The Japanese women’s juggernaut sped forward at full throttle as all five entries, including Rio 2016 gold medalists Risako KAWAI (60kg) and Sara DOSHO (69kg), stormed into the gold medal finals on the third day of the Asian Senior Championships.
Kawai and Dosho will be aiming to defend their Asian titles while highly touted Japanese teenagers Yui SUSAKI (48kg) and Sae NANJO (55kg), along with world champion Mayu MUKAIDA (53kg), will each attempt to capture their first.
The finals will have a certain element of a Japan-India dual meet, as three of the gold-medal matches will be contested between wrestlers from the two countries.
"All five of our wrestlers made the final, and our goal is to win five gold medals," Japanese women’s coach Hideo SASAYAMA said. "We didn’t have any major injuries (coming into the tournament) and our preparations went according to plan."
Noticeably absent from the finals are the Chinese, whose attempt to usurp continental power from the Japanese ended with four losses in head-to-head matches -- including defeats by its two defending champions.
Kawai was particularly dominant, winning both of her bouts by 10-0 technical falls. In the quarterfinals, she put away ZHOU Zhangting (CHN), a bronze medalist at 58kg last year in Bangkok, in 2:27.
Kawai, the Rio 2016 champion at 63kg, can expect a stiffer fight in the final, where she will face Sakshi MALIK (IND), a 58kg bronze medalist in Rio who also ended her semifinal by technical fall.
In contrast to Kawai, Dosho’s path to the final was anything but easy. She started off with a tough 3-1 win over Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) in a rematch of last year’s final in Bangkok. That set up a semifinal with ZHOU Feng (CHN), the 2015 world silver medalist, that was everything fans expected it to be -- and with a bit of controversy.
In contrast with the first period, in which Dosho took a 3-0 lead on a 2-point penalty for finger-holding by Zhou, the second was a freewheeling affair. Zhou took the lead with consecutive takedowns, adding a point by step-out to go up 5-3.
With the seconds ticking down, Dosho regained the lead with a takedown, but while clinging to Zhou’s leg, the Chinese managed to tilt Dosho over. Dosho reversed the position, but was awarded one point for a reversal.
That would have made Zhou a 7-6 winner, but the Japanese challenged the call, which was changed upon video review to a 2-point tilt for Dosho. That gave Dosho the win, much to the loud dismay of the Chinese contingent.
Sasayama noted that Dosho might not have been as well prepared as usual, having gone through a whirlwind of off-mat activities following her triumph in Rio de Janeiro, including a number of television appearances.
"Dosho was busy with many things, so she couldn’t focus," Sasayama said. "Along with that, this is her first international tournament in a while. She has the pride of a gold medalist, so it might have been difficult for her."
The victory earned Dosho a place in the gold medal final against Divya KAKRAN (IND), who swept past PARK Hyeonyeong (KOR), 12-4, in the other semifinal.
Susaki, a 17-year-old dynamo who won her third straight world cadet title last September, overcame her biggest hurdle in the 48kg quarterfinals, where she used her cat-like quickness to oust defending champion SUN Yanan (CHN), 9-4.
In the final, Susuki will face KIM Sonhyang (PRK), who eliminated the other finalist from 2016, Irina BORISSOVA (KAZ), by 10-0 technical fall.
Mukaida, the 2016 world champion at 55kg, will go for gold against Rio 2016 Olympian Zhuldyz ESHIMOVA (KAZ) in the 53kg final. The Japanese capped her run to the final by knocking off defending champion PANG Qianyu (CHN) in the semifinals, 2-0, with a first-period takedown.
At 55kg, Nanjo will take on another 2016 Olympian in Vinesh VINESH (IND), who, boosted by the local crowd, will be looking to capture her first Asian gold after winning silver in 2015 and bronze in 2016.
48kg (13 entries)
Gold - KIM Sonhyang (PRK) v Yui SUSAKI (JPN)
Bronze – SUN Yanan (CHN) v Ritu RITU (IND)
Bronze – Saiana BAIYZOVA (KGZ) v Irina BORISSOVA (KAZ)
Semifinal – KIM Sonhyang (PRK) df. Irina BORISSOVA (KAZ) by TF, 10-0, 2:42
Semifinal – Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Ritu RITU (IND), 9-0
53kg (12 entries)
Gold - Zhuldyz ESHIMOVA (KAZ) v Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN)
Bronze – JONG Myongsuk (PRK) v PANG Qianyu (CHN)
Bronze – CHIU Hsin-Ju (TPE) vs. KIM Hyungjoo (KOR)
Semifinal – Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) df. PANG Qianyu (CHN), 2-0
Semifinal – Zhuldyz ESHIMOVA (KAZ) df. KIM Hyungjoo (KOR) by Fall, 5:47 (4-3)
55kg (10 entries)
Gold - Sae NANJO (JPN) v Vinesh VINESH (IND)
Bronze – Sevara ESHMURATOVA (UZB) v ZHANG Qi (CHN)
Bronze – ERKHEMBAYAR Davaachimeg (MGL) v LEE Shinhye (KOR)
Semifinal – Vinesh VINESH (IND) df. ZHANG Qi (CHN), 4-0
Semifinal – Sae NANJO (JPN) df. LEE Shinhye (KOR) by TF, 10-0, 3:23
60kg (8 entries)
Gold - Risako KAWAI (JPN) v Sakshi MALIK (IND)
Bronze – Nabira ESENBAEVA (UZB) v Ayaulym KASSYMOVA (KAZ)
Bronze – ZHOU Zhangting (CHN) v BAATARJAV Shoovdor (MGL)
Semifinal – Sakshi MALIK (IND) df. Ayaulym KASSYMOVA (KAZ) by TF, 15-3, 3:50
Semifinal – Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. BAATARJAV Shoovdor (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 3:20
69kg (8 entries)
Gold - Sara DOSHO (JPN) v Divya KAKRAN (IND)
Bronze – HUANG Chen-Chi (TPE) v PARK Hyeonyeong (KOR)
Bronze – Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ) v ZHOU Feng (CHN)
Semifinal – Divya KAKRAN (IND) df. PARK Hyeonyeong (KOR), 12-4
Semifinal – Sara DOSHO (JPN) df. ZHOU Feng (CHN), 7-7