The Youngest/Oldest GR Gold Medalists in Olympic History

By Ikuo Higuchi

(This is the last of a three-part series that appeared on the Japan Wrestling Federation website. It was translated for UWW by Ken Marantz.)

A Style Dominated by Europeans
Compared with the United States and Asia, where most wrestlers start the sport in freestyle, many in Europe start out in the sport as youth in Greco-Roman style. This can account for the fact that out of 196 gold medals awarded at the Olympics so far, 168 have gone to Europeans (170 if wrestlers from current Asian countries who competed for the Soviet Union are included). 

Even so, it took more than a century of Olympics before a teenager would bring home a gold. Islambek ALBIEV (RUS) broke through the barrier at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where he won the 60kg gold at 19 years 7 months 15 days. A world junior champion in 2006, Albiev added to his stature when he triumphed at both the European and World Championships the year after Beijing.

Albiev remains the lone teenager to win a Greco gold heading into the Tokyo Olympics, although such a feat might have more to do with timing than skill, given that the Olympics come only once every four years. A wrestler who is 16 or 17 in an Olympic year will likely never get a legitimate shot at a gold as a teenager (not that it really matters in the end if one wins a gold at 19 or 20; it is just being mentioned here for historical purposes). 

Take the case of legendary Hamza YERLIKAYA (TUR), who was just 17 years 3 months 16 days when he won the 82kg title at the 1993 World Championships. But his triumph at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics came 1 month 18 days after he had celebrated his 20th birthday. Yerlikaya would add another Olympic title in 2000 and world title in 2005 before going on to become a member of Turkey's Parliament.

The 1987 World Championships in Clermand-Ferrand produced a teenaged Greco champ in Pedro Favier ROQUE (CUB), who won the 52kg gold at 18 years 8 months 26 days. He would have still been 19 at the Seoul Olympics the following year, but it was not to be. Cuba, following the lead of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, did not participate in the Games in the south of the peninsula.

Comparatively, freestyle has eight Olympic champions who were in their teens or 20, while Greco has just half that number with four. Perhaps this shows how Greco relies more on experience to master. 

It looking at the oldest gold medalists, the world and Japanese media heralded the crowning of a 40-year-old champion at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Anatoli ROSCHTSCHIN (URS) was 40 years 6 months 0 days when he won the over-100kg crown. But there had been an older champion before that, back in the days before mass media. At the 1920 Antwerp Olympics, Adolf LINDFORS (FIN) was 41 years 6 months 12 days when he triumphed in the over-84kg class. And he certainly earned his medal--he won all five of his matches by fall, with his second-round victory take 23 minutes 43 seconds and his win in the final lasting a whopping 47 minutes 38 seconds. (In that era, the time limit for a match was reportedly 50 minutes.)

As in freestyle, the majority of champions on the oldest-ever list are in the upper weight classes. Of the top 15, the lone lightweight champions (68kg or lower) came in the pre-World War II era. Since the end of the war, there have been only six gold medalists aged 30 or over in the lightweight divisions, most recently Davor STEFANEK (SRB), who was 30 years 11 months 4 days when he won the 66kg gold at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

By the way, Japan has had four Greco champions in Olympic history. The youngest was Masamitsu ICHIGUCHI (JPN), who was 24 years 9 months 7 years when he took the 57kg gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The oldest, 1984 Los Angeles Olympic 52kg champion Atsuji MIYAHARA (JPN), was 25 years 7 months 13 days on the day of his triumph.

Why am I bringing this up? If the upcoming Tokyo Olympics had been held as scheduled this summer, current world 60kg champion Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN) could have broken Ichiguchi's record as youngest-ever by winning the gold on Aug. 3, when he will be 24 years 7 months 16 days. But with the Games postponed for year, Fumita instead has a chance to become the oldest-ever. The final is tentatively slated for Aug. 2, 2021, when Fumita will be 25 years 7 months 15 days--just two days older than Miyahara.

