’s free and loving the moment. He competes at a high level. He’s at a different spot than most people. It’s hard to put it into words. It kind of makes it easy in the corner.”
Steveson’s win also gave the United States a 100-95-point lead over powerhouse Russia in the unofficial team standings. United World Wrestling tracks team points in the World Championships but does not do official team scoring at the Olympic Games.
The gold-medal win assured the U.S. of two men’s freestyle golds, adding to Taylor’s the night before in come-from-behind dramatic fashion against Iran’s Yazdani, 4-3. A little over an hour before Steveson’s win, U.S. Olympic champion Snyder secured his second Olympic medal with a win in the semi 5-0 over Turkey’s Suleyman Karadeniz.
Two-time defending World champ Kyle Dake, who previously was wrestling up at the non-Olympic weight of 79 kilos, defeated Italy’s two-time World champ Frank Chamizo 5-0 as well for bronze. Dake’s win assured the U.S. of a five-for-five performance on medals for the Games.
“I was able to bounce back and wrestle more like my old self today. A couple of hiccups here and there and you just battle through them,” Dake said.
“I moved my feet. Frank Chamizo is a beast, so for me to put in the performance I did, I just have to thank all of my training partners and coaches, my folks back in Hawaii, everyone who has got me here.”
Despite falling short of his gold-medal goal, the four-time NCAA champ said he was pleased with how he wrestled on the second day.
“I competed really well, didn’t give up any points, and I’m excited for the World Championships in a couple of months.”
Dake told a small group of wrestling media at the Games there was an issue on day one of the Games that kept him wrestling like he normally does in his first two matches. He won the first-round bout 4-0 against Iran’s Mostafa Hosseinkhani. In the quarterfinals, he lost by an 11-0 tech fall to Mahamedkhabib Kadzimahamedau.
“I didn’t have the right remedy that I needed once I got here. I had something going on. Day two I figured it out. We tried a lot of different things. It just took one day too long,” said the two-time defending World champ.