RIO DE JANEIRO - 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.