Greco-Roman wrestling took on some Cuban flair on Monday, as Mijain Lopez won his third consecutive Olympic gold, equalling the record set by Russia’s legendary grappler Aleksandr Karelin.
Lopez celebrated by doing a salsa-infused, hip-shimmy dance in the middle of the mat, sending the strong Cuban fan base and an arena full of Brazilians into ecstasy.
“The dance just came natural to me,” Lopez said moments after his match. “Brazil is Brazil, and in Brazil you have to dance!”
Lopez took the gold in a dominating 6-0 win over reigning world champion Riza Kayaalp of Turkey to match Karelin’s feat – the Russian won golds at the 1988, 1992 and 1996 Games.
“I’m so proud of reaching the same level of the great Karelin, this is just a tremendous honour,” said Lopez, 33. “It’s so beautiful to equal that.”
Asked who could present a challenge to him now, Lopez said that “my only competition now is against (Karelin’s) legend.”
Lopez won golds at his 130kg category in Beijing and London. He has also won five world championships and three silver world medals, cementing his status as a sporting legend in Cuba.
At last year’s world championships in Las Vegas, Lopez lost to Kayaalp 1-0, and most thought Sunday’s bout would be equally tight.
But Lopez came out aggressively, and essentially won the match in the first 30 seconds after securing a chest-lock and flipping the Turkish wrestler on his back to earn a quick 4 points.
He added another step-out point in the scramble that followed the impressive throw, then earned a final penalty point in the second period as the frustrated Kayaalp slapped him.
In the only other category competing on Monday, Russia’s Davit Chakvetadze took the gold in the 85kg class.
He was losing 2-0 after the first period, but then put on a dominating display to win 9-2 over the current world champion Zhan Belenyuk of Ukraine.
“I pulled myself together, focused and finished the match,” Chakvetadze said. “I switched myself on. Russia and me needed the victory.”