BEIJING (AP) - Steeve Guenot, a railway worker with little government athletic subsidy, won France's first Olympic wrestling gold medal in 84 years Wednesday by taking the Greco-Roman 66-kilogram weight.
Guenot defeated Kanatbek Begaliev 3-0, 3-1 in the best-of-three format. Begaliev was trying for Kyrgyzstan's first Olympic gold.
Minutes after little brother Steeve won a gold, big brother Christophe Guenot won one of the two bronze medals at 74 kg.
France hadn't won gold in any discipline of wrestling since Henri Deglane (82 kg in Greco) in the 1924 Paris Olympics, and Steeve traveled a lot farther than that - and not by train, either - for this medal. He celebrated by performing a back flip, drawing big cheers.
"This is the most beautiful day of my life," he said. "I don't realize what's happening. It's the first gold for France (in Beijing) and I'm very proud. It's a crazy stuff."
The gold medalist drew a congratulatory phone call from French president Nicolas Sarkozy minutes after leaving the medal stand.
As in the United States, wrestlers in France aren't well compensated and often work full-time jobs. The 22-year-old Guenot and his 29-year-old brother work for the national train system - Steeve in security - yet have become elite wrestlers.
Wrestlers in the prominent countries in the sport, including Russia, usually are full-time athletes and get considerable financial support from their national federations.
This wasn't a major surprise, though, as Guenot took the silver in last year's world championships.
Begaliev wasn't happy that a video review in the second period gave Guenot two points.
"I don't think it was very fair. The first round I lost, but the second I wasn't so sure," he said.
American teen Jake Deitchler lost two tight matches in his Olympic debut, to Begaliev in the first round and Vardanyan in the repechages that determine the bronzes. The 18-year-old went 0-2 but was a point away from wrestling for the bronze if he could have held a late lead against Vardanyan.
The field became wide open when Farid Mansurov, the 2004 Olympic champion from Azerbaijan, lost 3-0, 3-0 to Vardanyan in the first round. Mansurov didn't lose a period while winning last year's world championship, including a gold-medal match win over Guenot.
Guenot won a tight match Wednesday in the round of 16, defeating Hungary's Tamas Loerincz 0-2, 1-1 and 1-1 without winning a period outright, only to win his semifinal and final matches by a combined score of 10-2. He beat Darkhan Bayakhmetov of Kazakhstan by 1-1, 3-0 in the semis.
Guenot bounced back from a 20th-place finish in the European championships five months ago for his gold.