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Draws Are Out For Day 1 In Tokyo

Draws Are Out For Day 1 In Tokyo

The opening-day draws are out and Americans Adeline Gray and Ildar Hafizov have their first-round assignments.

Jul 31, 2021 by Andy Hamilton

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At long last, the anticipation for wrestling at the Olympic Games is almost over and the battles are about to begin in Tokyo. 

The opening-day draws are out and Americans Adeline Gray and Ildar Hafizov have their first-round assignments. 

This year’s Olympic program features a new twist — one women’s weight per day — and Gray, a five-time World champ, will lead off for the high-powered American women’s freestyle squad when wrestling begins at 11 a.m. Sunday morning in Tokyo (10 p.m. ET on Saturday). 

Gray’s quest to become an Olympic champion begins against 19-year-old Zaineb Sghaier of Tunisia. Gray will be a prohibitive favorite over the African OG Qualifier finalist in the opening round at 76 kilograms.   

Awaiting Adeline next would be the winner between Brazil’s Aline Silva and Turkey’s Yasemine Adar, both of whom are previous World finalists who fell to Gray in the gold medal match in 2014 and 2018, respectively. 

Should Gray reach the semis (which she will be heavily favored to do) her most likely opponent will be either Natalia Vorobieva of Russia or Elmira Syzdykova of Kazakhstan. Vorobieva owns a win over Gray from back in 2013, but since that time Adeline has won four world titles to Vorobieva’s two at lower weight classes. Syzdykova gave Gray a scare in 2019, jumping out to a 6-3 lead before Adeline barred her up for the fall.

The opposite side is full of game opponents. If Gray makes the finals, many predict Aline Rotter Focken of Germany to be her opponent. Rotter Focken has a win this year over 2016 Olympic Champion Erica Wiebe of Canada who is also on the same side. Epp Mae of Estonia is certainly a contender as well, she notched a win over Vorobieva at the Poland Open this year before she fell to Focken.  

Japan has been the gold standard for women’s freestyle and they’ll have a fine representative at 76kg.  Hiroe Minigawa made the World finals in 2019 before falling to Adeline 4-2.  

All in all, it’s a pretty favorable draw for Gray, though she figures to have tough tests from the quarters on. 

Hafizov is making his second trip to the Olympics and first as an American citizen. He placed 11th for Uzbekistan in 2008 when he lost in the opening round to Russia’s Nazyr Mankiev, who went on to win the 55-kilogram gold. 

This time around, Hafizov opens with Cuba’s Luis Alberto Orta Sanchez at 60 kilos. The 26-year-old Cuban defeated Hafizov 7-0 in the finals of the Pan Am Olympic Games Qualifying Tournament in March of 2020. Orta is a two-time Pan Am champ. 

The road gets significantly tougher from there. If Hafizov can get past Orta, he’ll likely have Russia’s Sergey Emelin waiting in the quarters. Emelin blitzed through the 2018 World Championships, outscoring his opponents by a combined 44-1 count. He took silver at the 2019 World Championships, where he lost in the finals to Japan’s Kenichiro Fumita, the top seed who’s on the other side of the bracket in Tokyo. 

The third weight class that will be contested Sunday features two of Greco-Roman’s all-time greats — eight-time World and Olympic champion Mijain Lopez of Cuba and Turkey’s four-time World champ Riza Kayaalp. 

Lopez is aiming for his fourth Olympic gold. He defeated Kayaalp in the semis in London and in the finals in Rio. 

The heavyweight titans could collide in the semifinals at 130 kilograms.