Tokyo 2020 Test Event Starts with Minor Kinks, Vengeance for Japan’s Sakano

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (Oct. 3)---The wrestling venue for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics got its first taste of action with the start of a three-day women’s tournament, with the competition on the mat overshadowing the kind of technological glitches that often pop up in a test event.

Yui SAKANO (JPN) provided the surprise of the day in Hall 5 of Makuhari Messe, a sprawling convention center in western Chiba city down the coast from Tokyo, when she avenged a loss from three years ago to newly minted world bronze medalist PEI Xingru (CHN) in the 62kg semifinals. 

Venue manager Yasukazu FUJIMORI, assessing the first day of the three-day test event in the six Olympic weight classes for women, said, “The training for the staff and volunteers went well. The problem was with the technology.” 

He pointed out bugs with the printer and scoreboards, the type that come out during operational trials and are fixable as the UWW and Olympic systems are integrated. 

Of bigger concern for Fujimori was the low number of wrestlers drawn to the tournament. Coming so close to the recently completed World Championships in Kazakhstan, only half the countries who had expressed interest in participating actually made the trip. 

“It’s a bit of a lonely tournament,” Fujimori said. “We wanted 16 entries [per weight class] but only have eight [or nine],” adding that reductions in the budget by the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee for its “Ready Steady Tokyo” series of test events also was a factor.

Fujimori expressed his gratitude to China, which, among the six nations here, sent several top wrestlers, including five medalists from Nur-Sultan. 

ZHOU Qian (CHN) defeated 2018 world champion Justina DI STASIO (CAN), 2-2, and will wrestle for gold at 76kg. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

“I wanted to get a feel for the atmosphere of this venue and the weather in Japan,” ZHOU Qian (CHN), a two-time former world medalist, said after making the 76kg final. “Maybe there will be some difference [next year], but it will help a lot to prepare next time.” 

When the wrestlers got on the mat, of course, they put aside the external factors and focus on the task at hand, just as they would for any tournament. 

Sakano, the 2017 world U23 champion at 60kg, was only offered a place at the tournament 10 days ago. And when she saw who was among her competition at 62kg, she became extra motivated.

Three years ago at the World Championships for non-Olympic weights, Sakano lost 8-6 in the semifinals to China’s Pei, who went on to win that title. Pei would add bronze medals at 59kg last year in Budapest and last month at Nur-Sultan.

On Thursday, Pei scored a go-behind takedown to take a 2-0 lead into the second period. But Sakano used a nifty barrel roll to go ahead 4-2 and came very close to ending the match with a fall. 

“I wanted to use a different move, but the chance came up,” Sakano said. “I was losing anyway so I just went for it.”

Pei escaped the predicament, but could only gain a point for fleeing in the closing seconds and came out on the short end of a 4-3 score. 

“I remember it,” Sakano said of the 2016 loss to Pei. “When I saw the draw, I thought this was a good chance for revenge as I hadn’t faced her in the three years [since the world championships].”

In the final on Saturday, Sakano will be looking for another measure of revenge. She will be facing 2018 world junior champion Atena KODAMA (JPN), who defeated her at last year’s All-Japan Championships. 

Kodama advanced with a 5-3 victory over Ilona PROKOPEVNIUK (UKR) after scoring all of her points in the second period, mainly with a deadly low single.  

Yui SAKANO (JPN) scored a stunning 4-3 win over world bronze medalist PEI Xingru (CHN) in the 62kg semifinals. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

In the morning session, Sakano scored a victory by fall over LUO Xiaojuan, this year’s Asian champion at 65kg. Pei, meanwhile, had her hands full with Mallory VELTE (USA) in a clash of current and former world bronze medalists before coming away with a 4-1 victory. 

Kodama, a 2018 world junior champion, defeated Yarygin Grand Prix runner-up Anna SHCHERBAKOVA (RUS) 8-1, twice fighting off whizzer attempts that ended up with the Russian on her back. 

The 76kg final will be an all-China affair between Paliha PALIHA (CHN) and Zhou, who each advanced with very different wins.

Paliha, a world bronze medalist at 72kg, overwhelmed high schooler Mizuki NAGASHIMA (JPN) by 12-2 technical fall, while Zhou needed a spin-behind takedown with five seconds left to stun 2018 world 72kg champion Justina DI STASIO (CAN) 2-2 on criteria. 

