UFA, Russia- Following a loss in the semifinals of the 2021 UWW Junior World Championships, USAFA sophomore Wyatt Hendrickson still had the opportunity to take home the bronze medal at the event, where he was matched up against Russia’s Andrei Bestaev in his final match of the 125 kg. freestyle tournament.
After Hendrickson jumped out to an initial 3-0 lead, Bestaev scored seven unanswered points in the second session of the bout, defeating the Kansan 7-3. Bestaev was awarded the bronze medal, while Hendrickson claimed fifth overall. Air Force Academy head wrestling coach Sam Barber, who traveled to Russia with his pupil and coached in his corner, could not have had stronger words of praise in regards to his wrestler.
“I’m proud of the way Wyatt competed with pride, poise, fight, and grit,” said Barber. “He represented our Academy with distinction and honor. There are no moral victories, however he wrestled the best in the world and out-fought them. The experience of wrestling the best athletes on the planet, being a part of an outstanding team with great athletes and coaches, while experiencing the passion the Russians have for their national sport will provide dividends of personal and athletic growth in his future.”
The match started out with both wrestlers feeling each other out and hand fighting for the first minute and a half, before Hendrickson forced Bestaev out of the circle at the 4:11 mark to score the first point. Another minute passed before Hendrickson shot for a leg and created a takedown to extend his lead to 3-0, as the score remained the same at the 30-second intermission. Bestaev however, was much more aggressive coming out of the timeout, forcing Hendrickson out of the circle with 2:31 remaining. Hendrickson’s 3-1 lead disappeared 40 seconds later, as the cadet shot for a takedown and was beautifully countered by the Russian, who converted the reversal of position into a four-point takedown.
Trailing 5-3, Hendrickson remained aggressive. With roughly 25 seconds left on the clock, he attempted to create a takedown, though Bestaev’s strong defense withstood the attack, as the Russian sprawled and leveraged himself on top of Hendrickson to score a two-point takedown. Bestaev then controlled Hendrickson from top position as the clock hit zeroes.
Hendrickson became only the second active Academy wrestler to partake in the vastly-unique Junior World Championships, as both he and the other, 2019 USAFA graduate Alex Mossing, were coached by Barber. The Academy’s head coach was humbled by the privilege to travel to Russia with his wrestler.
“We are both grateful for the opportunity afforded to us and would like to say thank you to USA Wrestling, General Richard Clark, Mr. Nathan Pine, and Mrs. Jen Block for their support in allowing us to be here. And thank you to our Air Force wrestling fans for the kind words of encouragement and support.”
Team USA eventually placed third overall (129 points), with Russia taking second (142 points) and