After British triumphs in the women’s judo and boxing, there could be more success today in the women’s freestyle wrestling, a fairly new Olympic event, starting as recently as Athens 2004. But Britain has one competitor tomorrow: Olga Butkevych in the 55 kilogram division. Born in Ukraine, Butkevych hopes she can show her adopted country how this sport is done.
That, after all, is what Butkevych came to Britain to do. Five years ago she was one of a group of eastern European wrestlers brought over to train and, all being well, improve Britain’s own wrestlers ahead of these Olympic games.
But Butkevych proved so good, and settled so well in Salford, that she now finds herself competing for Britain. The naturalisation process, and the qualification and selection for the games, has not gone perfectly smoothly.
As recently as May, there were going to be three wrestlers representing Team GB at this summer’s games. But the British Olympic Association’s Olympic Qualification Standards panel brought their number of host-nation berths down to one, after performance targets were not met. The British team, they said, needed to be capable of a “credible performance” in London.
At almost the same time, Butkevych, succeeded in her appeal for British citizenship. She had been rejected before. Fellow Ukraine-born wrestler Yana Stadnik had no success.
So with one place to award, and Butkevych now eligible, it went to the woman who won silver at the Olympic Test event at the Excel Arena last December. There was the usual controversy over ‘Plastic Brits’, but Butkevych was unworried.
“People from different countries represent Great Britain,” she pointed out. “It’s normal. I have seen it so many times, not just in wrestling. I want to give back something. You gave me the chance to wrestle, I want to give you a medal and show you it was worth it.”
Butkevych was brought over to Britain to improve British wrestling. How better to do so than by stimulating interest through success? A medal by a Ukrainian-born wrestler would do so better than a less successful performance by someone born here.
“If I get a medal I hope I can make wrestling more popular,” Butkevych said. “In England it is not a popular sport so in the future I hope it can change. [In Ukraine] we have more schools and professional coaches and I think that is the problem in the UK. I have worked so hard to get here and I would be really happy if I won a medal. I want to be the person who gets British people interested in wrestling.”
The 55kg category starts with qualifiers, before the first round – in which Butkevych faces Lissette Alexandra Antes Castillo of Ecuador at 1.25pm. From there quarter-finals take place, and the semis, with the final tonight at 7pm. Bouts last for three periods of two minutes, with victory coming either through winning two periods, pinning the opponent, or a ‘golden score’ after three periods.
Butkevych has had notable success before – winning bronze at 59kg in the 2010 European Championship. A repeat, or better, this afternoon would demonstrate why she was brought to Britain in the first place.