Revazi Mindorashvili of Georgia beat the Russian gold medal favorite in an emotional semifinal match Thursday, then rallied in the final to win the Olympic freestyle wrestling 84-kilogram championship.
Beating a Russian, especially the reigning world champion and gold-medal favorite, was guaranteed to be an emotional and exhilarating experience for any athlete from Georgia.
Mindorashvili, the 2005 world champion, made certain that a match he badly wanted to win _ and did _ against Russia's favored Georgy Ketoev did not take the edge off the most important six minutes of his life later in the day.
His win over Russia no doubt carries an even greater cachet in his homeland, where Russian troops fought his countrymen over two breakaway provinces.
"We are athletes, not politicians," Mindorashvili said. "Our job is to fight hard _ but (on the mat)."
The 32-year-old Mindorashvili won the final two periods 3-0 and 4-0 against Yusup Abdusalomov of Tajikistan for his first world-level championship since winning the 2005 world title.
Following the medals ceremony, Abdusalomov fainted in the mixed zone where reporters conduct brief post-match interviews. He tried several times to get up but couldn't _ possibly dehydrated _ but shakily rose to his feet after being taken to a nearby press conference room, according to bystanders. He did not attend the medalists' news conference.
Those who watched him leave said Addusalmov looked better than before he passed out and, according to trainers, his heartbeat was getting back to normal.
"Everything happens when you have this kind of match in the Olympic final," Mindorashvili said. "I hope he will be well and healthy and there are no problems."
Several hours before, Mindorashvili reversed an European championships loss in April to Ketoev of Russia with a 4-2, 7-3 decision, nearly causing him to break into a middle-of-the-match dance.
The disappointed Russian wouldn't shake his hand as Mindorashvili proudly jabbed a finger against his chest, though the two smiled at each other during the medal ceremony after Taras Danko of Ukraine and Ketoev took the bronzes.
While Mindorashvili is concerned with his homeland, he insisted he did not take the Georgia vs. Russia conflict to the mat. Georgia once considered pulling its Olympic team out of Beijing.
"We are all very nervous here, of course, and it was difficult at times to concentrate," Mindorashvili said. "I hope there will be peace. We are all sportsmen here and we do not deal with politics."
Despite the hostilities between the two countries, with Russian troops swarming through Georgia several weeks ago, all the Russian fans in the China Agriculture University gymnasium stood politely during the Georgian national anthem. Also standing were members of Russia's wrestling federation.
Without Ketoev, the finals featured two wrestlers who have long been contenders in major tournaments but had never reached this far in an Olympics. In 2004, Abdusalomov was ninth and Mindorashvili was 13th in Athens.
Abdusalomov is 30, but his only previous high finish was a second in last year's world championships.
Andy Hrovat of the United States lost to Reineris Salas of Cuba 0-3, 3-1, 2-2 despite winning the first period of the opening-round match and was eliminated when Salas lost his next match. Only those who lose to finalists enter the bronze medal bracket.
Hrovat gave up the deciding points in the third period while ahead 2-0, thinking he led only 1-0 and needed to be aggressive to get more points.
"I didn't push the pace hard enough," said Hrovat, from Ann Arbor, Mich. "I took a shot, but I needed to take 2-3-4 hard shots."