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.
Kim, moving up to 75kg for the Rio Games after taking London gold at 66kg, was wrestling outside for the first time.
“I worried about outside being cold, worried about injury,” he told Reuters through an interpreter. “But there is no injury so I‘m happy and Times Square was awesome.”
Olympic champion Jordan Burroughs, making his sixth appearance in the fundraiser, closed the competition with an 11-2 win over Iran’s Asian champion Peyman Yarahmadi in the 74kg freestyle.
“You might see this as an exhibition,” Burroughs said. “I see it as a legacy builder. A lot of people out here are seeing me for the first time, maybe for the last time. I want to give them something to remember.”
Burroughs said he planned to provide a memorable follow-up to his London Games victory.
“I feel like a lot better wrestler now than in 2012,” he said. “I‘m not just looking to replicate, I‘m looking to dominate.”
American women, including three-time world champion Adeline Gray, won two matches against Canadian opponents.
Gray, who beat Canada’s Pan-Am champion Justin Di Stasio 11-0, said she had been inspired by a pep talk from two-time Super Bowl winner Ray Lewis, a high school wrestling champion who had acted as honorary coach.
“There was a little girl on the side of the street that said she’s a wrestling fan now,” Gray said.
“I think that plants dreams to dream bigger.”
Editing by Greg Stutchbury