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Four wrestlers ready to impress in Rio

12 April 2016

WRESTLING: The 2016 Australian Olympic Team will feature a strong contingent of both Freestyle and Greco-Roman wrestlers after four athletes were selected to the Team on Tuesday.

The selection marks huge growth in the Wrestling Section of the Australian Olympic Team, after only one athlete was selected to compete at the London 2012 Games.

Ivan Popov and Vinod Kumar will represent in the 130kg and 66kg Greco-Roman division respectively, while Sahit Prezreni and Talgat Ilyasov have earnt their selection in the 65kg and 74kg freestyle events.

Wrestling Australia’s President, John Saul said the group certainly exceeded expectations qualifying a total of four wrestlers at the recent African/Oceania Olympic qualifiers in Algiers, Algeria.

“These guys have put in so much hard work, they definitely deserve the rewards they’ve got,” said Saul.

“United World Wrestling made it very difficult terms of qualification.

“They have taken up the challenge and lived up to their dreams.”

While every athlete will be making their debut at the Games in the green and gold uniform, there is a mix of Olympic experience amongst the group.

The Rio Games will be Sahit Prizreni’s third Olympic appearance after he represented Albania in 2004 and 2008 and was even given the honour of carrying his former country’s flag at the Beijing Games.

“One of my greatest memories, was carrying the flag at the Opening Ceremony,” said the freestyle wrestler.

“I was Albanian and I’ll always be Albanian but right now I am an Australian and I’m looking to bring home a medal for this great country.”

Prizreni who won a bronze medal at the 2007 Wresting World Championships, says he is excited for the 2016 Olympics but that they will most likely be his last.

“I plan on these Games being my last games, but also my best Games.”

“I am motivated to do something good for wrestling and especially for wrestling in Australia and it needs more attention.

“I want to draw attention to the sport and raise its profile.”

The 33-year-old has been a dominant force on the Australian wrestling scene, securing back-to-back national titles in 2015 and 2016.

He says representing the green and gold will be a vote of thanks, after he moved to Australia and then became a citizen in 2014.

“It feels like pay back for the all of the support that Australia has given me.

“That’s the goal trying to get the medal that’s something that missing in my career and will great for Australia.”

Joining him in the freestyle division is Talgat Illaysov who qualified for the Athens 2004 Games for Australia.

The 35-year-old was labelled as Australia’s best hope of a wrestling medal in over 50 years, but before he was able to make his Olympic debut was forced to withdraw due to a spinal injury.

More than 10 years later after being told he would never wrestle again, Talgat has made a fantastic return to the sport and a huge 2015 season saw him claim numerous Australian and international titles.

Saul said Rio is Ilyasov’s chance for redemption.

“They are all hard workers but especially Talgat,” said Saul.

“He has a chance to make up for the Olympic Games he missed, and I know that he will do that exceptionally.”

In the Greco-Roman events, Russian-born Ivan Popov is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps who won an Olympic bronze medal.

“My family is so proud of me,” said the 33-year-old.

“We are a family of wrestlers and suddenly I am going to the Olympic Games!”

Popov made history in 2010 by claiming the first Commonwealth Games wrestling gold medal in 32 years for Australia when he won the 120kg Greco Roman division. Now he’s looking to impress at the Olympic Games.

“It is an incredible feeling, absolutely amazing to be selected on the Team,” said Popov.

“I feel healthy, strong and 100% ready to go!”

The 204cm giant won back-to-back Australian titles in 2015 and 2016 and looks to be a promising asset to the Team.

Joining Popov is Vinod Kumar who was only confirmed as an Australian citizen last year, after growing up in a small Indian village.

The Victorian moved to Australia in 2010 and he started training at the United Wrestling Club under former Wresting Australia Preident, Kuldip Bassi.

Over his Australian career, Kumar has claimed six time national championships and countless medals at the Australia Cup and Canberra Cup tournaments.

Competing at an Olympic Games will mark a new career highlight for Kumar.

“At this moment, I feel very proud to be representing Australia and feel very fortunate to be a part of the Olympic team,” said 33-year-old Kumar.

“I look forward to the training and competition in the lead up to the Olympic Games.”

It has been 68 years (London 1948) since Australia’s last wrestling medal when Jim Armstrong and Dick Garrard took home bronze and silver respectively.

Selected wrestling athletes on 12 April: 

Sahit Prizreni            Wrestling – Freestyle                 65kg               Kukës, Albanian                           Olympic Bio >>>

Talgat Ilyasov           Wrestling – Freestyle                74kg               Samarkand, Uzbekistan               Olympic Bio >>>

Ivan Popov               Wrestling – Greco-Roman            130kg          Omsk, Russia                               Olympic Bio >>>

Vinod Kumar             Wrestling – Greco-Roman          66kg              Sonepat, India                              Olympic Bio >>>

Australia now boasts a team of 92 athletes across nine sports who will all compete at the first South American Games which open in only 115 days. Read bios on all team members here>>>

Ashleigh Knight

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