Barnegat wrestler Frank Molinaro came up just a few inches and a few seconds short of winning an Olympic bronze medal Sunday.
Molinaro barely missed scoring a match-tying takedown in the final moments of his match against reigning world champion Frank Chamizo of Italy, dropping a 5-3 decision in a bronze-medal bout in the 65-kilogram (143 pound) weight class in Rio de Janeiro.
“It’s really painful not to reach your goals, but it’s more painful to fail quietly, and I don’t think I did that today,” Molinaro told Trackwrestling.com after the match. “I wrestled really tough. I gave it my all. I think I was two or three seconds away from getting a bronze medal against a returning world champion. I can walk off the mat holding my head high knowing I did everything I could.”
Molinaro, 27, trailed 4-2 when he grabbed Chamizo around the ankles near the edge of the mat with seconds left in the six-minute match.
The referee awarded Molinaro one point and turned down a protest from the USA coaching staff that he should have been given two points for a takedown. Mat officials also awarded Chamizo another point to account for the final score.
“Sometimes it just comes down to inches,” Molinaro told USA Wrestling. “I have been very fortunate and blessed to be on the good end of a few of those. It was just his day. He did what he had to do. He executed. I couldn’t get him down. I ran out of time. If I had two or three more seconds, I win that match.”
Molinaro, a three-time state champion at Southern Regional High School, led 2-1 after the first period of his match against Chamizo. With the bout tied 2-2, Chamizo scored the decisive points with a takedown with 1 minute, 6 seconds left.
Molinaro kept pressing the action and nearly tied the match with his late rally.
A busy day
He went 2-2 in the tournament, with all four matches taking place within a four-hour span Sunday.
He began his day by defeating Poland’s Magomedmurad Gadzhiev of Poland by criteria. His first-period takedown proved to be the difference in a match that ended 2-2.
After dropping a 10-0 decision to 2012 Olympic champion Toghrul Asgarov of Azerbaijan in the quarterfinals — Asgarov went on to win the silver medal — Molinaro reached the bronze-medal match by rallying by for an 8-5 victory over Ukraine’s Andriy Kvyatkovskyy in the repechage (consolation) round.
Molinaro trailed Kvyatkovskyy 5-4 with less than two minutes remaining. He took a 6-5 lead with a takedown at the 4:41 mark and added another with 41 seconds left.
“With Frank, it is all about gratitude and enthusiasm and energy,” Molinaro’s coach, Cody Sanderson, told USA Wrestling Sunday morning. “That is what we want. He is a sparkplug. He is a dangerous guy coming through that (consolation round). .... I thought he wrestled great. He came out with a lot of energy and fire. He stuck to the game plan.”
Molinaro tried to become the first local male Olympian to earn a medal since Holy Spirit High School graduate John Pescatore won a bronze in rowing as part of the men’s-eight boat in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul.
Molinaro was among four local athletes whod compete in Rio.
Pleasantville High School graduate Nia Ali earned a silver medal in the 100-meter hurdles. Wildwood Crest native and Wildwood Catholic High School graduate Joe Maloy placed 23rd overall and was the top American finisher in the men’s triathlon. Mainland Regional graduate Sam Ojeserkis from Linwood was the coxswain in the men’s eight boat that placed fourth.
Molinaro’s highlight actually took place before his first match, when his wife, Kera Molinaro, gave birth to their second son, Frank Anthony, on Aug. 8 while Frank was training in Brazil.
“Overall, this was a great experience,” Molinaro told Trackwrestling.com. “I had another son and now have two beautiful boys. Before I even stepped on the mat, I was at peace with myself. I’m saved. God is in my life now, and He’s empowered me to do great things, to be a good father and a good role model.”
Molinaro also plans to continue his wrestling career.
A former NCAA champion at Penn State University, he had been an assistant coach for the Nittany Lions under head coach Cael Sanderson, Cody’s brother, but is now going to devote his attention toward making another Olympic run in four years.
“I still have a lot left,” he told Trackwrestling.com. “I feel like I’m just beginning the sport. It’s very enjoyable to me, and I’m very blessed to be doing this. I don’t want to do anything else.”
The 65K weight class also included Franklin Gomez, who won a Region 8 title while wrestling for St. Augustine Prep in Buena Vista Township as a sophomore in the 2002-03 school year.
Gomez, who was representing Puerto Rico, was eliminated from gold medal contention with a controversial, 8-5 loss to Uzbekistan’s Ikhtiyor Navruzov in the quarterfinals.
Gomez, who trained at Penn State for the Olympics with Molinaro, had a takedown and exposure call overturned by the referee after three mat side judges ruled in Gomez’s favor, according to Pennlive.com.
That did not sit well with Cael Sanderson, who was in Rio to support Molinaro and Gomez.
“Franklin Gomez got straight up cheated,” Cael Sanderson tweeted. “What a shame and disgrace.”
All of the officials involved in the Gomez’s match were suspended for the rest of the tournament, but that did little to assuage the many wrestling fans rooting for Gomez.
After the match, Twitter was filled with angry responses to the verdict.
“(Swimmer Ryan) Lochte might not have gotten robbed in Rio, but Franklin Gomez did,” was one response.