U.S. Olympians shine under Times Square lights

Thu May 19, 2016 11:29pm EDT
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By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wrestling took over Times Square in rush hour on Thursday as Rio-bound Americans grappled with Iranians, Canadians and a South Korean Olympic champion in a benefit for city-area youth taking up the sport.

Hundreds of spectators crowded around the outdoor mat built on the slender concrete island between Broadway and 7th Avenue, including a lively contingent of Iranian supporters waving national flags.

Beat the Streets chairman Mike Novogratz, in welcoming remarks for the fundraiser, hoped political leaders might take notice of the subtext of the event.

"The whole idea of this event was ... that we would teach our kids that you can get together, you can bash each other on a mat, but then you'll shake hands and you'll hug and you'll break bread later on.

"We'd like our world leaders to pay attention."

The American men won five of six matches against Iran, though the coach of the Olympic wrestling powerhouse was still enthusiastic of their chances ahead of Rio.

"It was a great experience to be in this open environment. It was absolutely exciting for them. That was awesome," Iranian coach Akbar Dodangeh said. "That's wrestling. Sometimes you are winner, some time losing."

South Korea's London 2012 Greco-Roman champion Kim Hyeon-woo had opened the featured competitions under twinkling lights, glaring neon and giant video screens with victory over American world bronze medalist Andy Bisek.   Continued...

Mark Hall (blue) of the U.S. faces off with Ahmad Bazrighaleh of Iran as they wrestle in the junior men's freestyle 74 kg/163 lbs "Beat the Streets" event in Times Square, New York, U.S. on May 19, 2016. REUTERS/Adrees Latif