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August 1, 2021

By Ece Toksabay

TOKYO (Reuters) – Cuban Mijain Lopez Nunez got off to flying start in his bid to become the first four-times Olympic champion in Greco-Roman wrestling on Sunday when he won his first two matches at the Tokyo Games without conceding a point.

Lopez Nunez, who won the super heavyweight title at the last three Olympics, brushed aside Romania’s Alin Alexuc Ciurariu 9-0 and Iran’s Amin Mirzazadeh 8-0 to reach the semi-finals at the Makuhari Messe Hall.

Japanese freestyler Kaori Icho, the first woman in any sport to win individual gold medals at four successive Olympics, is the only wrestler to have won four Olympic titles.

Nenad Lalovic, President of United World Wrestling (UWW), said that 38-year-old Lopez Nunez was on a path to become “the new superstar of wrestling”.

“If he gets the gold medal this week, he will be the first man to have ever achieved that,” Laloviv said on Sunday.

“We already have a woman who’s done it, so finally a man will equal a woman,” he added with a laugh.

“He’s not the youngest wrestler out there. But he’s in great form. You cannot see that often, winning in the heaviest category in that age. He’s just great.”

Turkey’s Riza Kayaalp, who lost to Lopez at the final in Rio, also won his first two bouts. The duo will face each other in the semi-final on Sunday.

The biggest surprise of the opening day came when Canada’s reigning freestyle heavyweight Olympic champion Erica Wiebe lost her opening match 5-4 to Estonia’s Epp Maee.

“Wiebe gives a lot of pressure. The only way to beat her was to get her pressure away from me, push her to the sides, and finding chances to attack,” Maee told Reuters on Sunday.

“I wasn’t worried about her Rio medal because every competition is a new competition. New match, new day, we are all here to win and I am happy I won today.”

Eighteen gold medals are up for grabs with nearly 300 wrestlers competing at the Makuhari Messe Hall.

Wrestling at the Games will feature two disciplines, freestyle and Greco-Roman. Men will compete in both disciplines while women will only participate in the freestyle events.

(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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