Name                                                        Age                               Olympics                       Wt.    Date of birth
1. Islambek ALBIEV (RUS)                    19 years 7 months 15 days         2008 Beijing       60kg     1988/12/28

2. Hamza YERLIKAYA (TUR)             20 years 1 month 18 days         1996 Atlanta         82kg     1976/06/03

3. Suren NALBANDYAN (URS)           20 years 1 month 21 days         1976 Montreal       68kg     1956/06/03

4. Shazam SAFIN (URS)                       20 years 3 months 20 days      1952 Helsinki         67kg     1932/04/07

5. Alexandre KARELINE (URS)          21 years 0 months 2 days           1988 Seoul           130kg     1967/09/19

6. Varteres SAMURGASHEV (RUS)   21 years 0 months 13 days         2000 Sydney          63kg     1979/09/13

7. Boris GUREVICH (URS)                    21 years 4 months 4 days       1952 Helsinki          52kg     1931/03/23

8. Ji-Hyun JUNG (KOR)                        21 years 5 months 0 days       2004 Athens            60kg     1983/03/26

9. Alexander KOLTSCHINSKI (URS) 21 years 5 months 4 days           1976 Montreal    +100kg   1955/02/20

10. Khassan BAROEV (RUS)                 21 years 8 months 24 days      2004 Athens          120kg     1982/12/01

11. Roman VLASOV (RUS)                    21 years 9 months 30 days      2012 London           74kg     1990/10/06

12. Jouko SALOMAEKI (FIN)              21 years 11 months 7 days         1984 Los Angeles   74kg     1962/08/26

13. Schamil CHISAMUTDINOW (URS)  21 years 11 months 21 days   1972 Munich           68kg     1950/09/20

14. Henri DEGLANE (FRA)                    22 years 0 months 18 days      1924 Paris              +82kg     1902/06/22

15. Vincenzo MAENZA (ITA)                 22 years 2 months 30 days      1984 Los Angeles      48kg     1962/05/02

Name                                                        Age                                       Olympics                        Wt.    Date of birth
1. Adolf LINDFORS (FIN)                   41 years 6 months 12 days          1920 Antwerp           +82kg     1879/02/08

2. Anatoli ROSCHTSCHIN (URS)      40 years 6 months 0 days            1972 Munich          +100kg     1932/03/10

3. Johannes KOTKAS (URS)               37 years  5 months 24 days          1952 Helsinki           +87kg     1915/02/03

4. Kaaro ANTTILA (FIN)                   36 years  10 months 10 days         1924 Paris                   62kg     1887/08/30

5. Carl WESTERGREN (SWE)           36 years  9 months 25 days          1932 Los Angeles      +87kg     1895/10/13

6. Claes JOHANSON (SWE)               35 years  9 months 16 days          1920 Antwerp           82.5kg     1884/11/04

7. Erik MALMBERG (SWE)                35 years  6 months 23 days          1932 Los Angeles        66kg     1897/01/15

8. Eemeli VAERE (FIN)                      34 years  10 months 23 days         1920 Antwerp          67.5kg     1885/09/28

9. Axel GROENBERG (SWE)             34 years  2 months 18 days           1952 Helsinki              79kg     1918/05/09

10. Mijain LOPEZ NUNEZ (CUB)     33 years  11 months 26 days          2016 Rio de Janeiro  130kg    1982/08/20

11. Ahmet KIRECCI (TUR)                33 years 9 months 10 days            1948 London              +87kg     1914/10/27

12. Ivar JOHANSSON (SWE)             33 years  6 months 9 days            1936 Berlin                    79kg     1903/01/31

13. Rudolf SVENSSON (SWE)            33 years  4 months 11 days           1932 Los Angeles          87kg     1899/03/27

14. Vaeinoe KOKKINEN (FIN)          32 years  8 months 13 days           1932 Los Angeles          79kg     1899/11/25

15. Valentin NIKOLAEV (URS)          32 years  8 months 0 days            1956 Melbourne            87kg     1924/04/06


The Youngest and Oldest Olympic Gold Medalists in Women’s Wrestling

By Ikuo Higuchi

(This is the second of a three-part series that appeared on the Japan Wrestling Federation website. It was translated for UWW by Ken Marantz.)

A Tale of Two Wangs, and a Japanese Legend
Since women's wrestling was added to the Olympic program at the 2004 Athens Games, there have been 18 gold medals awarded. There has been only one teenaged champion, and she emerged at that inaugural Olympics for women. WANG Xu (CHN) was 18 years 10 months 27 days when she captured the 72kg gold. 

