Broken ears and gold medal intentions

Russian-born wrestler Ivan Popov moved to Australia in 2003 with the dream of representing his adopted country at the Olympics.


In four months’ time that dream will come true.

The Commonwealth Games Gold medallist is back in top form, and setting his sights on winning Australia’s first Olympic wrestling gold medal.

Six years ago Ivan Popov made Australian sporting history and in August he’s hoping to do it again.

He broke a 30 year gold medal drought for Australia at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games in Greco-Roman wrestling.

His name is memorialised in the history books, but he says some still had trouble remembering his face.

“Some of the people, some of the guys, recognise you but some of them are thinking I’m a basketball player, or a footy player, but definitely not a wrestler.”

The dream of wrestling gold started between two brothers in Siberia, Russia.

Ivan and his younger brother, Vladimir, longed to make a life in wrestling and to wear the sport’s ultimate badge of honour:

“The first wish we had was (to get) broken ears. It’s like a business card for a wrestler! So now I have broken ears it’s perfect (that) I’m going to the Olympics.”

Wrestling is a family legacy.

His father, Vladimir Popov Senior, won an Olympic bronze medal for Russia in 1988, as well as several other European and world titles.

Vladimir Junior, also a national title-holder, missed out on qualifying for Rio after injuring his neck – but he says Ivan’s victory is his victory.

“It doesn’t matter who’s going to go, myself or Ivan, it’s like we’re one person – the whole family is one person. So doesn’t matter who is going to go.”

One person who won’t be watching is Ivan’s wife, Olga.

Not until he won his Olympic qualification bout in Algiers had she seen her husband compete.

“What they doing, it’s sort of scary and all the time he’s getting hurt and I’m nervous so much.”

Popov missed selection for the London Games in 2012 and seized the opportunity to take a break from the sport and marry the love of his life.

Now with training back in full gear and Olympic preparations underway, Mrs Popov is back to feeding a heavyweight wrestler.

“It’s like we have a family, not of two people but like 10 people, so it’s big, big giant pots and everything so I try to do my best.”

Popov earned his ticket to Rio winning successive Australian national wrestling titles in 2015 and 2016.

His current form is reigniting hopes that the Siberian-born athlete will be Australia’s first Greco-Roman wrestler to bring home the silverware, and continue the family tradition.

Brother Vladimir says while it will be Ivan’s fight, he won’t be alone.

“I might even cry, in a good way, but I’ll be with him, even though I won’t be on the mat with him but he’s going to feel it and the whole family is going to be there, it’s all about the family I reckon.”