London, England – Jake Varner of the United States won gold in the men's 96-kilogram weight class Sunday at the London Games, defeating Valerii Andriitsev of the Ukraine in the final bout.
After mounting a comeback in the semifinals to defeat George Gogshelidze of Georgia, Varner beat his Ukrainian opponent, 1-0, 1-0, for gold.
"It's awesome, I came here to win a gold medal and that's what I've done," said Varner. "I played more defense than I wanted to, but it's awesome for the United States."
Varner, a former two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State, became the first wrestler from the U.S. to win gold in the freestyle 96kg since Kurt Angle at the 1996 Atlanta Games. He is also the first American to win this event at an Olympic Games outside the U.S. since Harry Dwight Steele claimed gold at the 1924 Paris Games.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," said U.S. coach Cael Sanderson, who was a gold medalist at the 2004 Athens Games. "He's Olympic champion, that's what he wanted. Awesome."
Gogshelidze grabbed one bronze with his win over Uzbekistan's Kurban Kurbanov. Khetag Gazyumov of Azerbaijan won the other bronze, but didn't have to wrestle Iran's Reza Mohammad Ali Yazdani, who left his semifinal bout against Andriitsev due to injury.
"I heard that my opponent was injured, I guess this was my easiest match today," said Gazyumov.
Also on Sunday, Japan's Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu beat Sushil Kumar of India for gold in the men's freestyle 66kg. It marks the first gold medal in men's wrestling for Japan since 1988.
Akzhurek Tanatarov of Kazakhstan and Livan Lopez Azcuy earned bronze medals.