By Yuri Karpenko
The World Cup is second only to the World Championship and was hosted by Minsk for the first time. Squads from ten countries competed in two groups, with wrestlers chosen from the results of the recent world championships. The host team was faced with the unenviable situation of battling Iran, Turkey, Cuba and South Korea — all strong contenders. The second group comprised Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Armenia and Bulgaria, looking far less formidable.
Before the tournament, Belarus’ national team head coach, Gennady Sapunov, complained that only 2-3 wrestlers on his team could pose a threat to their rivals and sent his top men onto the mat. These included Mikhail Semenov and Timofey Deinichenko, who were still recovering from injury. It was not expected that they would claim medals but the Belarusians demonstrated strength of character and finished with a respectable result.
In the first match, Belarus opposed Turkey and managed to win after a very tough fight. Surprisingly, Cuba failed to bring its best line-up, leading to another victory for Belarus. The next opponent — Korea — had brought formidable Olympic champion Jung Ji-Hyun; however, one wrestler does not make a team. From the very beginning, our Iranian rivals showed their strength and only Alexander Kikinev was able to win a match. As a result of this defeat, Belarus fought for third place against another strong team — Azerbaijan. Dramatic confrontation led to Belarus losing 0:2 but we won 4:3 over all. The final fight between heavy-weights Iosif Chugoshvili and Anton Botev settled the winner. The World Cup went to the Iranian team, which defeated Russia 4:3.
The tournament in Minsk was attended by several notable sportsmen, including three-time Olympic Greco-Roman wrestling champion, the 20th century’s top wrestler, Russian Alexander Karelin. The famed athlete noted the high level of the event’s organisation, the full stands at Minsk’s Palace of Sports, and the top performances he witnessed on the floor.
President of the International Wrestling Federation Rafael Martinetti recalled 1968, when he performed at a European Championship held in Minsk. He noted that modern Minsk is almost unrecognisable from that time. Speaking of Belarus’ intention of one day hosting the World Championship, Martinetti commented that, for 2014, all the tournaments’ venues have already been chosen. Belarus, however, can apply to host the Junior World Championship in 2013; wrestlers from more than 100 countries are to take part.