LONDON – Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu ended Japan’s 24-year wait for an Olympic men’s wrestling gold medal when he beat India’s Sushil Kumar in the 66kg freestyle final on Sunday.
“I have dedicated all of my life to take the gold medal,” said the 26-year-old Yonemitsu, runner-up at last year’s world championships, after adding his title to the three won by Japan’s female wrestlers in London.
During the final, he edged ahead in the first period before producing a huge lift and slam on Kumar in the second to all but seal his 3-1 victory.
“It happened all of a sudden, so I can’t think how important it was,” Yonemitsu said. “For Japanese men’s wrestling, I think I have made a big contribution so I am very happy.”
Beijing bronze medallist Kumar became the first Indian competitor in an individual sport to win medals at successive Olympics.
The 2010 world champion, Kumar said he’d suffered a stomach upset after his semi-final, having endured a gruelling path to the final that started with an opening bout against 2008 gold medallist Ramazan Sahin of Turkey.
“I had a stomach infection but difficulty and pain are part of the sport, I don’t want to make excuses,” said Kumar, who vowed to carry on to the 2016 Games in Rio.
“Where I practise in India, I had good opponents to practise with. This silver medal has been possible because of them. At the next Olympics it’s going to be even better.”
Kumar’s semi-final win over Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan was marred by allegations he’d bit his opponent.
But Kumar insisted: “These are ridiculous allegations. These things happen (blood injuries).”
India’s flag carrier at the opening ceremony, Kumar gave his country their second freestyle wrestling medal of this Games after Yogeshwar Dutt won 60kg bronze on Saturday.
Bronze medals went to Tantarov and Cuba’s Livan Lopez.
Jacob Varner ensured the United States won two men’s wrestling golds at a single Olympics for the first time since Atlanta 1996 with a 3-0 victory over Valerii Andriitsev of the Ukraine in the concluding bout of London 2012.
Varner’s triumph followed that of team-mate Jordan Burroughs in the 74kg freestyle on Friday, with both men in line for $250,000 cheques from USA Wrestling for winning gold.
“It’s awesome,” said the 26-year-old who, having heard Burroughs pick cotton candy (candyfloss) as his celebration food of choice, opted another children’s favourite.
“I don’t know, probably some chocolate milk or something like that,” said Varner, coached by 2004 84kg champion Cael Sanderson, widely considered one of the United States’ greatest amateur wrestlers.
Andriitsev defeated world champion Reza Yazdani in a semi-final after the Iranian couldn’t continue because of a knee injury that meant Azerbaijan’s Khetag Gazumov collected bronze without a fight.
Gazumov himself had collapsed after his quarter-final and was taken to hospital with a worryingly irregular heart beat.
“I had the same problem about five years ago with my heart and I wanted to give up wrestling after it but I managed to cope with the problem,” said Gazumov.
“Maybe it’s because we started very early today and it affected my heart.”
The unusually early start — to allow the day’s matches to finish well before the closing ceremony — caught out a couple of Egyptian wrestlers, Abdou Omar Abdou Ahmed and Saleh Emara, who forfeited their opening matches after failing to turn up on time.