TOKYO — Gable Steveson is not exactly a master of understatement. But the Gophers wrestler from Apple Valley kept his answer simple at first, when he was asked how he felt about competing for an Olympic gold medal.
"Tomorrow,'' Steveson said, "is going to be a big thing.''
Make that a huge thing. Steveson rolled through three matches Thursday to reach the Olympic final, setting up a gold-medal showdown Friday with three-time world champion Geno Petriashvili of Georgia. In his first major competition at the senior international level, Steveson outscored his first three opponents 23-0, wrapping up his day with a 5-0 victory in the semifinals of the freestyle heavyweight class.
Steveson, 21, outlasted Lkhagvagerel Munkhtur of Mongolia in the semis to earn the finals berth at Makuhari Messe Hall. Petriashvili had a tougher time, coming back from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Amir Hossein Zare 6-3.
Steveson's gold-medal match is expected to start around 6:15 a.m. Friday (Twin Cities) time and will be shown on the Olympic Channel and the NBC Sports App.
In the quarterfinals, Steveson dominated 2016 Olympic gold medalist and two-time world champ Taha Akgul in an 8-0 victory. He's confident he can do the same against Petriashvili, the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and winner of the past three world heavyweight titles.
"Another legend I'm stepping on the mat with,'' Steveson said. "But the first legend I wrestled today, I took care of business. The second one, I'm going to try to handle the same thing.
"Just another day at the job for me. I live for moments like this. To be the best, you've got to beat the best.''
Steveson took only 2 minutes, 2 seconds to rout Aiaal Lazarev of Kyrgyzstan in the first round, winning by technical fall. Against Akgul, he led 2-0 after the first period and poured it on in the second. Steveson parried every attack by Akgul, twice turning his opponent's attempted shots into points for himself.
Against Munkhtur, Steveson scored on a single-leg takedown for a 2-0 lead at the break. Munkhtur was put on the clock for passivity in the second period and could not score, giving Steveson another point. Steveson added a takedown late in the match for the final margin.
Petriashvili fell behind 3-0 to Zare, a 21-year-old Iranian, after the first period. The world champ wore down his young opponent in the second period to reach the final.
After his first two matches, Steveson called himself a "young cat'' who was there to take down the top dogs. He said Petriashvili is "the perfect matchup for him,'' despite the wide gap in their experience at this level. Petriashvili is known for attacking opponents' legs, and Steveson is known for his ability to counterattack.
"He's a long guy, lanky,'' Steveson said. "I'm going to do what I've got to do and reattack. If it comes, it comes. If it doesn't, I'm on my feet, handling business.''
To win, Steveson said he must push the pace — as he typically does — and be precise and calculating with his attacks. He hopes to force Petriashvili into difficult positions and wrestle energetically for the full six minutes.
The more he talked Thursday night, the understatement began to erode.
"With little to no international senior experience, it's crazy that a young cat like me would come in here and shock the world so quick, and have everybody on notice that a 21-year-old kid in college is going to maybe take the gold medal,'' he said. "It's outstanding to me.
"My family back home is proud of me, and that's all that matters. Win or lose, I'm just going to do my job and try to come out victorious.''