International wrestling returns at 'Individual World Cup' in Belgrade

This competition replaces the 2020 World Championships, but will still take place in the Serbian capital from 12-18 December.

By Olympic Channel ·

It wasn’t the event we originally expected, but wrestling will finally return this week at the Individual World Cup in Belgrade, Serbia.

The 2020 World Championships were initially scheduled for those dates, but the non-participation of several top nations due to coronavirus concerns meant that the event was reborn as an individual World Cup competition in the same location.

Fans will be able to enjoy all three categories of senior wrestling: freestyle, Greco-Roman and women’s.

"We want to see our athletes compete again on the mat," said United World Wrestling President Nenad Lalović. "It’s important to our organisation and we are committed to providing them an opportunity.”

Here, we take in the key talking points ahead of the tournament, including which top names to look out for in the Serbian capital.

1) Erica Wiebe returns to the mat

Rio 2016 Olympic champion Wiebe has not competed since March, when she earned her Olympic place at the Pan-American qualifying event in Ottawa.

"It's been really crazy because in my 10 years on the Canadian national team, I've never not competed for this long," said the 31-year-old.

The 75kg grappler has highlighted her desire to retain her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020, and sees the World Cup as an important step towards making that goal a reality.

"This competition will be a huge step in my Olympic preparations by providing an opportunity to gain experience competing in these new, uncertain circumstances," she continued.

"I’m hungry to compete and build towards my Tokyo performance goals.”

Olympic Channel recently spoke to Wiebe as part of the series What Moves Me to find out about the stigmas she has overcome in her career, and you can view that interview here.

Erica Wiebe in Rio 2016

Erica Wiebe (CAN) won gold in the wrestling women's 75kg event in Rio 2016

2) Missing nations

Switching the World Championships to an individual World Cup theoretically gave athletes the opportunity to compete, even if their nation’s federation decided not to travel.

Wiebe is an example of one such competitor.

However, there will be no wrestlers from the USA, Japan, Georgia, Kazakhstan or Cuba, either due to COVID-19 outbreaks in those countries or fears of contracting the virus.

USA Wrestling made its decision in October before the World Championships were shelved in favour of this new competition.

Its president and double Olympic gold medallist Bruce Baumgartner said, "It's USA Wrestling's responsibility to make sure we provide a safe atmosphere for our athletes. And if we are not willing to send them as an organisation, I don't think it would be prudent for us to send them individually."

3) Star-studded Russia

Watch out for the Russian Greco-Roman athletes in Belgrade, who will boast plenty of champions among their number.

Leading the pack are Olympic gold medallists Roman Vlasov (75kg) and Davit Chakvetadze (87kg).

Elsewhere, 2018 world champions Sergey Semenov (130kg), Stepan Maryanyan (63kg) and Musa Evloev (who is also the reigning world champion 97kg) will be looking to lay down a statement of intent.

Also keep an eye out for European Championships silver medallist Nazir Abdulaev in the 67kg division.

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4) India sending 24 athletes

India sees the World Cup as a prime opportunity to provide international experience to their young team.

The Asian nation will send 24 wrestlers to Serbia including Tokyo 2020 qualifiers Ravi Kumar and Deepak Punia, as well as Narisingh Yadav and Rio 2016 bronze medallist Sakshi Malik.

Missing from their entourage will be Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, both of whom have also qualified their weights at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Bajrang, fresh from his marriage to 2018 Asian Championships bronze medallist Sangeeta Phogat, is training in Michigan and will compete at next week's FloWrestling’s 8-Man Challenge in Austin, Texas.

Two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar, who suffered a first-round elimination at the 2019 World Championships, will also be missing from the World Cup.

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5) Hassan Yazdani drops out

Freestyle Olympic champion at 74kg, and two-time world champion at 86kg Hassan Yazdani will not compete at the event.

The man known as ‘Fearless’ has pulled out alongside Asian champion at 86kg Kamran Ghasempour on "injury prevention" grounds, according to the Islamic Republic of Iran Wrestling Federation.

The duo will be replaced by Rahman Amouzad Khalili (57kg) and Amirmohammad Yazdani (65kg).