Asked what she was thinking as the clock ticked down, Zhou smiled and said in English, “I want to win.”

At 68kg, WANG Xiaoqian (CHN) stormed into the final with the most dominant performance of the day, and will face Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN) for the gold. 

Wang, a world bronze medalist at 65kg, needed just 30 seconds to dispose of Alina RUDNYTSKA LEVYTSKA (UKR), a 2018 world junior bronze medalist, by 10-0 technical fall, then defeated Alexandra GLAUDE (USA) by fall. 

Matsuyuki, one of twin sisters in the tournament, pancaked Alena STARODUBTSEVA (RUS) for two points early in their semifinal before holding on for a 3-0 win. 

Day 1 Results

Women’s Wrestling

62kg (8 entries)
Semifinal – Yui SAKANO (JPN) df. PEI Xingru (CHN), 4-3
Semifinal – Atena KODAMA (JPN) df. Ilona PROKOPEVNIUK (UKR), 5-3

68kg (8 entries)
Semifinal – WANG Xiaoqian (CHN) df. Alexandra GLAUDE (USA) by Fall, 2:50 (6-0) 
Semifinal – Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN) df. Alena STARODUBTSEVA (RUS), 3-0

76kg (9 entries)
Semifinal – Paliha PALIHA (CHN) df. Mizuki NAGASHIMA (JPN) by TF, 12-2, 4:35 
Semifinal – ZHOU Qian (CHN) df. Justina DI STASIO (CAN), 2-2


Rivals Japan, China Split Head-To-Head Finals on Final Day of Tokyo 2020 Test Event

By Ken Marantz

CHIBA, Japan (Oct. 5)—Host Japan and rival China each came up with a victory in head-to-head duels as the last three gold medals were awarded to bring a close to the three-day Tokyo 2020 Olympic test event in women’s wrestling at Makuhari Messe in neighboring Chiba city. 

LEI Chun (CHN) defeated teenager Miu SHIMIZU (JPN) 5-2 in the 50kg final, before 2018 world junior champion Umi IMAI (JPN) struck back for the host nation by edging LUO Lannuan (CHN) 3-2 for the 53kg gold.

In an all-Japan final at 57kg, Yumeka TANABE (JPN) gained the winning points on a late challenge to top Sena NAGAMOTO (JPN) 6-4.

With no spectator seating and only the set-up of the mats offering a glimpse of what the actual venue will look like during the Tokyo Games, the tournament served mostly to test the newly developed integrated scoring system and to give volunteers and staff experience with the flow of matches.

“It was definitely good to organize such an event, to see the small problems and to coordinate before the Olympic Games,” UWW technical delegate Peter BACSA said after the tournament in the six Olympic weight classes.

“It’s hard to imagine that in this hall it’s going to be an Olympic tournament, but I think when they put in the stands and podium and nice equipment, it’s going to be much different. So we’re looking forward to that.”

The tournament used just one hall in Makuhari Messe’s expansive International Convention Center. During the Olympics, the dividers to the two adjacent halls will be taken down, tripling the space to accommodate stands at the mat ends for a seating capacity of 8,000 to 10,000. 

The final day of competition was delayed slightly by a malfunction in the scoreboard, but that was soon fixed and the medal matches got underway in the final three weight classes.

“In the Olympic Games, we will use the Omega system, which is different than Athena, so it has to be implemented together and matched together, and the two systems have to be parallel, so that was the first task,” Basca said.

In the day’s first final, Lei, the 2018 Asian champion, scored a first-period takedown, then added an activity point and a takedown off a slick ankle pick in the second to lead 5-0. 

Shimizu, a 2017 Asian cadet champion, gained 2 points with a front headlock roll, but that’s all she could muster as the Chinese clinched the victory. 

“I feel so-so,” Lei said of winning the gold. “I understand the opponent from Japan is not on the top level.”

To Shimizu’s credit, she boldly fought off Lei’s gut wrench attempts to limit the damage from the takedowns. Lei, however, chalked that up to fatigue from her semifinal match the previous day, in which she trailed Remina YOSHIMOTO (JPN) before a spree of lace-lock rolls gave her a 14-4 technical fall.

“The semifinal was the most difficult one,” Lei said. “I still tried my best to perform, but after that match, my condition was not very well. Although the opponent was weaker than in the semifinal, I understand it was the final match and I didn’t want to take a risk.”

