With eight days remaining to the World Wrestling Championship in Kazakhstan's Nur-Sultan, Turkish wrestlers appear ready to bring back the glory days to their country. The best of freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers will compete for medals in the championship that will run through Sept. 14-22. The Turkish team, which collected only one silver and one bronze medal in last year's championship, trained hard to increase the number of medals, which will ultimately help them qualify for next year's Olympics.
The championship will be the first qualification event for wrestlers for Tokyo 2020. The top six wrestlers in each Olympic weight category in the event will earn a qualification spot for their countries. The other qualification spots will be earned at continental events and in a playoff style qualifier. Apart from qualification, the event in Nur-Sultan will also be the first time a full season of ranking series events will determine the top four seeds in each weight category. "With the new system our top wrestlers will now meet more often in the finals and semifinals, adding to the competitiveness and promotion of the event," said Jean-Daniel Rey, director of Sport for United World Wrestling. Greco-Roman will kick off the world championships on Sept. 14, followed by women's wrestling and concluding with men's freestyle.
The Turkish national team will compete in 10 categories. Olympic champion Taha Akgül who lost to Iran's Parviz Khodavirdi Hadibasmanj in the quarterfinals of the world championships last year, still laments a bad 2018, "the only time in nine years I did not win a medal."
Yet, he brushes off the failure as part of sports. "Certainly, you cannot win every year. It is also possible that I will return from this year's tournament empty-handed. I worked hard and it was probably one of the best training periods in my career but a defeat is not impossible. I can face better rivals. I am always cautious no matter how strong or weak my rivals are. I never play down their strength and this is what I am doing now," he told Demirören News Agency (DHA). The 29-year-old Akgül is the oldest of the team where nine younger wrestlers compete in 10 weight categories. "I hope they will be as successful as I was," he said.
Akgül said he spent almost one month in training in the capital Ankara. "I never left the training camp, never skipped it even for one day. I think this will pay off well for me in the end in the championship. I had good sparring partners and this contributed to my success in other events. It has been a long process to the world championship but I think it will be good for me [in Nur-Sultan]," he said. Though he explained that he does not distinguish between his rivals, he added that last year's winner Geno Petriashvili of Georgia remains "formidable" for him.
"We will compete in different groups but we may compete in the finals if we can reach it," he noted.
Fatih Erdin, who won silver in the 86 kilo category in the last world championship, said their main goal would keep the team intact on the road to Tokyo.
"We want this lineup to compete together in Tokyo 2020," Erdin said. Süleyman Atlı, who won bronze in the 67 kilo category last year, said they had been through a fruitful training session. "This is a critical event for us because the top six will have a direct quota for Olympics. But we are well prepared," he added.
Soner Demirtaş, a three-time European champion, is optimistic for a title in the championship although he draws a gloomy outlook for Turkish wrestling. "We have 29 Olympic champions but unfortunately, wrestling does not get the interest it deserves," Demirtaş told Anadolu Agency (AA).
He said many wrestling clubs suffer financially and have trouble in paying salaries. "Some are being closed and others downsize. We have players who will compete in the world championship though they were not paid for months," he pointed out. Still, it is not an obstacle for them to win, he underlined. "Once you are on the mat, you don't think about anything else other than having the Turkish flag on the podium," he said.
Demirtaş, who is also a former bronze medal winner in the world championship, took a break from sports after his marriage and said that the Nur-Sultan event will be challenging. The freestyle wrestler said the 70 kilo category is the "toughest" category. "It is more challenging as it is an Olympic category unlike the weights heavier and lighter than it. You either have to put on weight or lose it," he said.