Who's In?

Who’s In? Women's Wrestling Olympic Qualifiers

By Andrew Hipps

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY (April 22) - In response to the IOC’s decision to postpone the Tokyo Olympic Games until the summer of 2021, United World Wrestling has announced that all Olympic qualification spots already earned will continue to be honored.

For the nations whose wrestlers qualified at the World Championships or Pan Am Qualifiers that means they are done, but for those who haven’t qualified in each weight category there will be events in March and April of 2021 to determine the remaining eight spots in each category.

We’ve broken down “Who’s In,” and which stars still need to qualify.

The top women’s wrestling nations are back at it this qualification year as Japan, China, and the lead in the race to accumulate the most Olympic qualifiers.

The United States is the lone nation with all six weight categories qualified in women's wrestling having qualified two weight categories at the 2019 World Championships and adding four more at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier in Ottawa, Canada.

Japan qualified five of the six weight categories at the World Championships, while China qualified four. Both nations are expected to fill out their Olympic licenses at the Asian Olympic qualification event in March 2021

Let's look at where things stand in each of the six weight categories heading into the final four Olympic qualifying events.

50kg
In one of the more surprising developments at the 2019 World Championships, Japan failed to qualify 50kg in women's wrestling for the Tokyo Olympics. Yuki IRIE, who earned the spot over two-time world champion Yui SUSAKI, failed to reach a medal match in Nur-Sultan. 

That loss opened the door for Susaki to regain her spot and chase Olympic gold. Susaki came back to defeat Yuki at the All Japan Championships in December and the right to qualify the weight category at the Asian Olympic Qualifier. If she does, Susaki will be the immediate favorite to win the weight in Tokyo.

Evin DEMIRHAN (TUR), a world bronze medalist and U23 world champion, will be looking to qualify at the European Olympic Qualifier.

53kg
Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA) won a world title in Nur-Sultan at 55k before making the move down to 53kg for an Olympic run. She took her energy to Ottawa this March where she qualified the weight category for the United States at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier

Two-time world champion Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA won gold at the Matteo Pellicone in January before adding a European title in February. She will be looking to secure her Olympic berth at the European Olympic Qualifier in March.

57g
Olympic champion Helen MAROULIS (USA), who stunned Japanese wrestling great Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) to win gold at the Rio Olympics, returned to competition for the first time since the 2018 World Championships at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. She qualified the United States for the Olympics at 57kg by reaching the finals before forfeiting. 

Alma Jane VALENCIA ESCOTO (MEX) made history at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier by advancing to the finals to become the first-ever Mexican woman to qualify for the Olympics in wrestling. 

Three-time world medalist Emese BARKA (HUN) and 2020 European champion Grace BULLEN (NOR) will be among the favorites to qualify at the European Olympic Qualifier.

62kg
Four-time world medalist Yulia TKACH (UKR) has had a strong year, winning bronze at the Matteo Pellicone and gold at the European Championships, but is still looking to secure an Olympic berth at 62kg. She is currently ranked No.3 in the world. 

Jackeline RENTERIA CASTILLO (COL) is in search of her fourth trip to the Olympics. The 34-year-old Colombian won Olympic bronze medals in 2008 and 2012. She failed to qualify at last year's World Championships and at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. She will have one more opportunity to qualify at the World Olympic "Last Chance" Qualifier next April.

68kg
Danielle LAPPAGE (CAN), a world silver medalist in 2018, qualified for the Olympic Games in March by winning gold at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. The Canadian star also claimed a bronze medal at the Matteo Pellicone in January.  

Yudari SANCHEZ RODRIGUEZ (CUB) punched her ticket to Tokyo by reaching the finals at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier and is one of three Cuban women to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics.

Koumba LARROQUE (FRA) won world medals in 2017 and 2018, but fell short of reaching a medal match last year in Nur-Sultan. She will be looking to secure her spot in the Olympics at the European Olympic Qualifier.

76kg
Olympic champion Erica WIEBE (CAN) captured gold at the Matteo Pellicone before securing her spot in the Tokyo Olympics at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. There will be several very accomplished women looking to qualify at the European Olympic Qualifier, including world champion Yasemin Adar (TUR), four-time world medalist Vasilisa MARZALIUK (BLR), and one of Russia's Olympic medalists, Natalia VOROBEVA or Ekaterina BUKINA. 

Vorobeva is a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and 2016 runner-up. A recent mother, she won the world championships in 2019 at the non-Olympic weight of 72kg.