Yoshimoto bounced back in her bronze-medal match to defeat Daria LEKSINA (RUS) by fall after building up a 10-4 lead, while Mariia VYNNYK (UKR) scored a late takedown against Chihiro SAWADA (JPN) for a 4-4 win on last-point criteria.

Umi IMAI (JPN) escaped the 53kg finals with a 3-2 win over LUO Lannuan (CHN) (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

In the 53kg final, Imai trailed Luo 2-1 going into the second period, but scored a takedown midway through the period and held on for a 3-2 victory over the 2018 Asian champion at 55kg.

Imai said she was determined to uphold Japanese pride against the Asian rival.

“China has recently become strong so I thought I have to win, and I fought hard,” Imai said. “I myself won’t be going to the Olympics, but to be given the chance to compete in this arena, I thought I want to go home with the title.”

The match ended with Imai clinging to a single leg and Luo desperately trying to lever her over. “I wanted to win by more points, but my opponent didn’t let me score that easily,” Imai said. 

In the bronze-medal matches, Saki IGARASHI (JPN) received a victory by default from world bronze medalist PANG Qianyu (CHN), who was one of several top Chinese wrestlers from the recent World Championships in Kazakhstan who were entered in the tournament but did not compete. 

Ibuki TAMURA (JPN) scored three takedowns in the second period, fighting off counter-lift attempts by lanky Katherine SHAI (USA) to win 7-3 and take home the other bronze.

Yumeka TANABE (JPN) used a late challege to gain the 6-4 advantage over Sena NAGAMOTO (JPN) in the 57kg finals. (Photo: Sachiko Hotaka)

Capping the event was Tanabe’s knife-edge victory over 2018 Asian junior champion Nagamoto for the 57kg gold. 

Tanabe, the daughter of Athens 2004 Olympic freestyle bronze medalist Chikara TANABE and a two-time world cadet champion, took a 4-2 lead into the second period, and seemed on the verge of padding it when she got behind Nagamoto in the standing position.

But in her haste to pull Nagamoto backward to the mat in the final 20 seconds, she allowed Nagamoto to grab onto a leg and stop her motion, momentarily putting her on her back. The original call was 2 points for Nagamoto, which would have put her ahead on criteria. But a successful challenge by Tanabe’s side gave 2 points to each wrestler, and Tanabe held on for the win.

“She’s an opponent I had faced before, but this time she pushed me harder,” Tanabe said. “She prepared a strategy against me. In the end, it’s good that I came away with the win, but I thought I had lost by the one challenge.

“The way I wrestled, I feel like I was the loser. But I’ll be ready for the world U23 and World Cup and will go in with the feeling that I am the challenger,” she added.

Hanako SAWA (JPN) added to the host country’s medal haul by gaining a takedown and stepout in the second period for a 3-2 win in the bronze-medal match over Khadizhat MURTUZALIEVA (RUS), while ZHANG Qi (CHN) took the other bronze by default. 

Wrapping things up, the UWW’s other technical delegate on site, Theodoros HAMAKOS, commented, “I am sure that next year everything will be be OK.”

Basca added he expects Japan’s well-known organizational skills to ensure a successful Olympics. 

“They are taking care of all small details—even too much care—but that’s how they do it,” he said, “so I’m sure that at the Games everything will be in the right place.”

Day 3 Results
Women’s Wrestling

50kg (8 entries)
Gold – LEI Chun (CHN) df. Miu SHIMIZU (JPN), 5-2
Bronze – Remina YOSHIMOTO (JPN) df. Daria LEKSINA (RUS) by Fall, 4:10 (10-4) 
Bronze – Mariia VYNNYK (UKR) df. Chihiro SAWADA (JPN), 4-4

53kg (9 entries)
Gold – Umi IMAI (JPN) df. LUO Lannuan (CHN), 3-2
Bronze – Saki IGARASHI (JPN) df. PANG Qianyu (CHN) by Def. 
Bronze – Ibuki TAMURA (JPN) df. Katherine SHAI (USA), 7-3

57kg (8 entries)
Gold – Yumeka TANABE (JPN) df. Sena NAGAMOTO (JPN) 6-4 
Bronze – ZHANG Qi (CHN) df. RONG Ningning (CHN) by Def. 
Bronze – Hanako SAWA (JPN) df. Khadizhat MURTUZALIEVA (RUS), 3-2