NEW DELHI (May 7) -- Rio 2016 Olympic Games gold medalists Risako KAWAI and Sara DOSHO will lead a young but powerful Japanese women’s squad into the Asian Wrestling Championships starting May 10 in New Delhi, while Iran looks to dominate the men’s competitions as it did a year ago, but with a largely different lineup.
Kawai, the 63kg champion in Rio de Janeiro and 2o15 world silver medalist, drops down to 60kg, where she will aim to win a third continental crown in a third different weight class by adding to the titles she won at 58kg in 2014 and 63kg last year in Bangkok.
Dosho, like Kawai a recent graduate of powerhouse Shigakkan University, will be seeking a third Asian gold in the 69kg class, to add to a collection that includes three world championship medals. It will mark the first international tournament since Rio for both 22-year-olds, who are only one month apart in age.
According to the provisional entry lists, in addition to Kawai and Dosho, there are four women’s champions from 2016 returning to defend their titles -- although at most, only three of them will be able to leave the K.D. Jadhav Wrestling Stadium with gold medals. DAVAASUKH Otgontsetseg (MGL), the 55kg titlist in Bangkok, has dropped to 53kg, where she will try to usurp the throne from defending champion PANG Qianyu (CHN).
Rio 2016 bronze medalist SUN Yanan (CHN) will try to keep hold of the 48kg title she won last year at the expense world champion Eri TOSAKA (JPN), who has yet to return to competition since striking gold in Rio. The fourth defending champion, Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) at 58kg, will have to contend with PEI Xingru (CHN), the 2016 world champion at 60kg.
In freestyle, Iran took home five of the eight golds from Bangkok, but at most only one of those wrestlers will make the trip to India. That’s not to say the traditional power will send a second-rate team, as the provisional squad comprises members of the squad that won the World Cup in February, including two-time Asian silver medalist Behnam EHSANPOOR (61kg) and 2015 world bronze medalist Alireza KARIMIMACHIANI (86kg). Press reports say defending champion Meysam NASIRI (65kg) will be on the team.
Local hopes for freestyle gold in the land of the Golden Temple are highest in Sandeep TOMAR (IND), the defending champion at 57kg, and Vinod KUMAR (IND), who will aim to improve on his runner-up finish at 70kg from 2016.
Japan, which was shut out of the men’s medals in 2016, will look to its star lightweight to ensure avoiding a similar fate this time. Rei HIGUCHI, the Rio silver medalist at 57kg, moves up to 61kg, where he will attempt to dethrone title-holder Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) and deny Ehsanpoor a first Asian gold.
Higuchi was briefly hospitalized with an ankle injury in mid-April, but was determined to get onto the mat in New Delhi. "I don’t have much experience on the global stage, so I definitely want to get out there," the 20-year-old was quoted as telling a Japanese sports daily.
In Greco-Roman, at least two Iranians are slated to return to defend their titles, Afshin BYABANGARD (71kg) and Ramin TAHERISARTANG (80kg). Amir GHASEMI MONJAZI, the 2016 champion at 130kg, is on the provisional entry list, although press reports have World Cup member Behnam MEHDIZADEH filling that spot.
As many as nine other medalists from 2016 are also entered, including three from host India in upper weight classes -- Harpeet SINGH (80kg), Hardeep HARDEEP (98kg) and Naveen NAVEEN (130kg).
Greco-Roman, May 10-11
The tournament kicks off with competition in four Greco-Roman weight classes, with the heaviest division particularly stacked. Should Amir GHASEMI MONJAZI (IRI) return to defend his 130kg title, he will be challenged by the three other medalists from 2016, runner-up Murat RAMONOV (KGZ) along with bronze medalists Damir KUZEMBAEV (KAZ) and Naveen NAVEEN (IND).
The lightest weight class of 59kg also promises an intriguing field that includes 2016 bronze medalist Mirambek AINAGULOV (KAZ) and Kenichiro FUMITA (JPN), the 2016 Golden Grand Prix Final champion. Fumita turned heads at the Japan championships last December when he defeated Rio silver medalist Shinobu OTA in the final.
Another wrestler worth watching is Atsushi MATSUMOTO (JPN) at 85kg, who is making the transition from freestyle to Greco-Roman. A three-time national champion and the 2015 Asian silver medalist in freestyle, he considered quitting after failing to qualify for Rio, but instead looked to resurrect his career by switching to Greco-Roman -- the style in which his older brother Ryutaro won a 60kg bronze medal at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Women’s Wrestling, May 11-13
Two up-and-coming Japanese teenagers will attempt to wrest the crowns in the lightest weight classes out of Chinese hands.
