TOKYO — In case anyone hadn't been paying attention, Gable Steveson made his intentions clear Thursday. "Young cat came to play today,'' he said. "The bigger the stage, the better Gable gets.''
The Gophers heavyweight proved that in his debut at the Tokyo Olympics. Steveson demolished Aiaal Lazarev of Kyrgyzstan in his opening match, taking only 2 minutes, 2 seconds to win 10-0. He followed up with an 8-0 drubbing of No. 3 seed Taha Akgul of Turkey, the defending Olympic champion.
The two victories put Steveson into Thursday's semifinals at Makuhari Messe Hall, which start at 6:15 p.m. in Japan (4:15 a.m. in Minnesota). The medal matches are Friday.
Steveson, of Apple Valley, said before the Games that he expected to win a gold medal. To do it, he will likely have to meet reigning world champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia, who also looked strong in his opening matches. Petriashvili beat Egypt's Diaaeldin Abdelmottaleb 11-0, then won a 5-2 decision over China's Zhiwei Deng.
But Steveson faced a superb heavyweight Thursday in Akgul and dominated the match. Akgul has finished in the top three at five world championships, winning back-to-back world titles in 2014 and 2015. Steveson offered his respect and called Akgul the "top dog,'' but the young cat pounced.
"He's the best heavyweight wrestler to probably ever step foot (on the mat),'' Steveson said of Akgul. "But his time is up. I came here for business. I came here to win.
"I'm in the semis. I've got to keep going. Ain't nothing going to be given to me. I've got to go get it.''
The U.S. has won two wrestling medals so far. Tamyra Mensah-Stock took gold in the women's 68-kilogram class, becoming the second American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in wrestling. Adeline Gray earned silver in the women's 76 kg class.
In other Thursday matches for the U.S., Thomas Gilman won by technical fall in the repechage to reach the bronze-medal match in men's freestyle 57 kg. Jacarra Winchester earned a 7-4 victory in her opening match in the women's 53 kg class but fell 6-2 to China's Pang Qianyu in the quarterfinals. Kyle Dake also split two matches Thursday in the men's freestyle 74 kg class, opening with a 4-0 victory before falling 11-0 in the quarterfinals.
In Steveson's first match, he faced an opponent 14 years older, with six appearances at the world championships and one at the Olympics. Steveson immediately went on the offensive, and the 35-year-old Lazarev could not handle his quickness.
Only 32 seconds into the match, Steveson had two takedowns and a 4-0 lead. He added three more takedowns to end the match swiftly and set up the match against Akgul.
Akgul blanked his first-round opponent, too, defeating Canada's Amarveer Dhesi 5-0. Steveson had to be a little more patient this time, waiting for the right moment to take his shot.
He got behind Akgul for a takedown at 1:21 and held a 2-0 lead at the break. He piled up the points in the second half of the match as Akgul tried but failed to take him down.
On the top side of the bracket, Petriashvili used his superior quickness to race to victory over Abdelmottaleb in 4:43. In the quarterfinals. Petriashvili wrestled a controlled match and won 5-2 to be first into the semifinals.
That set up a match between an old hand and a young cat ready to make his mark.
"We ain't come here to play,'' Steveson said. "We came here to win.''