Wrestling powerhouse Russia is looking forward to tightening its headlock in the forthcoming Beijing Olympics starting August 8.
Russia’s male wrestlers are a dominant force in the world's oldest competitive sport. They won five golds in Athens and seven titles at the 2007 World Wrestling Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, including a near-sweep in the freestyle events.
Gatsalov, the freestyle 96kg champion in Athens, booked his ticket to Beijing by stamping his class at the Baku World Championships. Fellow Russian freestyle wrestler Batirov, who won the 55kg Olympic gold in 2004, also clinched the 60kg title in Baku and that helped him qualify for Beijing. Athens gold medallist Michine is the only Russian Greco-Roman world champion and Khasan Baroev will defend his 120kg title of the 2004 Olympics.
Wrestlers from 41 countries and regions qualified in the classical Greco-Roman event, in which only hands and upper bodies can be used to attack and defend. Hamid Soryan, Iran's 55kg world champion, the Georgian world champions David Bedinadze (60kg) and Ramaz Nozadze (96kg), as well as wrestlers from Hungary, South Korea and the US, will fancy their chances to challenge the powerful Russians in Greco-Roman wrestling.
Farid Mansurov of Azerbaijan, gold winner of 66kg in both Athens and Baku, is expected to be the other star Greco-Roman wrestler in Beijing.
Forty-three countries and regions will contest for the seven golds in freestyle, where players can use their legs for pushing, lifting and tripping as well as holding their opponents below the waist.
Russia topped the medal count in Athens with five golds, two silvers and three bronzes. Buvaisar Saitiev of freestyle 74kg with Batirov and Gatsalov combined in three golds. But Saitiev has been replaced by 2007 world champion Mahach Murtazaliev. Besik Kudukhov of 55kg, Georgy Ketoev of 84kg and Bilyal Makhov of 120kg all triumphed in Baku.