More than 400 wrestlers from 84 countries have entered this week’s World Olympic Games Qualifier in a final hope to qualify their nation for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Each of the 18 categories will have two tickets up for grabs, with semifinal winners securing their spots. Wrestling will begin May 6th and end May 9th.
While new stars have emerged in the extended five-year cycle, seven Olympic medalists have yet to qualify and will be in Sofia to make sure they have the chance to find Olympic glory once again. A total of seven previous medalists will return headlined by two-time medalists Hyeonwoo KIM (KOR) and Jackeline RENTERIA CASTILLO (COL).
Rio Olympic champion and London silver medalist Vladimir KHINCHIGISHVILI (GEO) withdrew from the tournament this week after testing positive for COVID-19. The Georgian star had planned to compete at 65kg.
“I can just say that in life no one knows what awaits us. I am grateful for everything.’ said Khinchigishvili. “I hope that my countryman can still capture the license.”
Kim won his Olympic medals at the London and Rio Games, while Renteria Castillo won her medals at the Beijing and London Games.
Kim, who’ll wrestle on Sunday, is on a quest to get back to the Olympic Games to potentially grab a third Greco-Roman medal. From late-’17 to the Nur-Sultan World Championships, the first-ballot Hall-of-Famer reached the podium at nine consecutive competitions – five of which were golds – but is still looking to find his stride in ‘21. Since falling to Mohammadali GERAEI (IRI) in his opening match at the ’19 World Championships, and due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kim has only competed once. That was at last month’s Asian Olympic Qualifiers, where he fell to Asian champion Singh GURPREET (IND), (who is also registered at 77kg) and finished in seventh place.
The biggest threats stopping Kim from reaching the 77kg finals are world bronze medalists Fatih CENGIZ (TUR) and Aik MNATSAKANIAN (BUL), two-time U23 world champion Daniel CATARAGA (MDA) and newly-minted European champion Shmagi BOLKVADZE (GEO).
Two-time Olympic bronze medalist Jackeline Renteria Castillo is trying to join Tonya VERBEEK (CAN) as the only Pan-American woman to win three Olympic medals. The Colombian is registered at 62kg. Other wrestlers entered alongside Renteria Castillo include world silver medalists Elif YESILIRMAK (TUR) and Liubov OVCHAROVA (RUS).