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Hamza: A great champion

HDN | 9/29/2000 12:00:00 AM |

Yerlikaya comes through a poor run of form, heavy psychological pressure and a cruel draw to become Turkey's first double wrestling winner since 1960 Michael Severn Ankara - Turkish Daily News When Hamza Yerlikaya claimed his Olympic gold medal in greco-roman wrestling's 85 kg. division, it was a considerable relief not only to him but to all Turkish followers of the sport. Since he came from behind to level the points late in the final bout against Hungarian Sandor Bardosi and won, after a scoreless

  • Yerlikaya comes through a poor run of form, heavy psychological pressure and a cruel draw to become Turkey's first double wrestling winner since 1960
  • Michael Severn

    Ankara - Turkish Daily News

    When Hamza Yerlikaya claimed his Olympic gold medal in greco-roman wrestling's 85 kg. division, it was a considerable relief not only to him but to all Turkish followers of the sport.

    Since he came from behind to level the points late in the final bout against Hungarian Sandor Bardosi and won, after a scoreless overtime period, only on a judges' decision, some will call Hamza lucky. Maybe so, but a look at the background indicates that he deserved his luck.

    When Hamza struck gold in Atlanta four years ago, he looked set to go on and dominate his weight division for many years to come. It did not happen. His form since then has been suspect. He has been troubled by a persistent back injury and has seldom been able to perform at his best. It seemed also for a time that every major decision at the big tournaments would inevitably go against him.

    This meant that when he arrived in Sydney, he was not the favorite for the title. The howls of outrage from Turkey after all his greco-roman team mates went out in the opening phase of the competition placed further psychological pressure on him. From then on, he was wrestling not only for himself but for the honor of the team, a matter he takes very seriously.

    The odds looked further stacked against Hamza when he was drawn in the same elimination group as his old rival Thomas Zander. The German took the silver medal in Atlanta and many wrestling pundits were tipping him to go one better this time. But Hamza rose to the occasion, beating Zander comprehensively to move on to the quarterfinals. There life did not get any easier. He was paired with the reigning world champion, Cuban Luis Enrique Mendez. Hamza beat Mendez 3-0 on points then repeated the score in the semi against Mukhran Vakhtangadze of Georgia. Vakhtangadze is not the world's greatest stylist but he is an awkward customer and very hard to beat. This was perhaps Hamza's best bout of the tournament.

    Then came the final. Bardosi had come through a much easier draw and was therefore in better physical condition than Hamza, but he eventually lost on a tactical mistake. A judges' decision is based on which wrestler has been the more active during the bout. In fact, in the overtime period, both were almost completely passive. The Hungarian's failure to attack played right into Hamza's hands since had initiated more of the action in regular time.

    The tense final may have been a disappointment, but looked at as a whole the tournament proved Hamza not only a worthy champion but a great one because he came good when it really mattered.

    He is the first Turk since the 1956 and 1960 Olympiads to win consecutive wrestling gold medals. In those years, Mustafa Dagistanli and Mithat Bayrak both did so. Hamza is only 25 years old. He should still be in his prime four years from now and if he can stay free of injuries we can confidently expect to see him back again in Athens bidding for the hat trick.

    m-severn@apexmail.com

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