Movies are written to mirror real life. The kid steps to the plate imagining he’s in game seven of the World Series and he’s about to hit a home run to win the game. Or maybe he is taking the ball up court, guarded by LeBron James and is about to sink a buzzer beater to win the NBA Championship. Or maybe he is down by three with 16 seconds left in the gold medal match of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and he needs two takedowns to become the youngest Olympic champion in freestyle wrestling history. If you haven’t caught on, I am talking about the historic win by Team USA’s Gable Steveson at the 2020 Olympic Games.
Going through the Games, Gable Steveson was relatively untouched. The first three rounds saw Stevenson give up no points with a 10-0 tech, an 8-0 win, and a 5-0 win to put him in the gold medal match against Georgia’s Geno Petriashvili.
The match between Steveson and Petriashvili was one of decision making. Everyone remembers Steveson’s buzzer beater go-behind. But the decisions by both the American and Georgian throughout the entire match played into the outcome of the match that saw Steveson take gold.
Neither Petrishvili nor Steveson did anything wrong in this match, honestly. Steveson allowed Petriashvili back in the game with a pair of turns off a takedown. But it was those turns, and the decision of Gable Steveson not to go for a turn earlier in the match, that saw Steveson end up on top. Let’s dive into how these decisions went down.
Breaking Down Gable Steveson vs. Geno Petriashvili
Early in the first half of the gold medal match, Gable Steveson is already on the board and looking to extend his lead. Here he snaps down Geno Petriashvili’s head down and to the left, getting Petriashvili off the center line and making an opening for the single for Steveson. As Steveson lifts the leg, Petriashvili does well to stay balanced. To get the trip and the points, Steveson pulls the corralled leg of Petriashvili up high, forcing Petriashvili to bring his other leg closer to Steveson. Once there, Steveson kicks the foot out from under him and secures the takedown.
This scramble is a perfect example of Gable Steveson’s athleticism. Petriashvili has the ankle of Steveson while Steveson keeps his whizzer only giving him two points of contact with the mat: his right hand and right leg. Instead of giving up the takedown, Steveson stays composed and when the time is right, explodes out and gets his leg free. Steveson then turns and comes across an over-committed Petriashvili. Steveson gets the body lock and goes for the slam. While he was only awarded a point for the step out, Steveson’s athleticism here really shines.
To Turn or Not To Turn?
The next clip has Steveson with another underhook in the second half of the match. He changes levels and shoots for the leg which he gets. Petriashvili sits down on the attempt and grabs the body to reverse Steveson to score two. But if you watch closely, mid air, Steveson grabs the leg of Petriashvili. While on the leg, Steveson spins around and attempts the go-behind. Petriashvili detects the danger and breaks his S-grip. This gives Steveson the opportunity to get all the way around and on the back of Petriashvili for the two. But what’s more interesting here is the decision by Steveson to not go for the turn and score extra points. While he is up 5-2 here, some would ask that he goes for extra points. But the attempt of a turn is exhausting and could very well let Petriashvili back into the match.
On the flip side, Geno Petrashvili is down on the scoreboard and needs major points to win the gold medal. He changes levels and gets a single leg to get Gable Steveson to the ground. Knowing where he’s at on the scoreboard, Petriashvili steps over and gets the turn on the gut wrench not once but twice. He goes for a third time but with no luck. Gable Steveson has just lost his lead in the span of 34 seconds.
Now we come to a crossroads. You have two wrestlers doing the same move at different points in the fight. Gable Steveson decided not to turn Petriashvili whereas Geno Petriashvili had to turn Steveson. Situational awareness is of the upmost importance in any sport. And in Steveson’s position when he had the opportunity for a turn, he opted to conserve his energy. Now, Petriashvili has the lead but he’s emptied his gas tank. Even though he did the right thing, Petriashvili going for the turn cost him the match. Maybe he should have rested on the first or second turns with a lead but he did not.
After the turn, Petriashvili shoots in for a takedown with 23 seconds on the clock to buy time. Steveson sprawls, keeping Petriashvili’s head controlled between his hips and with his hand to stop Petriashvili from advancing. But Steveson correctly puts together that Petriashvili is not going for points, instead, he’s stalling for time.
Another takedown attempt for Petriashvili doesn’t go unpunished by Steveson. He leaps over the outstretched hand of his Georgian foe and secures two points. He’s still down by one and the ref stops the match with 6.5 seconds left.
For Gable Steveson, it’s go time. He shoots before Petriashvili can and starts to hunt the takedown. Steveson is the more fresh wrestler here and that is how he gets the win. He is vigorously hunting the last two points to win him the match. His speed plus the exhaustion of Geno Petriashvili gives Steveson the opportunity to step around to the back. Petriashvili leans back on his butt a little too much. This gives Steveson the opportunity to get both legs around the arms of Petriashvili. Steveson slides in and gets the takedown. He shows the ref 2 points, and the time expires. Steveson is the champion.
The decision to go and not go for the gut wrench by both Gable Steveson and Geno Petriashvili were both wise and necessary. Steveson saved his energy and it paid massive dividends with the energy savings at the end of the match. For Petriashvili, he had to come from behind and get some points on the board. One could argue that the third turn was him being greedy and caused him to be tired, costing him the match. But if Petriashvili did secure the turn there, his lead would have been just enough to stop the last second onslaught from Steveson. Should you believe in freewill, or a predetermined destiny, everything that happened in this match had to happen for the way it happened so it could happen the way it did. When matches like Steveson-Petriashvili are so evenly matched, they go down to the wire like this. Many times, neither did much of anything wrong. But, it’s their decisions that influence the outcome regardless.