Spencer Lee one step closer to Olympic dream

By Vinay Siwach

ISTANBUL, Turkiye (May 3) -- The world will finally see the return of Spencer LEE (USA) on a big stage. The one-time phenom is coming to Istanbul in a bid to qualify the United States for the Paris Olympics at 57kg.

Lee is a former U17 and U20 world champion and was primed to be the next superstar from the U.S. However, he could never get going at the international stage and only participated in an international tournament in 2024, eight years after his U20 world title. At the Pan-Am Championships this year, Lee won the gold medal at 57kg.

Despite his three NCAA titles and a college record a few can dream of, Lee hasn't returned to the international scene partly due to injuries and partly due to his college commitments. After two surgeries, battles with health, a heartbreaking loss in NCAAs, a long return and wins over former Iowa teammate Thomas GILMAN (USA) at the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Lee is finally here.

"I’ve had such a tough time trying to stay healthy and trying to compete to the best of my ability,” Lee said after winning the trials. "I’m still not healthy but I’m healthy enough to wrestle hard against really, really good opponent.”

That's what he will have to do in Istanbul. In the 57kg bracket, Lee will be unseeded and can be drawn against any of the big names in the first round. Tokyo Olympian Georgi VANGELOV (BUL), former U23 world champion AMAN (IND), world silver medalist Alireza SARLAK (IRI) and local star Muhammet KARAVUS (TUR) are a few names he will have to keep an eye on.

The field also includes world bronze medalists Zanabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) and Horst LEHR (GER) along with former European champion Vladimir EGOROV (MGL), Asian Games silver medalist Chong Song HAN (PRK) and Andrii YATSENKO (UKR).

If his opponents need a form check, Lee won four bouts at the trials, outscoring his opponents 35-11 with wins over Tokyo bronze medalist Gilman and Zane RICHARDS (USA). And his attacks are solid as ever as Gilman found out in the best-of-three series.

Three wrestlers in each Olympic weight class will receive Paris 2024 quotas in Istanbul, two being the winners of the semifinals and the third will be decided with a playoff between the two bronze medal winners. Lee would hope to secure it as the winner of the semifinal and avoid going, if fortunate, through repechage.

Apart from qualifying the U.S. in Istanbul, there is extra motivation for Lee to win in Istanbul. Lee's mother, Carry, is from France where she met Lee's father, Larry, both judokas. And, he can become the first Olympic champion for the U.S. in the lowest weight class since 2008.

Lee is aware that the road to Paris is still 'long and hard'. But the 25-year-old is ready.

"I have work to do."


Valiev gets 74kg Paris 2024 spot; USA completes Olympic line-up

By United World Wrestling Press

ISTANBUL, Turkiye (May 12) -- A day after he was dealt with a heartbreaking loss, Cherman VALIEV (ALB) pulled off a stunning last-second win over Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR) to qualify for the Paris Olympics.

At the World Olympic Qualifier, the last chance to qualify for the Paris Olympics, Valiev lost to Viktor RASSADIN (TJK) in the 74kg semifinal on Saturday after he was docked for a singlet-pull. But 24 hours later, Valiev turned it around. Trailing 2-1 in the Olympic playoff between the two bronze medal winners, Valiev got a par terre position over Demirtas and turned him for two points with just a second left.

Demirtas challenged, asking for a block and two points as he stopped Valiev mid-turn, but blocking was not confirmed on review, giving Valiev another point for a lost challenge and a 4-2 win.

Apart from Valiev's dramatic win to earn Albania's third Freestyle quota for Paris, 70kg world champion Zain RETHERFORD (USA) won the 65kg spot for the United States to complete the line-up for Paris with all six spots. Spencer LEE (USA) won the 57kg spot on Saturday.

China earned two spots for Paris while Georgia and Hungary won a spot each. China won the spots at 57kg and 97kg, Georgia 86kg and Hungary will be represented in 125kg.

Retherford, who lost to Tulga TUMUR OCHIR (MGL) at 65kg, wrestled four bouts on Sunday with his bronze-medal bout against SUJEET (IND) being the closest. Sujeet scored a counter takedown in the first period and tried holding on to that lead in the second. But as he was pushing Retherford towards the zone, the American circled back and took Sujeet down and take a 2-2 lead which he held till the end.

In the Olympic playoff, Retherford got the better of Niurgun SKRIABIN (AIN), 7-0, and earned a sixth Paris 2024 spot for the U.S. Since Retherford won the trials before coming to Istanbul, he will be now going to Paris.

Wanhao ZOU (CHN) and Awusayiman HABILA (CHN) earned the two quotas for China. Zou was up against  Andrii YATSENKO (UKR) and had little trouble beating Yatsenko in the playoff.

Habila wrestled 38-year-old Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB) in the playoff at 125kg and came out on top 2-1. Ibragimov got a 1-0 lead after Habila was out on the activity clock but he failed to score. Ibragimov was put on the clock in the second period but he also failed to score giving Habila a 1-1 criteria lead. Ibragimov made a few attempts in the final seconds but failed to get any points.

Ibragimov challenged asking for fleeing but it was not confirmed on review. The Rio bronze medalist later left his shoes on the mat, symbolizing his retirement from the sport.

Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO), who lost after giving up a late takedown, left nothing to luck on Sunday and defeated Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 8-2, giving Georgia its fourth qualification in Freestyle.

Hungary got its second Paris 2024 spot after Daniel LIGETI (HUN) pinned Jose DIAZ (VEN) in the playoff after building a 5-0 lead.

Paris 2024 Qualification Results

Wanhao ZOU (CHN) df. Andrii YATSENKO (UKR), 5-1

Zain RETHERFORD (USA) df. Niurgun SKRIABIN (AIN), 7-0

Chermen VALIEV (ALB) df. Soner DEMIRTAS (TUR), 4-2

Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO) df. Vasyl MYKHAILOV (UKR), 8-2

Awusayiman HABILA (CHN) df. Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB), 2-1

Daniel LIGETI (HUN) df. Jose DIAZ (VEN), via fall...