Plush “Vinicius” dolls, the mascot for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, were flying late in 86-kilogram freestyle wrestling bronze-medal match between Missouri senior J’den Cox and Cuba’s Reineris Salas Perez.
The stuffed animals were used in lieu of traditional challenge bricks during the wrestling competition at Carioca Arena, where Cox became the seventh Tigers athlete to capture a medal in Olympic history.
Cox officially won by disqualification after Salas Perez refused to wrestle the final 6 seconds after a series of challenges.
Leading 1-0, Cox was hit with a pair of passivity warnings and put on the 30-second shot clock late in the second period. He had to score or conceded the match-tying point, which also would have handed Salas Perez the tiebreaking criteria.
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Cox scrambled near the end of the shot clock and appeared to secure control for a late takedown, but no points were awarded.
USA Wrestling’s coaches challenged and Cox was awarded two points after a video review for a 3-1 lead with only a handful of seconds remaining in the 6-minute match.
An irate Cuba coach ran to the scorer’s table to protest the decision as Salas Perez paced and, ultimately, tried to walk off the mat when his corner’s challenge was refused.
In the end, Salas Perez never wrestled the final 6 seconds.
Cox’s hand subsequently was raised as the bout winner, giving the U.S. its second wrestling medal in Rio and the first for a Missouri competitor.
Salas Perez’s lack of sportsmanship stood in stark contrast to Cox’s reaction after a semifinal loss.
Cox, a relative novice to freestyle wrestling, had scored the last point in a 1-1 match against Selim Yasar during that earlier match. He mistakenly thought that was the criteria used to break the tie.
Instead, Selim was leading on criteria by virtue of two cautions assessed against Cox during the first period, which led to a passivity point.
“I didn’t know that I was still down,” Cox said. “That’s just a learning curve. I wish I would have learned earlier, but I’ve still got another match and got to prepare for that. Can’t linger. Gotta keep going.”
Cox never heard USA Wrestling’s coaches hollering that he trailed as time ticked away. His family — including his mom, Cathy — also shouted in vain from the stands.
“I thought I was winning …,” Cox said, seemingly in good spirits despite the loss. “I didn’t know until afterwards that I was even down. I’m not placing any blame anywhere. There’s nowhere to put blame. If I score more points, I win the match.”
Freestyle wrestling, which is used in the Olympics, is different than folkstyle wrestling, which is used in the NCAA.
Cox is a two-time NCAA champion at 197 pounds, but he’s only starting to get a taste of the freestyle version of the sport.
Cox won his second national title at Madison Square Garden in March, earning a berth in the U.S. Olympic Trials, and upset his way to an Olympic berth on a mixture of athleticism and guts.
That’s how Cox wound up competing in Rio de Janeiro while most other MU students spent the weekend moving into dorms and apartments.
Unfortunately, his unfamiliarity with freestyle rules might have cost him the semifinal match.
Cox tried for a last-second takedown with the score tied 1-1. It came after the final buzzer. With Yasar set to win on criteria anyway, USA Wrestling’s coaches challenged the last-second takedown.
The unsuccessful challenge resulted in a second point for Yasar, who won 2-1 despite never scoring a takedown or push out against Cox.
Before that, the nuances of freestyle wrestling didn’t matter as Cox overwhelmed his first two opponents.
He crushed Belarus’ Amarhajy Mahamedau 7-1 in his Olympic debut during the round of 16, building a 4-0 lead in the first period at cruising from there.
During his quarterfinal bout, Cox needed a little more time to warm up during a 5-1 win.
He was tied 1-1 versus Iran’s Alireza Mohammad Karimimachiani midway through the match before winning the second period 4-0.
The Star’s Vahe Gregorian, reporting from Rio de Janerio, contributed to this report.
OLYMPICS MEDALISTS FROM MIZZOU
Athlete, Event(s), Medal, Olympic year
Brutus Hamilton, Decathlon, Silver, 1920
Jackson Scholz, 400-meter relay, Gold, 1920
Scholz, 100 meters, Silver, 1924
Scholz, 200 meters, Gold, 1924
Dan Pippin, Basketball, Gold, 1952
Dick Cochran, Discus, Bronze, 1960
Natasha Kaiser-Brown, 1,600-meter relay, Silver, 1992
Christian Cantwell, Shot put, Silver, 2008
J’den Cox, Wrestling, Bronze, 2016