With 10 seconds remaining, Gable Steveson trailed in the biggest wrestling match of his life by three points.
When the clock hit zero, he was an Olympic gold medalist.
Steveson was losing to Georgia’s Geno Petriashvili 8-5 with time running out. The 21-year-old American remained composed and took control against his more experienced opponent, scoring on a spin-behind takedown with 10 seconds remaining, then another with less than a second left to win the men’s freestyle 125-kilogram final 10-8 on Friday night.
Steveson held up two fingers for two points after the decisive move, but even he couldn’t believe what happened.
“I looked at the clock and it was like 0.3,” Steveson said. “And I was like, ‘Ain’t no way.’ And my head just like flushed with everything. And I was like, ‘Wow.’”
Georgia challenged the final points, to no avail. Steveson gained a point on the challenge, giving him five points in 10 seconds.
Steveson, who has aspirations of joining World Wrestling Entertainment, then played to the limited crowd. He walked around the mat with the U.S. flag draped over his shoulders, then dazzled with the backflip he saves for his biggest victories.
“You know, I put on a good show,” he said. “People are going to remember the name Gable Steveson.”
It looked as if Steveson might have another easy day. He outscored his opponents 23-0 in the first three rounds and dominated 2016 Olympic gold medalist Taha Akgul 8-0 in the quarterfinals.
Things got tougher in the final. Petriashvili, the No. 1 seed, is a three-time world champion who was an Olympic bronze medalist in 2016.
Steveson led the final 5-2 before Petriashvili scored on a single leg takedown and two gut wrenches to go up 8-5.
With the pressure on, Steveson came up with a plan to get the points he needed. It makes sense that he came through — he was named for American Dan Gable, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist and a former longtime college coach.
Now, the wrestling world awaits Steveson’s next move.
He could return to school for his senior season and cash in on the NCAA rules changes regarding name, image and likeness. Steveson was the heavyweight champion at the University of Minnesota this past season and shared the Dan Hodge Trophy for the nation’s best college wrestler. He already has some deals in place.
He has talked about joining World Wrestling Entertainment. He has known WWE manager Paul Heyman since he was in junior high, and he was photographed at WrestleMania with Heyman and pro wrestling star Roman Reigns. One of his mentors, Brock Lesnar, is a former pro wrestling and mixed martial arts champion.
Steveson isn’t ready to look ahead yet, saying he’s “living in my moment.” He said he’ll return home to Minnesota and decompress before making decisions.
“There’s a lot of possibilities for me with this gold medal,” he said. “A lot of doors opened after me winning a national title, and now the whole world is open for me to see after this Olympic gold medal.”
Steveson earned $250,000 for claiming the gold medal.
“I’ll probably go take my family out to eat,” he said. “We all got to eat steaks back at home. Probably buy my mom a Louis Vuitton purse. She deserves it.”
Akgul defeated Mongolia’s Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur 5-0 in a bronze medal match at 125kg.
“I came here for back-to-back gold medals after Rio, but I had to settle for bronze,” he said. “I did my best, I think I was unlucky in the quarterfinals, but that can happen. An Olympic medal is still important and valuable.”
Iran’s Amir Dare defeated China’s Zhiwei Deng 5-0 in the other bronze medal match.
More gold could be coming for the United States. American Kyle Snyder, the returning Olympic gold medalist in the men’s 97kg freestyle class, will go for gold on Saturday. He defeated Turkey’s Suleyman Karadeniz 5-0 in a semifinal. He will face the Russian Olympic Committee’s Abdulrashid Sadulaev in the final. Sadualev, the No. 1 seed in this class, won gold at 86kg in 2016 and is a four-time world champion.
The Russian Olympic Committee’s Zaurbek Sidakov defeated Belarus’ Mahamedkhabib Kadzimahamedau 7-0 to win wrestling gold in the men’s freestyle 74kg class.
American Kyle Dake defeated Italy’s Frank Chamizo 5-0 for bronze. Chamizo was the No. 1 seed, and both are two-time world champions. Dake beat 2012 Olympic gold medalist Jordan Burroughs at the Olympic Trials to earn the spot on the team.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Dake said. “A lot of different battles went into it, and a little bit of a gut check to go get a medal.”
Uzbekistan’s Bekzod Abdurakhmonov defeated Kazakhstan’s Daniyar Kaisanov 13-2 to claim the other bronze at 74 kg.
Japan’s Mayu Mukaida rallied to beat China’s Qianyu Pang 5-4 and claim gold in the women’s freestyle 53kg class. It was Japan’s third gold in women’s wrestling.
Mongolia’s Bolortuya Bat Ochir and Belarus’ Vanesa Kaladzinskaya won bronze.
American Jacarra Winchester lost her bronze medal match by fall to Belarus’ Vanesa Kaladzinskaya in the 53kg freestyle class.
USA’s Sarah Hildebrandt led China’s Yanan Sun 7-1 at the break in the women’s 50kg freestyle semifinal, but Sun rallied in the final seconds to win 10-7. Hildebrandt will wrestle for bronze on Saturday.