Baku, June 22, AZERTAC
All their rivals said beforehand that Russia would have the strongest team in Sambo and they were proved right as 50 bouts went by before a Russian athlete ended on the losing side.
Azerbaijan and Belarus also enjoyed plenty of success in the first session, while competitors from Serbia, Ukraine and Bulgaria will also have a chance for gold in Monday evening’s finals.
Fifty of the first session’s 56 pre-repechage bouts went by before any of Russia’s eight competitors lost. Surprisingly, they then lost two more semi-finals and will have ‘only’ five finalists, three men and two women.
Azerbaijan have four finalists, three of whom must beat a Russian if they are to win gold. One of those three, the men’s heavyweight (+100kg) Vasif Safarbayov, will need the performance of a lifetime to take first place. He faces Artem Osipenko, the reigning world champion who won his semi-final in 17 seconds and looks almost unbeatable.
The home nation’s best prospect is their own world champion at -74kg, Amil Gasimov, who faces the Belarusian Stsiapan Papou.
There was an outstanding performance by Ivana Standric of Serbia, who comfortably won her -68kg semi-final against Russia’s Olga Zakhartsova. Standric, who will be 22 on Saturday, faces Volha Namazava, one of four finalists from Belarus.
Only one of those four faces a Russian tonight and Belarus will have high hopes of gold, most notably through Tatsiana Matsko in the -64kg class.
The most distraught semi-final loser was Romania’s Daniela Hondriu, who questioned a refereeing decision and left the mat in tears after being beaten by Bulgaria's Kalina Stefanova.
The finals begin at 19:00, at the Heydar Aliyev Arena.