Kumano Makes Women's 59kg Final by Winning Clash of World U-23 Champs

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (Dec. 20) - Yuzuru KUMANO won a battle of recently crowned world under-23 champions to make the final of the women's 59kg class, as the Japan national championships kicked off with a revamped format that includes an extra day and more weight classes.

A month after taking the 58kg gold at the world U-23 in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Kumano moved one step from her first national senior title with an 8-2 semifinal victory over Rui SAKANO in the featured match of day one of the four-day tournament. 

Sakano had won the 60kg title in Bydgoszcz, and the training partners met in the middle as the Japan federation realigned its weight classes in accordance with the UWW. Also adopted was the format by which each weight class will be competed over two days---through the semifinals on the first day, with the finals on day two. The Japan nationals has no playoff for third place; the semifinal losers receive bronze medals. 

The 19-year-old Kumano, who won a second straight world junior title at 59kg in August, is a student at Nihon University, the school that also produced Sakano, 23. The two practice together, but on Wednesday at Komazawa Gym in western Tokyo, the younger wrestler got the best of her elder.

"As my opponent is my senior teammate, I considered it strictly as a challenge," Kumano said. "I am glad I had a solid match and won. Always when we are sparring, I lose half of the time. I did better than I usually do."

The final, however, will be no easy task, as awaiting Kumano is Yukako KAWAI, a member of Japan's World Cup-winning squad and the younger sister of world and Olympic champion Risako KAWAI. Yukako scored a pair of 10-0 technical falls to make the gold-medal match.

"My opponent in the final is very strong," Kumano said. "I want to wrestle my way and go for the win."

Kumano, who finished third at the Klippan Lady Open in February, said moving up an age-group level and winning the under-23 title gave her confidence a boost.

"It was different from the [world] junior in that I had many tough matches," Kumano said. "But knowing how tough it would be, I set a goal of coming out the winner. By doing so, it gave me a lot of confidence."

Kumano, a native of Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan who started wrestling at the Hachinohe Club that produced Olympic great Kaori Icho, is regarded among the top prospects of a new generation that hopes to keep the Japanese women at the top of the sport. 

"She still has many rivals to get past, but at this tournament she was able to beat an opponent who she trains with and is her senior," coach Ryo Kanehama said. "That win shows how she is progressing, and I look forward to seeing how far she can go."

In other action, world 75kg bronze medalist Hiroe SUZUKI scored an 11-0 technical fall over Miku SAITO in her lone match of the day to get to the women's 76kg final,with her final points coming right at the 6:00 buzzer. 

Ayana GEMPEI, who also struck gold at the world U-23, survived a scare in the  women's 65kg semifinals by scoring in the final seconds---much as she did in the final in Poland. 

Gempei, the 2017 Asian silver medalist at 63kg, was losing 6-4 to Miyu IMAI as the final seconds ticked off when the two locked up and fell sideways to the mat. But it was Gempei who managed to roll on top for a 4-point move and an 8-4 win.

That weight class, with just six entries, saw the early exit of Miwa SAKAE, a former national champion who is returning from injury and was coming off a 5-2 victory over world silver medalist Allison RAGAN at the Beat the Streets in October.

Sakae, the daughter of national team and powerhouse Shigakkan coach Kazuhito SAKAE, gave up a late takedown in a 3-2 loss to Misuzu ENOMOTO. Enomoto subsequently lost by technical fall to Miwa MORIKAWA in the semifinals.

The men's competition opened with the 61kg,  70kg, 92kg and 125kg weight classes in freestyle and 55kg, 63kg and 97kg in Greco-Roman.  The increased number of weight classes for each style from eight to 10 has opened up opportunities for ex-champions to get back to the top, or newcomers to take first titles. 

Looking to regain past glory is Shota TANOKURA, a former two-time champion in the lightest weight division in Greco-Roman. In recent years, he has taken a back seat to world champion Kenichiro FUMITA and Olympic silver medalist Shinobu OTA. 

But with those two stars set to clash at 60kg on the final day, it has opened the door for the 27-year-old Tanokura at 55kg. He has taken full advantage, scoring two technical falls to advance to the final, where he will face unheralded teenager Shota OGAWA. 

Masayuki AMANO was not as fortunate in his bid for a first title since 2011. The 29-year-old gave up four late points in a heartbreaking 9-8 loss to Masaaki SHIKIYA in the Greco-Roman 97kg semifinals. In the final, Shikiya will face national team member Yuta NARA, who needed a combined 2:18 to win two matches by technical falls.

In the most crowded weight class of the day, top seeds and Yamanashi Gakuin University teammates Kirin KINOSHITA and Keisuke OTOGURO plowed through the field of 23 entries to reach the freestyle 70kg final. Both won all three of their matches by technical fall, with neither surrendering a point.

Results of Day 1 Semifinals


61 kg (15 entries)

Kazuya KOYANAGI def.  Takuya FUNAKI by TF, 12-0, 2:58
Shingo ARIMOTO def. Yudai FUJITA, 6-4

70 kg (23 entries)
Kirin KINOSHITA def. Ryo IZUTSU by TF, 10-0, 1:52
Keisuke OTOGURO def. Yuto MIWA by TF, 10-0, 1:47

92 kg (13 entries)
Takashi ISHIGURO def. Masayoshi SAKURABA, 6-0
Seiji SUZUKI def. Keiwan YOSHIDA, 12-4

125 kg (8 entries)
Taiki YAMAMOTO def. Katsutoshi KANAZAWA by Fall, 3:29
Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA def. Tetsuya TANAKA, 2-1


55 kg (13 entries)
Shota TANOKURA def. Hiromu KATAGIRI by TF, 9-0, 4:50
Shota OGAWA def. Tomoya MARUYAMA, 7-4

63 kg (10 entries)
Takayuki INOGUCHI def. Masashiro KAGEYAMA by Fall, 1:51
Ryo MATSUI def. Mitsunaga OYAMA by Fall, 1:56

97 kg (13 entries)
Yuta NARA def. Yukihito YAMADA by TF, 10-0, :46
Masaaki SHIKIYA def. Masayuki AMANO, 9-8

Women's Wrestling

59 kg (9 entries)
Yukako KAWAI def. Saki KAWAUCHI by TF, 10-0, 2:59
Yuzuru KUMANO def. Yui SAKANO, 8-2

65 kg (6 entries)
Ayana GEMPEI def. Miyu IMAI, 8-6
Miwa MORIKAWA def. Mizuzu ENOMOTO by TF, 10-0, 2:05

76 kg (6 entries)
Hiroe SUZUKI def. Miku SAITO by TF, 11-0, 6:00
Yasuha MATSUYUKI def. Rino ABE, 6-0