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CHIBA, Japan — With the NCAA’s shift on name, image and likeness, one athlete that has already capitalized on marketing deals is University of Minnesota wrestler Gable Steveson.
A gold medal will only make those opportunities more lucrative, and Steveson will wrestle for gold on Friday after defeating Mongolia’s Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur 5-0 in the men’s 125kg semifinals Thursday.
Steveson scored a takedown before the break at the three-minute mark. Munkhtur tried to slow Steveson down by stalling. But Steveson stayed on his game plan and scored another takedown late to walk away the victor in his third match of the day.
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“He did what he needed to do,” Steveson said of Munkhtur. “He came out here, he made it this far. He didn’t want to push the pace. I was pushing everything very hard.”
Steveson expected more caution calls (Munkhtur received one), but that’s how it goes in overseas wrestling, he said.
“It’s the Olympics,” the NCAA champion said. “I don’t care (what the score is) if I’m winning the match.”
If Steveson does win gold, he'll be eligible to receive a $250,000 prize from USA Wrestling, even if he returns to the Gophers. A silver medal would net him $50,000.
Said teammate David Taylor after winning the gold medal in the 86kg weight class on Thursday: “He’s one of the best wrestlers I’ve seen for someone his size. We all thought it. And the world now is seeing it. He’s going to win gold (Friday).”
Steveson will face Geno Petriashvili, the 2016 bronze-medalist and three-time world champion (2017-19) of Georgia in the final.
“Tomorrow night’s going to be a big thing,” Steveson said. “I know the legend I’m stepping on the mat with, Petriashvili, but first legend (Taha Akgul, defending Olympic champion) I wrestled today, took care of business. Second one tomorrow I’m going to try and handle things the same thing. Just another day at the job for me. I live for the moments like this. To be the best you got to beat the best.”
Steveson predicts it’s a “perfect” matchup for him given Petriashvil’s length. He’ll be taking lots of shots, he said.
“With little-to-no international experience, it’s crazy that a young cat like me could come in here and shock the world so quick and have everyone on notice as a 21-year-old kid in college (that’s) maybe going to take the gold medal tomorrow,” Steveson said. “It’s outstanding to me. My family back home is proud of me, that’s all that matters.”
Steveson, named after legendary American wrestler and former Olympic team coach Dan Gable (Steveson’s middle name is Dan), was then asked when he realized he could be the best in the world.
“Tomorrow,” he replied.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gable Steveson wants to 'shock' world even more with Tokyo Games gold