Women hit the mats in Athens
Posted: Tuesday August 3, 2004 11:14PM; Updated: Tuesday August 3, 2004 11:14PM
LONDON, Aug 4 (Reuters) -- Women hit the mats for the first time at the Olympics in the freestyle wrestling and American Rulon Gardner will return to attempt another "miracle" in the Greco-Roman competition.
The U.S. has won the most gold medals in the freestyle while the Greco-Roman style, where wrestlers can use only their arms and upper bodies to attack, is dominated by former Eastern bloc nations.
Georgia emerged as the surprise package ahead of the Athens Games after picking up the men's team titles in the world championships of both styles last year.
Freestyle heavyweight Eldari Kurtanidze, bronze medallist in Sydney, was the only Georgian champion at the worlds while Russia picked up three golds in the weights below.
Artur Taymazov of Uzbekistan won the super-heavyweight class after taking silver in Sydney.
In Greco-Roman, Bulgaria's Armen Nazarian won the featherweight world gold. He is the title favourite in Athens after winning the Sydney bantamweight title and the flyweight gold four years earlier when fighting for his native Armenia.
Gardner won the super-heavyweight title in 2000 by achieving what many considered impossible -- beating the great Russian champion Alexander Karelin in the so-called Miracle on the Mat.
Karelin, now retired, had been unbeaten for 13 years and had won Olympic golds at the previous three Games.
Gardner subsequently lost a toe to frostbite after a snowmobile accident and performed poorly at the 2003 world championships in France. He grabbed his last chance to qualify for Athens by winning the American trials in May.
Iraq will be sending a handful of wrestlers to the Games and Israel could claim the first Olympic gold in their history via Gocha Tsitsiashvili, who was born in Georgia.
In the women's competition Japan and the U.S. appear to have the best chances of picking up gold in the four weights being fought. Japan won five titles at the 2003 worlds while the American team took seven medals in all, including one gold.
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