Akin provides early boost to U.S. in World Cup

Americans handle Ukraine, then rally to top Iran, 17-11

February 06, 2000|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

FAIRFAX, Va. -- Eric Akin of the United States knew his 119-pound bout against Oleksandr Zakharuk would be among the toughest of the eight dual matchups against Ukraine in yesterday's FILA Freestyle Wrestling World Cup 2000.

But by the end of the U.S. team's 25-4 victory, in which the Americans won all eight matches -- one via forfeit -- the squad's smallest and least accomplished wrestler had shown perhaps the largest heart to the 2,036 fans at George Mason University's Patriot Center.

Akin, unranked internationally, scored a takedown 1 minute, 13 seconds into overtime, lifting him to a 3-1 victory over three-time European champ Zakharuk, who was ranked third internationally.

In the Americans' second match last night, the U.S. overcame a 6-0 deficit against Iran after losses in the first two bouts to win, 17-11, before 4,136.

Though a four-time All-American at Iowa State, Akin finished no higher than second in the NCAA tournament. At October's world championships in Turkey, he was 16th and Zakharuk was third.

"I knew he was one of the top guys in the world," said Akin, who turns 29 on Feb. 24. "I have been looking forward to wrestling him for several months. I've been studying him for a while. I felt confident I would win.

"I knew his style and what he would do. I was really tired, so I knew he must be dying. I knew he wasn't in better shape than me."

Yesterday's five-team event, a round-robin tournament featuring top wrestlers from Russia, Iran, Cuba, Ukraine and the United State, continues today and serves as a tuneup for the Olympic Trials in June and the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

Today's U.S.-Cuba matchup will pit America's defending World Cup champ, Les Gutches (187.25 pounds), against Yoel Romero. Romero is 2-1 against Gutches, defeating him at each of the last two World Cup events, including most recently in Spokane, Wash., in April. Gutches beat Romero last summer in the Pan Am Games.

Yesterday's highly anticipated, 138.75-pound match between American Cary Kolat and Elbrus Tedeev never materialized. The Ukrainian world champ suffered a knee injury and didn't make the trip, resulting in a forfeit.

Kolat lost to Tedeev, 2-1, in a controversial bout at October's world championships. Wrestling with a slight shoulder separation, Kolat initially was declared the winner, but the decision was reversed after a review.

Gutches, who 10 days ago was hospitalized with a severe case of the flu, summoned the strength last night to overcome a 2-0 deficit for a 5-2 victory over Iran's Mehdi Saredjlov.

Down 2-1 with 1: 29 left, Gutches' takedown and gut-wrench roll for two near-fall points put him ahead for good, 4-2.

The U.S. posted four straight wins and a 13-8 lead with two bouts left before Gutches took center stage. The streak included a 4-0 decision by two-time World Cup champ Lincoln McIlravy at 152 over Mehdi Braati and a 9-1 rout by Joe Williams at 167.5 over Ramezanali Olyaninejad.

Another exciting bout was Kolat's pin of Mashaaiiah Hosseini in 4: 43 at 138.75. The short, stocky, quick-moving Kolat bullied his taller opponent to lead 7-0 after two periods and 10-1 before taking him down to his back and flattening him with 1: 07 left.

Yesterday's Iran-Cuba match came down to the final bout, in which Iran's Ali Reza Rezaei (286) clinched a 17-12 victory with his 6-0 shutout of former world champ Alexis Rodriguez.

Screaming and cheering with the large contingent of Iranian fans who made up much of the crowd was the Taghizadeh family of Baltimore: father Fereidoon and brother, Arman, 23, and Maakan, 21, graduates of Gilman in 1995, and, '96, respectively.

"It's amazing, not only for me, but it's special for everybody regardless of which country you're from," said Arman, who recently graduated from James Madison, where he wrestled and Maakan still wrestles.

Arman, whose parents came to America in 1968, is an assistant coach at Archbishop Curley, whose team members staffed the event, were host to some competitors and served as ambassadors.

"You've got to understand, that, to Iranians, these guys are like movie stars. They're heroes," said Arman, who also had to translate for the visitors.

"I've been wrestling in this country for 10 years, and, until now, I'd only seen them on TV. Today, my job's to be ambassador to Iran. Yesterday, I got to practice with them at Robinson High. To see them, be here with them, see everyone cheering, it's incredible."

Curley 119-pounder Darian Kess worked out with [Cuban] Wilfred Garcia on Tuesday. Two Cuban wrestlers were hosted by Debbie Boettcher, mother of Curley 152-pounder Tom Boettcher.

Antwuan Lide, Curley's 135-pounder, served as media director. Curley assistant coach Gregg Kessler, a three-time state champ at Owings Mills, was the event's overall technical director.

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