Baku, June 23, AZERTAC
Russia and Belarus proved themselves to be the dominant forces in Sambo, as they won seven of the eight golds on offer and filled the top two places in the medals table, way ahead of every other country. The other gold medal went to Serbia's Ivana Jandric.
Before competition started, Belarusian sambist Andrei Kazusionak said, "Russia rate this event even higher than the world championships and have chosen all their top-ranked athletes. They will have a formidable team." Unfortunately for him, he was right.
Had he won his -90kg final it would have put Belarus level with Russia - for a while - on three golds apiece. But he lost to three-time world champion Alsim Chernoskulov, and the Russians eventually finished with a 100% record, winning all five gold-medal matches and all three bronze-medal contests in which their athletes competed.
Belarus were second best with two golds, two silvers and three bronzes. Azerbaijan had a disappointing evening, losing seven out of seven medal matches.
The odd one out was Jandric. She had lost to her opponent in the -68kg final, Volha Namazava, recently and gained revenge, winning 2-1 on points. "Number one is the lucky number for me right now," said Jandric, who will be 22 on Saturday. "Everything is so emotional for me."
Russia even won a gold with a third-choice sambist. Yana Kostenko lost in the national championships in March to Svetlana Burtseva, who was the original selection for Baku 2015. Burtseva got injured, the second-ranked competitor was unavailable so, at three days' notice, Kostenko was told she was in the team.
After defeating Kalina Stefanova of Bulgaria, Kostenko, a world champion in 2012 and 2013, said, "I felt bad for a couple of weeks after losing, but I was given this chance and I took it. I'm thrilled."
Azerbaijan's great hope of the evening, world champion Amil Gasimov, was beaten in the -74kg final and taken from the arena in a wheelchair. He injured his right Achilles in a fierce hold by the winner, Belarusian Stsiapan Papou, who carried Gasimov off the mat in a gesture that earned warm applause from a crowd of nearly 5,000.
"I did it because I have had the same injury and I know how much it hurts," said Papou. He also helped Gasimov, who soon recovered, on and off stage for the medal ceremony too.
The night's finals:
Russia' Anna Kharitonova, the 2013 world champion, and silver medallist in last year's world championship in Narita, Japan, won comfortably against the host nation's Nazakat Khalilova.
Yana Kostenko of Russia, world champion in 2012 and 2013, won easily against Bulgaria's Kalina Stefanova. The 2011 world champion, Katsiaryna Prakapenka of Belarus, was also on the podium with a bronze. The other bronze went to Romania's Daniela Hondiu, who had been in tears after her semi-final defeat by Stefanova.
Tatsiana Matsko of Belarus won 2-1 on points against Ukraine's Olena Sayko, a bronze medallist at last year's World Championship.
Jandric beat Namazava of Belarus and now looks forward to a gold-medal repeat at the world championships later this year.
Aymergen Atkunov of Russia took gold when Azerbaijan's Islam Gasumov was caught in an arm lock and tapped out.
The home crowd was silenced when Amil Gasimov, the world champion from Ganja, was well beaten by Papou, who had Gasimov crying out in agony with a leg hold.
Russia's Chernoskulov had to work hard to see off Belarusian Kazusionak. There was another defeat for Azerbaijan in the bronze medal matches when Kanan Gasimov lost to Georgia's Davit Karbelashvili, and Lithuania's Radvilas Matukas beat Ashot Danielyan of Armenia.
Russian Artem Osipenko, the double world champion who won his semi-final in 17 seconds, eased home against Azerbaijan's Vasif Safarbayov.