At those same Olympics, Kaori ICHO (JPN) won the first of her unprecedented four golds with a victory at 63kg at 20 years 2 months 10 days, which is still second on the all-time list. Another Wang--WANG Jiao (CHN)--kept the 72kg title in Chinese hands when she took the gold four years later at the Beijing Olympics. Through four Olympics, the two Wangs and Icho are the only champions under the age of 21.

The Wangs shared something else in common--neither one won a World Championship title either before or after their Olympic triumph. Xu finished second in 2002 and third in the year before the Athens Games, while Jiao came up empty-handed in three trips to the World Championships prior to winning in Beijing. That triumph before a home crowd transformed her into a national star. As much as her exploits on the mat, she endeared herself to fans at the post-match press conference, where she surprisingly felt the need to first introduce herself. 

The first 30-something champion came at the 2012 London Olympics, where Hitomi OBARA (JPN) capped a career that included eight world championships by taking the Olympic gold at 48kg at 31 years 7 months 4 days. That record, however, lasted only until the next Olympics, where Icho captured her fourth and final gold with a victory at 58kg at 32 years 2 months 4 days. That naturally makes Icho the Japan record-holder for both youngest and oldest.

It may be a longshot, but Icho's record as oldest could fall to world silver medalist Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN), who will be close to 34 at next year's Tokyo Olympics. In fact, she could have broken the mark even if the Tokyo Games had gone on as scheduled this summer. 

Another wrestler, however, has emerged as a possible record-beater. Coming off her triumph at 50kg at last year's World Championships, Mariya STADNIK (AZE) will certainly be among the favorites for the gold in Tokyo, where she will be 33. As mentioned previously in the men's freestyle, there is an extra burden for the lighter wrestlers now that there are weigh-ins in the morning of the competition on multiple days. How Stadnik, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, can handle that could determine her fortunes in her fourth career Olympics. 


 Name                                                        Age                               Olympics                 Wt.    Date of birth 

1. Xu WANG (CHN)                    18 years 10 months 27 days        2004 Athens           72kg     1985/09/27

2. Kaori ICHO (JPN)                   20 years 2 months 10 days          2004 Athens           63kg    1984/06/13

3. Jiao WANG (CHN)                  20 years 7 months 13 days          2008 Beijing            72kg     1988/01/04

4. Natalya VOROBIEVA (RUS)  21 years 2 months 13 days          2012 London            72kg     1991/05/27

5. Risako KAWAI (JPN)              21 years 8 months 28  days         2016 Rio de Janeiro  63kg  1994/11/21

6. Sara DOSHO (JPN)                 21 years 10 months 0 days          2016 Rio de Janeiro  69kg  1994/10/17

7. Saori YOSHIDA (JPN)            21 years 10 months 18  days        2004 Athens             55kg  1982/10/05

8. Irina MELNIK-MERLENI (UKR)  22 years 6 months 15 days       2004 Athens             48kg   1982/02/08

9. Eri TOSAKA (JPN)                   22 years 11 months 18 days        2016 Rio de Janeiro  48kg  1993/08/30

10. Kaori ICHO (JPN)                  24 years 2 months 4 days           2008 Beijing               63kg    1984/06/13

11. Helen MAROULIS (USA)       24 years 10 months 30 days       2016 Rio de Janeiro  53kg  1991/09/19

12. Erica WIEBE (CAN)               25 years 2 months 5 days           2016 Rio de Janeiro   75kg  1989/06/13

13. Saori YOSHIDA (JPN)            25 years 10 months 11  days      2008 Beijing              55kg  1982/10/05

14. Carol HUYNH (CAN)             27 years 9 months 0 days           2008 Beijing              48 kg  1980/11/16

15. Kaori ICHO (JPN)                  28 years 1 month 26 days           2012 London              63kg    1984/06/13

16. Saori YOSHIDA (JPN)            29 years 10 months 4  days       2012 London              55kg  1982/10/05

17. Hitomi OBARA (JPN)             31 years 7 months 4 days           2012 London              48kg   1981/01/04

18. Kaori ICHO (JPN)                  32 years 2 months 4 days          2016 Rio de Janeiro   58kg    1984/06/13