World Cadet Champion Ozaki Comes of Age with Japan Senior Title at 62kg

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (Dec. 18) -- A year ago, two-time reigning world cadet champion Nonoka OZAKI qualified to appear at the senior All-Japan Championships with a victory at the National Games, but was too young to participate. On Friday, the 17-year-old put on a performance well beyond her years.

Ozaki captured the women's 62kg title with a 5-0 victory in the final over 2018 world junior champion Atena KODAMA on the second day of the four-day championships at Tokyo's Komazawa Gym. 

"It was my first title on my first try," said Ozaki, a member of the JOC Elite Academy who attends a high school near the National Training Center. "Last year, I earn qualification at the National Games, but I wasn't allowed to participate because of my age. 

"That was difficult to swallow. This year I was able to enter, and even though my training was affected by the coronavirus, I encouraged myself and was able to win the championship."

It was a good day for the JOC Academy at the tournament referred to as the Emperor's Cup, as recent graduate Yuka KAGAMI, now a freshman at Toyo University and a reigning world junior champion herself, came from behind to top defending champion Yasuha MATSUYUKI, 6-4, in the 76kg final for her second senior national title.

The tournament is being held under strict protocols amid a nationwide surge in coronavirus infections, with no spectators allowed and all weight classes limited to a maximum of eight entries. All but one of the eight wrestlers who have already clinched spots at the Tokyo Olympics are not entered.

Among the Olympians who skipped the event was women's world 62kg bronze medalist Yukako KAWAI, who absence Ozaki acknowledged takes some of the luster from her gold medal. 

"This is an Olympic weight class and Olympic team member Yukako KAWAI wasn't entered," Ozaki said. "Looking it that way, the top wrestler in Japan wasn't here, so winning the 62kg title doesn't seem that great."

Still, it was quite an accomplishment for the Ozaki, the gold medalist at the 2018 Youth Olympics at 57kg. She defeated 2017 world U23 champion Yui SAKANO and defending champion and fellow high schooler Ami ISHII en route to the final.  

"I didn't think about who I was facing, I just focused on my own wrestling," Ozaki said. "While there are still some things I need to work on, I showed at this tournament how I have made progress."

Kagami, who also has two world cadet crowns to her credit, has established herself as the frontrunner to follow in the footsteps of world medalists Kyoko HAMAGUCHI and Hiroe MINAGAWA in the heaviest weight class.

In the final, Kagami fell behind 4-1, but gained a stepout early in the second period, then scored a takedown with :52 left before hitting a gut wrench 20 seconds later to secure the victory, adding to the title she won at non-Olympic 72kg in 2018.

"When I was down by 3 points, part of me thought it was over," Kagami said. "But I knew with the practice I put in, I was confident that I could beat anyone, so I thought it would definitely be OK. I made myself keep my composure."


So SAKABE defeated Masato SUMI in the Greco-Roman 87kg final (Photo: Tateo Yabuki/Japan Wrestling Federation)

Sakabe Rises from Depths of Despair

In other action, So SAKABE not only defeated Self-Defense Forces Physical Training School teammate and three-time defending champion Masato SUMI in the Greco-Roman 87kg final, he reached a new high after having sunk to the depths of despair.

In June 2018, Sakabe was shocked to receive a ban for doping at the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships. A drug prescribed by a doctor for a stomach disorder that he had taken mistakenly contained a banned substance, and it would not be until February 2019 that the Japan Anti-Doping Agency would completely exonerate Sakabe as blameless.

But the incident took a toll on Sakabe, who still has pending a lawsuit for damages against the pharmaceutical company that manufactured the drug. He had been a rising star when he won the 75kg title at the 2016 Meiji Cup to earn a trip to the World Championships (at 80kg), but had to overcome a long blank when he returned last year.

"It's been awhile since I won a championship, so I'm really happy," said the 27-year-old Sakabe, who has moved up to 87kg after finishing third last year at 77kg, thus putting him out of the running for an Olympic spot in that weight class.

Ironically, the hardship he endured made it easier to get through the disruption caused by the pandemic this year.

"I was out of the sport because of the doping incident, so I wasn't so concerned about the coronavirus," Sakabe said. "I just focused on what I could leading up to here, and today was the result."

In the final, Sakabe broke a 3-3 tie with a stepout with :08 left, then got a last-second 2-point penalty to defeat Sumi, 6-3. 

"He's an opponent who won a number of times in a row," Sakabe said. "We're on the same team and the same year. He's the champion and very strong. But I put out what I did to get here, and in the end, I won with heart."

