A scorecard is needed to chart Egypt’s Abdelrahman Elsefy’s journey to the top of the podium in the lightweight division of the Sumo Wrestling on Saturday night at a packed Boutwell Auditorium.
Officially, Elsefy was declared the winner twice. He was declared the loser two times. There were also a pair of discussions by the six judges and a whole bunch of choice words thrown at the judges by one of Elsefy’s coaches.
All in all, it was excellent entertainment. And the best news that was just part of a spectacular afternoon and evening of Sumo action, in front of a sold-out crowd of approximately 3,500, as part of World Games 2022.
Elsefy, Ukraine’s Vazha Daiauri (middleweight) and Japan’s Hidetora Hanada (heavyweight) won gold medals in the men’s competition. Women’s winners were Japan’s Yuka Okutomi (lightweight) and Sakura Ishii (middleweight) and Ukraine’s Svitlana Yaromka (heavyweight).
Elsefy’s victory was easily the most chaotic moment of the day. The problem began in the semifinals when he drew a warning for being too emotional after beating Sviatoslov Semykyras.
It got worse quickly. Elesefy seemingly captured the gold medal with a win over Ukraine’s Demid Karachenko. It was an emotional, hard-fought match and Elsefy did a backflip in the middle of the ring, which is known as a Doyho. The ringside judges quickly jumped up and met to discuss Elsefy’s behavior. Karachenko was ultimately declared the winner.
The decision touched off a heated reaction by the Egyptian coaches and athletes. The most vocal and animated was Abdelrahman Shalan, who eventually was held back by police officers.
“What I did, the way I acted, was wrong,” said Shalan, who was known as Osunaarashi Kintaro when he became the first pro Sumo wrestler from the African continent.
What he said, though, was correct, according to Shalan.
“What I said was the decision wasn’t the right decision,” Shalan said.
The judges ultimately ruled to have the wrestlers compete against each other again. This time, both wrestlers went out of bounds together but the judges ruled that Elsefy’s foot landed first. The replay, however, clearly showed that Karachenko stepped out of bounds first. After seeing the replay, Karachenko looked toward the judges and indicated that they got the decision wrong. The decision was overturned and Elsefy finally got to celebrate his victory.
It was a successful day for the sport but was not a banner day for the United States team, in terms of wins and losses. It did, however, offer invaluable experience for a largely inexperienced group and a chance to win some new fans of the sport. A pair of U.S. wrestlers energized the crowd in the afternoon and evening.
Eros Armstrong, who wrestled in the women’s heavyweight division, was the lone U.S. wrestler to advance to the evening session. She had a pair of dominating wins in the first two rounds but lost her only two matches of the evening session.
Eros Armstrong loses in semifinals. pic.twitter.com/5TwYbRpIUs— Steve Irvine (@SteveIrvine04) July 10, 2022
Middleweight Jordan Karst had the first victory of the day for the U.S., drawing a raucous reaction from the crowd. For Karst, who has been Sumo wrestling for just seven months, it was an important step in his young career.
“There’s a lot left to learn, after seven months,” Karst said. “I am over the moon. I love Sumo so much.”
Karst has been a freestyle wrestler for more than 12 years and is the assistant coach for the Wrestling Club team at UNLV. He said a representative from the national Sumo organization reached out to him in need of an extra mat for a tournament they were holding in Las Vegas. They also offered the UNLV a chance to give Sumo a shot. Karst gave it a try and finished second in the tournament.
“When I came to Sumo, I’d never seen any of it, except for maybe like the stuff you see on TV or whatever,” Karst said. “Austin Powers 3 is a great example. I was like, ‘OK, well, we will give it a try. I don’t know.’”
From there, he’s grown into one of the top Sumo wrestlers in the country. He won the America middleweight championship, which qualified him to be in Birmingham for the World Games, about four months after his first Sumo experience.
“Honestly, I wish it was a lot bigger in America,” Karst said. “Hopefully, the work that these guys are doing, and myself, will pay off.”
Birmingham will get one more chance to see Sumo wrestling during the World Games. The competitors will compete Sunday with no weight divisions. Competition begins at 3:30 p.m. and the finals are expected to take place around 8.
To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819News.com.
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