Yui SASAKI (JPN), 17, a three-time cadet world champion 2014-2016, captured the 48kg title at both the Yarygin Grand Prix and Klippan Open this year. She will battle it out with defending champion SUN Yanan (CHN) as well as returning silver medalist Irina BORISSOVA (KAZ).
Not to be outdone, 19-year-old Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) should prove a daunting opponent at 53kg for returning medalists PANG Qianyu (CHN) and DAVAASUKH Otgontsetseg (MGL), who Mukaida defeated in the Yarygin final. Mukaida pulled off an unusual double last year, when she captured the world junior gold at 55kg in the summer, and then won the senior world title in the same weight class -- less than four months later.
Further up, it will be Chinese trying to unseat Japanese champions. ZHOU Zhangting (CHN), the 2016 bronze medalist at 58kg, presents the biggest challenge to Olympic champion Risako KAWAI (JPN) at 60kg. Rio gold medalist Sara DOSHO (JPN) can expect a challenge at 69kg from 2015 world silver medalist ZHOU Feng, as well as Elmira SYZDYKOVA (KAZ), the Rio bronze medalist who will look to avenge her loss to Dosho in last year’s final in Bangkok.
Freestyle, May 13-14
The spotlight will be on the 61kg class, in which the top two from 2016, Daulet NIYAZBEKOV (KAZ) and Behnam EHSANPOOR (IRI), will have to contend with Rei HIGUCHI (JPN), the Rio Olympic silver medalist at 57kg.
Japan has filled the 57kg slot with the fully capable Yuki TAKAHASHI, who shared the bronze medals at the 2016 Golden Grand Prix Final with Sandeep TOMAR (IND), the defending Asian champion. Ulukbek ZHOLDOSHBEKOV (KGZ) will attempt to improve on his bronze medal from the 2016 Asian Championships.
Saiakbai USUPOV (KGZ), a 2016 bronze medalist at 74kg, has moved up to 86kg, where Alireza KARIMIMACHIANI (IRI) will be looking to add to the Asian gold he won in 2015. Also expected to be in the mix is Unurbat PUREVJAV (MGL), winner of the recent Mongolian Open and the silver medalist at 74kg at both the 2015 world and 2014 Asian championships.
Reigning world junior champion Hossain SHAHBAZIGAZVAR (IRI) will be intent on keeping the 97kg in Iranian hands in a field that includes Rio bronze medalist Magomed IBRAGIMOV (UZB).
Tuesday, May 9
17:30-18:15 - Medical Examination: GR 66, 75, 80, 98 & 130kg
18:30-19:00 - Weigh-In: GR 66, 75, 80, 98 & 130kg
Wednesday, May 10
10:00-13:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: GR 66, 75, 80, 98 & 130kg
17:30-18:15 - Medical Examination: GR 59, 71 & 85kg, WW 63 & 75kg
18:30-19:00 - Weigh-In: GR 59, 71 & 85kg, WW 63 & 75kg
19:00-19:30 - Opening Ceremony
19:30-21:30 - Finals and Award Ceremonies: GR 66, 75, 80, 98 & 130kg
Thursday, May 11
10:00-13:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: GR 59, 71 & 85kg, WW 63 & 75kg
16:00-17:00 - Medical Examination: WW 48, 53, 55, 60 & 69kg
17:15-17:45 - Weigh-In: WW 48, 53, 55, 60 & 69kg
18:00-20:00 - Finals and Award Ceremonies: GR 59, 71 & 85kg, WW 63 & 75kg
Friday, May 12
10:00-13:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: WW 48, 53, 55, 60 & 69kg
16:00-17:00 - Medical Examination: WW 58kg, FS 57, 65, 74 & 97kg
17:15-17:45 - Weigh-In: WW 58kg, FS 57, 65, 74 & 97kg
18:00-20:00 - Finals and Award Ceremonies: WW 48, 53, 55, 60 & 69kg
Saturday, May 13
10:00-13:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: WW 58kg, FS 57, 65, 74 & 97kg
16:00-17:00 - Medical Examination: FS 61, 70, 86 & 125kg
17:15-17:45 - Weigh-In: FS 61, 70, 86 & 125kg
18:00-20:00 - Finals and Award Ceremonies: WW 58kg, FS 57, 65, 74 & 97kg
Sunday, May 14
10:00-13:00 - Qualification Rounds & Repechage: FS 61, 70, 86 & 125kg
18:00-20:00 - Finals and Award Ceremonies: FS 61, 70, 86 & 125kg