Sumi is one of the nine wrestlers in the tournament who, by virtue of victories at last year's Emperor's Cup, will represent Japan at the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in March in Xi'an, China. Their places are set, regardless of how they fare at this year's Emperor's Cup. 

Three others bound for Xi'an who were in action Friday managed to maintain their pride and defend their titles. 

Shohei YABIKU won a second straight title at Greco 77kg and fifth overall, Arata SONODA made it seven in a row at Greco 130kg, and Naoya AKAGUMA extended his streak of freestyle 97kg titles to three with a fourth overall. 

Yabiku came out on top of a 2-1 decision in the final over Naotsuku SHOJI, with all of the points scored on passivity and neither able to score in the par terre position.

"Before the last Olympics, I entered the qualifying tournament and ended with an agonizing result," Yabiku said. "This time, there is still time for me to work on the issues that came up here, and raise my level to secure an Olympic spot by winning the qualification tournament."

Sonoda remained in a class of his own in the heaviest division, winning both of his two matches by technical falls, including an 8-0 romp in 1:13 over Sota OKUMURA in the final.


Naoya AKAGUMA extended his streak of freestyle 97kg titles to three (Photo: Tateo Yabuki /Japan Wrestling Federation)

Akaguma was similarly dominant in his final, finishing off Takashi ISHIGURO with three rolls off a lace lock to cap a 10-0 technical fall in 1:56. In the first round, Ishiguro ousted Takuma OTSU, the Asian silver medalist and last year's champion at 92kg. 

The other freestyle gold at stake went to world junior 61kg champion Kaiki YAMAGUCHI, who won a battle of activity points to beat Ryoma ANRAKU, 2-1, in the 65kg final. 

The victory was a repeat of Yamaguchi's win over Anraku in the semifinals en route to the title at the national collegiate championships six weeks earlier.

In the absence of former world champion and defending champion Yui SUSAKI, collegiate champion Remina YOSHIMOTO captured the gold in the women's 50kg class, gaining her final eight points with lace lock rolls in an 11-0 technical fall over high schooler Umi ITO.

Day 2 Results

Freestyle

65kg
Final
Kaiki YAMAGUCHI df. Ryoma ANRAKU, 2-1
3rd Place
Kei YONEZAWA df. Yujiro UENO, 8-6
Semifinals
Yamaguchi df. Ueno, 10-2
Anraku df. Yonezawa, 2-2

97kg
Final
Naoya AKAGUMA df. Takashi ISHIGURO by TF, 10-0, 1:56
3rd Place
Takeshi YAMAGUCHI df. Taira SONODA, 11-9
Semifinals
Akaguma df. Yamaguchi, 4-2
Ishiguro df. Sonoda, 2-2

Greco-Roman

77kg
Final
Shohei YABIKU df. Naotsuku SHOJI, 2-1
3rd Place
Kodai SAKURABA df. Yudai KOMURO, 5-0
Semifinals
Yabiku df. Amane SHIMOYAMADA by TF, 10-0, 2:24
Shoji df. Kaichi SUGAWARA, 3-1

87kg
Final
So SAKABE df. Masato SUMI, 6-3 
3rd Place
Takahiro TSURUDA df Kaito MIYAMOTO by TF, 9-0, 2:25 
Semifinals
Sumi df. Miyamoto by TF, 11-0, 3:56
Sakabe df. Tsuruda, 4-1

130kg
Final
Arata SONODA df. Sota OKUMURA by TF, 8-0, 1:13
3rd Place
Ryuta KONO df. Shoma SUZUKI by Fall, 1:35 (4-0) 
Semifinals
Sonoda df. Suzuki by TF, 9-0, :54
Okumura df. Kono by TF, 10-1, 4:28

Women's Wrestling

50kg
Final
Remina YOSHIMOTO df. Umi ITO by TF, 11-0, 2:53 
3rd Place
Miyu NAKAMURA df. Miho IGARASHI, 7-0
Semifinals
Ito df. Igarashi, 4-0
Yoshimoto df. Minoriho YONEHARA by TF, 10-0, 1:48

62kg
Final
Nonoka OZAKI df. Atena KODAMA, 5-0
3rd Place
Rin MIYAJI df. Ami ISHII, 5-5 
Semifinals
Ozaki df. Ishii, 6-2
Kodama df. Miyaji by Fall, 5:59 (7-4)

76kg
Yuka KAGAMI df. Yasuha MATSUYUKI, 6-4
3rd Place
Rino ABE df. Mizuki NAGASHIMA, 2-1
Semifinals
Matsuyuki df. Nagashima by TF, 11-0, 4:52
Kagami df. Abe, 5-2