As a young boy in Russia, Artur Taymazov wanted to be like Alexander Karelin, his country’s most famous wrestler.
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Taymazov later moved to Uzbekistan, but his goal remained the same.
On Saturday night, he finally became a three-time Olympic champion — just like Karelin.
Taymazov won his third straight gold medal in the men’s 120-kg division, beating Georgia’s Davit Modzmanashvili to become the third male wrestler to win golds in three consecutive Olympics — along with Karelin and Alexander Medved of the former Soviet Union.
By virtue of his silver in Sydney in 2000, Taymazov also equaled Karelin’s Olympic medal haul in Greco-Roman wrestling. But he quickly acknowledged that Karelin should still be ranked higher because he’s won more world championships.
”He’s the name in wrestling, and I’m really, really glad that I’ve equalized with him on the medal total,” Taymazov said. ”I wanted to be like (Karelin), and now I am.”
There had been questions about whether the 33-year-old Taymazov could make a gold medal run, but he has now silenced those doubters. He displayed the quickness of a teenager in beating Modzmanashvili in the first period, escaping a leg clinch and scoring in just five seconds to break a scoreless tie.
”I was thinking about it all the time. … I wanted the third gold as well,” Taymazov said. ”It was my dream. I didn’t think about anything else.”
Two Azerbaijanis — Toghrul Asgarov and Sharif Sharifov — also won gold medals Saturday.
Asgarov won the gold medal in the men’s 60-kilogram freestyle, upsetting Besik Kudukhov of Russia 1-0, 5-0.
Asgarov, the 19-year-old junior world champion from 2011, beat Coleman Scott of the United States in the semifinals of the men’s 60-kilogram freestyle before taking down Kudukhov, the four-time world champion, in the final.
Kudukhov settled for bronze in Beijing and silver in London, while Scott recovered to win bronze for the U.S.
”I’ve got this medal now. I can’t really get my head around it because I’m so overjoyed,” Asgarov said.
Sharifov won the gold medal in men’s 84-kilogram freestyle by beating Jaime Yusept Espinal of Puerto Rico 6-1, 2-0 Saturday.
Sharifov, the defending world champion, beat American Jake Herbert in a quarterfinal that led to a post-match dispute between U.S. coach Zeke Jones and officials. He shook it all off and picked up wins over three-time Asian champion Ehsan Naser Lashgari in the semifinals and Espinal in the final.
Espinal delivered just the second silver medal in Puerto Rico’s Olympic history — and the first medal of any kind by a Puerto Rican wrestler.
What started as a banner day for the Americans quickly dissolved in a mess of defeats and disputes.
Scott’s victory in his bronze medal match helped alleviate some of those bad feelings.
The U.S., perhaps feeding off the momentum of Jordan Burroughs winning gold Friday night, started 5-0 on Saturday, with heavyweight Tervel Dlagnev taking down defending world champion Aleksei Shemarov of Belarus in the quarterfinals. Dlagnev looked sharp and appeared ready to take down Taymazov, but the Uzbek pinned him after 1:50 in the first period.
Dlagnev later lost the bronze medal match when Iran’s Komeil Ghasemi pushed him out of the circle with just nine seconds left.
Scott made a surprise run to the semis before being drubbed by Asgarov.
Herbert’s first loss had U.S. wrestling coach Zeke Jones going after officials. Jones was given a yellow card as a warning after a challenge by the U.S. resulted in Sharifov being awarded the victory in the second period.
The Americans believed Herbert should have scored three points because he stopped Sharifov and then threw him. Jones said the referees ruled in favor of Sharifov, the defending world champion, while a separate jury ruled it in favor of Herbert.
”I can beat one guy on the mat but not one guy and three officials,” Herbert said.
Herbert later lost in his consolation round opener, but Scott came back in his bronze-medal matchup with a brilliant late third-period takedown.
Scott, a native of Waynesburg, Pa., had to win the Olympic Team Trials and beat Reece Humphrey and Shawn Bunch just to make the team.
Scott is the unlikeliest medal winner yet for the Americans. His bronze also meant that the U.S. wrestlers wouldn’t come home with just one medal, the way they did in Beijing.
”It wasn’t the medal I wanted, but I couldn’t leave with nothing. I would not be denied a medal,” Scott said.