Olympics / Summer Olympics / Wrestling

Higuchi battles to silver medal in 57-kg wrestling

KYODO

Rei Higuchi came inches from glory but had to settle for the silver medal after losing to reigning world champion Vladimer Khinchegashvili of Georgia in the men’s freestyle 57-kg final in his Olympic debut at the Rio Games on Friday.

The 20-year-old Higuchi put on a superb performance worthy of Japan’s 2015 national champion, but Khinchegashvili, the London Olympics silver medalist at 55 kg, would have the last word in a slim 4-3 victory.

“I think I was pretty evenly matched in the final and I could have won, so it’s disappointing that I wasn’t able to get the gold medal,” said Higuchi. “Unless I am first there’s really no meaning, but for getting second, I have to thank my coaches for helping me with my techniques so I could make a podium finish.”

The Osaka native scored the first point for a 1-0 lead in the first period and at the start of the second twisted his opponent’s legs to make it 3-0.

But Khinchegashvili rallied, executing a tackle himself for two points and scored an additional point to tie it 3-3 on Higuchi’s passivity near the end of the match at Carioca Arena in Rio de Janeiro’s Barra da Tijuca.

Higuchi’s side lost a judges’ challenge, giving the decisive point to the Georgian, after claiming Khinchegashvili had held the Japanese wrestler’s arm in a defensive posture.

“I have no regrets because I fought all the way through in my aggressive style,” said Higuchi. “I was able to go up against many world champions in this tournament and I knew the Olympics would be tough. In the end I wasn’t unable to break through Khinchegashvili’s strong defense, so that is what I have to work on in the future.”

In the semifinals, Higuchi defeated 2013 55-kg world champion Hassan Sabzali Rahimi of Iran 10-5 to set up the showdown with Khinchegashvili.

“This was the main goal for me and finally I achieved this title. Before I was the world champion, the European champion but this was the main goal. Last Olympics I won silver, so this is a fantastic result for me and I am very happy,” Khinchegashvili said.

The Georgian also praised the Japanese wrestler for being a tough competitor.

“He is a very strong guy and I am sure in the future he will win many other titles. It was no surprise that I met him in the final because he beat many top-level wrestlers here,” he said.

Earlier, Higuchi scored a technical fall over 2014 world champion Yang Kyong Il of North Korea, also a bronze medalist at the London Games at 55 kg, in his first match and walloped Asadulla Lachinau of Belarus 10-0 in the next.

Countryman Sosuke Takatani, who competed at the London Olympics, bowed out in the quarterfinals in the 74-kg class. Takatani won two early matches to reach the quarterfinals, but he was eliminated at the next step, falling 4-3 against Galymzhan Usserbayev of Kazakhstan.

Hassan Aliazam Yazdanicharati of Iran defeated Russia’s Aniuar Geduev to win the 74-kg gold.