Goodwill gave way to political protest Saturday as the 20-year standoff between the United States and Iran sparked a wrestling walkout.
Exile groups protesting the militant Islamic government in Tehran interrupted Saturday night's Goodwill Games wrestling match between the United States and Iran.After Behnam Taiebi scored a 5-0 shutout against American Sam Henson, Tony Purler of the United States entered the ring for his bout against Mohammad Talaie. But Talaie did not appear, and the Iranians refused to wrestle because of the protesting fans.
After 20 minutes, Talaie entered the ring waving an Iranian flag and the match continued. The United States won the dual meet 19-8, clinching it on former world champion Melvin Douglas' overtime victory over Olympic silver medalist Abbas Jadidi.
"A group of fans was protesting politically in the stands. The Iranian team leader took offense and left with his team," said Larry Sciacchetano, president of USA Wrestling. "What they asked us to to do was to clear the protesters from the arena. We had a hard time convincing them that this is a free society."
Although at least eight protesters were seen being escorted from the 5,500-seat theater at Madison Square Garden, city police reported no arrests. There also were no reports of injuries.
Hundreds of Iranian fans were wearing T-shirts bearing the name and picture of Maryam Rajavi, head of the National Council of Resistance in Iran, and appeared to be the center of the dispute.
When the Islamic fundamentalists overthrew the regime of the Shah of Iran in 1979, the United States and Iran broke diplomatic relations that remain severed. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians also fled the country and have mounted protests against the Tehran regime.
The busiest day of the games was a good day for America's oldtimers.
Karch Kiraly, who celebrates his 38th birthday this fall, and Adam Johnson, a relative kid at 33, advanced to the gold-medal match in beach volleyball with a straight-set win over a pair of Australians in their 20s.
"You'd probably have to open his brain to find that out," Johnson said when asked what keep Karch kicking. "I think his drive for success is so much greater than a lot of people's. He raises your level of play."
Douglas, who turns 36 next month, raised his own level of competition and helped pace a big American victory over Turkey before the Iran match.
Douglas, the 1993 world champion at 213 pounds from Mesa, Ariz., scored a 3-0 overtime decision over Kasif Sakiroglu, one of six U.S. victories in eight matches.
Les Gutches, of Corvallis, Ore., scored the biggest victory of the contest, a technical-superiority defeat of Ali Ozen.
Gutches led 11-0 when the referee stopped the bout at 4:49, earning four points for the United States.
Other U.S. winners were Sam Henson at 119 pounds, Lincoln McIlvary (152), Steve Marianetti, in overtime (168) and Kerry McCoy (286).
Russia beat Iran, 17-12, in the tournament opener and later beat Turkey 20-11,
In Central Park, Kiraly and Johnson dominated the Aussie pair of Julien Prosser and Leo Zahner, 12-2, 12-10, for a spot in Sunday's final.
In the first game, Kiraly, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, and Johnson ran off nine straight points for a 11-1 lead. In the second game, Australia tied it 9-9 and 10-10 before Kiraly hit a pair of kills on his serve to win the match.
"I love playing beach volleyball and trying to be part of the best team," Kiraly said.