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TOKYO — In the weeks leading up to the Olympics, Gable Steveson made the same promise over and over. He was coming to Tokyo to put on a show, and to bring home a gold medal.

So he didn't lose hope when he glanced at the scoreboard Friday night. With 6.5 seconds left, and Geno Petriashvili holding an 8-7 lead in their gold-medal match, the Gophers wrestler from Apple Valley just figured the ending would be a little more dramatic than he anticipated.

"I knew that after that point, it was do or die,'' Steveson said. "And I just had to go.''

Steveson delivered exactly what he promised, capturing the Olympic gold medal in unforgettable fashion. He stunned Petriashvili, a three-time world champion from Georgia, with two takedowns in the final 10 seconds for a 10-8 victory in the freestyle heavyweight final at Makuhari Messe. The winning points came with 0.2 seconds remaining on the clock.

After Steveson took an early 4-0 lead, Petriashvili stormed back in the second period and held an 8-5 advantage with 13 seconds left in the match. Gophers coach Brandon Eggum, who was in Steveson's corner during the Games, didn't have as much confidence as his athlete did.

"It's almost impossible to come back in that situation,'' Eggum said. "I've never seen anything like it. It happened so quick, it was like an out-of-body experience.''

For all his talk about taking Summer Games gold, Steveson, 21, couldn't find words to describe how it felt. The first Gophers wrestler to earn a place on the U.S. Olympic team in freestyle, he is now the first to win an Olympic gold medal.

An over-100-kilogram weight class has been part of the Olympic program since 1972. Steveson is only the second American man to win it, joining Bruce Baumgartner, the champion in 1984 and 1992.

"This is a very indescribable feeling for me to come out here and win a gold medal,'' Steveson said. "It's crazy, for real.

"I put on a good show. People are going to remember the name Gable Steveson, that won the Olympic heavyweight championship.''

The medal was the first in Olympic competition for a Gophers wrestler since 2000, when Garrett Lowney won bronze in the Greco-Roman 97-kilogram class at the Sydney Games. It extends a memorable year for Steveson, who won his first NCAA championship in March, went 17-0 during his junior season with the Gophers and outscored opponents 42-4 at the Olympic trials.

“I've never, never seen that. I can't believe I've seen a single situation like that, where they score two takedowns. Especially at this level.”
Brandon Eggum, Steveson's coach

At the Games, Steveson used both his first and middle names, underscoring the connection with an established Olympic great. Gable Dan Steveson is named after Dan Gable, who did not surrender a point at the 1972 Munich Olympics on his way to the 68-kg title.

Thursday, Steveson said his name might have determined his destiny. He has never shied away from outsized expectations, winning four state high school titles at Apple Valley and world championships at the cadet and junior levels. Reaching the Olympics had been a lifelong goal, one he realized only two months after his 21st birthday.

Despite his age — and his lack of senior international experience — Steveson was among the favorites in Tokyo in the 125-kg class. He raced through his first three matches, outscoring opponents 23-0. An 8-0 victory over Taha Akgul of Turkey, the defending Olympic gold medalist and a two-time world champion, gave Steveson confidence he could defeat another world champion in the gold medal match.

Declaring himself a "young cat'' whose time had come, Steveson promised that the bigger stage would only make him better. Friday, he scored the first point when Petriashvili was warned for passivity, put on the clock and failed to score.

Gable Steveson controlled Geno Petriashvili during their gold medal match.
Gable Steveson controlled Geno Petriashvili during their gold medal match.

Aaron Favila, Associated Press

Steveson later flipped Petriashvili to the mat hard with a single-leg takedown for two more points, then collected one more when he pushed Petriashvili out.

"At halftime, I was like, 'This is it,''' Eggum said. "It's over. He's dominating, and I felt really comfortable. And then all of a sudden, he's down 8-5.''

Petriashvili got on the board with a two-point exposure early in the second period, and Steveson countered with a reversal for a 5-2 lead. Energized, the Georgian took another shot and scored six quick points. Following a takedown, he clasped his arms around Steveson's midsection and rolled him with two gut wrenches, a sequence that put Petriashvili ahead 8-5.

With about 10 seconds remaining, Steveson got another takedown to make it 8-7. The referee blew the whistle, and Steveson sensed Petriashvili was starting to panic.

Steveson had 6.5 seconds left to make his move. He faked out Petriashvili with a quick outside step, got behind him and took him down just before time expired.

"In those last final seconds, I was just like, 'I've got to fire something off,' '' Steveson said. "I was guaranteed a medal, but I knew I could fire that last shot off and give him that last trick.

"He bit it, and I spun the corner and looked at the clock, and it was like 0.3. And I was like, 'Ain't no way.' My head just flushed with everything, and I was like, 'Wow.' And I looked to Eggum, and he was jumping. I can't describe it.''

Like any good show, there was one final twist. Petriashvili's corner challenged the call, arguing it came after the clock had run out. Eggum, whose emotions had veered wildly back and forth for six minutes, wondered if things would take another sharp turn.

He was already up on the mat, ready to congratulate Steveson and hand him an American flag. "Yeah, there was doubt,'' Eggum said. "I didn't know where we were at. I was watching the mat, not the clock. It was close.''

After the challenge was rebuffed — and Steveson was awarded another point for the failed challenge — Petriashvili knelt motionless at the center of the mat. Steveson beat his chest, raised his fists in triumph and took the flag from Eggum, wrapping it around his shoulders.

He closed his eyes and let the feeling wash over him for a bit, then celebrated with his most popular move. The big man cartwheeled across the mat and finished with a backflip, delighting a small group of other U.S. wrestlers and team officials in the stands.

“This is a very indescribable feeling for me to come out here and win a gold medal. It's crazy, for real. I put on a good show. People are going to remember the name Gable Steveson, that won the Olympic heavyweight championship.”
Gable Steveson

The victory gave Steveson an immediate $250,000 payday, courtesy of USA Wrestling's Living The Dream Medal Fund, which awards that amount to any wrestler who wins an Olympic gold medal. It also reignited speculation that he would forgo his senior season with the Gophers to launch a WWE career, another longtime dream.

Steveson rebuffed those questions Friday. He will go home and treat his family to a steak dinner. He will buy his mom, Laticia, a Louis Vuitton handbag.

Then he will think about the future, and look back on an unforgettable night in Tokyo.

"There are a lot of possibilities for me with this gold medal,'' he said. "The whole world is open for me. I'm going to take this in, go back home and sit on it for a while.

"I got to come over here as a 21-year-old man and wrestle at the highest level. Forget whatever comes after this. Right now, I'm living in my moment.''

Complete coverage from Tokyo on our Olympics page