Wrestlers to carry Australia’s hopes in reborn sport

Published 17 February 2016 (AEDT)

Farzad Tarash at the London 2012 Olympic Games © 2012 Getty Images

WRESTLING: In just under three weeks Australian wrestlers will take the next step in what is one of the most challenging Olympic qualification journeys of any sport.

But as Wrestling Australia’s High Performance Manager, Alan Landy, points out, his sport is no stranger to challenging situations.

“In many ways we were at a crossroads,” Landy said.

“But the entire sport has had to undergo self examination, and I’d like to think we’ve emerged from the other side in a much stronger position.”

His confidence will be put to the test in coming months, starting with the Australian Nationals and Olympic selection trials in Melbourne this weekend.

“I believe the group that comes together this weekend will be the strongest team of wrestlers this country has ever produced,” Landy said.

“I would hope we can qualify as many as four athletes for Rio this year, which would be a massive turnaround from London.”

They will need to be a strong group, because the road to Rio is very long for aspiring Australian wrestlers.

Triumph in Melbourne and they will book a ticket to the Oceania Championships and selection trials in March.

Succeed there and they earn the right to head to Algeria, where they’ll need to overcome the best in Africa to finally earn a Brazilian visa.

Australia’s best chances in this brutal qualifying process are three wrestling journeymen and a former top ranked European junior.

Talgat Ilyasov did all the hard work to qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics, but then an accident on the eve of the games robbed him of his Olympic debut.

Heartbroken, it’s taken him more than a decade to build up the confidence to try again, and Landy believes his form is as good as ever.

Sahit Prizreni wrestled for Albania at the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. The world championship bronze medallist was so highly thought of in his own country that he carried the team flag into the Olympic Opening Ceremony in Beijing.

But now Prizreni, who turns 33 this month, has qualified to wrestle for Australia, and is one of the athletes Landy believes can go all the way to Athens.

Ivan Popov won gold for Australia in the Greco Roman division of the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but after failing to qualify for the London Olympics, took time away from the sport.

Like Ilyasov, Popov is now back and determined to make up for lost time.

The fourth wrestler to watch in Melbourne will be German-born Pia Rosenkrantz, a former European junior medalist who now calls Perth home.

The 27-year-old dabbled in mixed martial arts for a while, but Landy said she is now fully committed to qualifying for Rio.

There are several others, like Victoria’s Connor Evans, who will be in the Olympic mix, but as Landy has learned in recent years, no-one in wrestling should ever take anything for granted.

Ross Solly for Wrestling Australia (modified) 

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