Women wrestling for gold in first Olympic appearance

LONDON (Reuters) – Women will hit the mats for the first time at the Olympics in freestyle wrestling and American Rulon Gardner will return to attempt another «miracle» in the Greco-Roman competition. The US has won the most gold medals in the freestyle, while the Greco-Roman style, where wrestlers can use only their arms and upper bodies to attack, is dominated by former Eastern bloc nations. Georgia emerged as the surprise package ahead of the Athens Games after picking up the men’s team titles in the world championships of both styles last year. Freestyle heavyweight Eldari Kurtanidze, bronze medalist in Sydney, was the only Georgian champion at the worlds, while Russia picked up three golds in the weights below. In Greco-Roman, Bulgaria’s Armen Nazarian won the featherweight world gold. He is the title favorite in Athens after winning the Sydney bantamweight title and the flyweight gold four years earlier when fighting for his native Armenia. Gardner won the super-heavyweight title in 2000 by achieving what many considered impossible – beating the great Russian champion Alexander Karelin in the so-called Miracle on the Mat. Karelin, now retired, had been unbeaten for 13 years and had won Olympic golds at the previous three Games. Gardner subsequently lost a toe to frostbite after a snowmobile accident and performed poorly at the 2003 world championships in France. He grabbed his last chance to qualify for Athens by winning the American trials in May. Iraq will be sending a handful of wrestlers to the Games and Israel could claim the first Olympic gold in their history via Gocha Tsitsiashvili, who was born in Georgia. In the women’s competition Japan and the US appear to have the best chances of picking up gold in the four weights being fought.

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