Japan’s Kaori Icho has the most impressive career record of any female wrestler in the world. Since the sport was first included on the Olympic women’s programme at Athens 2004, she has made the 63kg weight class her own, winning three consecutive gold medals in the event. In the meantime, the 30-year-old from Hachinohe won seven world titles between 2002 and 2013, not to mention three golds at the Asian Games.
This all makes her the ideal role model for aspiring champions, and she will be passing on her expertise and know-how to the young wrestlers competing at the second Youth Olympic Games in Nanjing. And Icho, who could also have chosen to take up football, has plenty to tell them, having followed her older brother and sister into the sport at the age of three.
Kaori Icho of Japan and Ruixue Jing of China compete during the Women's Freestyle 63 kg Wrestling on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at ExCeL on August 8, 2012 in London, England.
“Wrestling is an individual sport, but it’s not one you can do on your own,” she muses. “I train with a lot of team-mates and I sometimes get the feeling it’s actually a team sport. The ties between us are very strong.”
Icho has been an enthusiastic supporter of the YOG since they made their debut in 2010: “There was no such event when I was younger. I envy today’s youngsters because they get to see what the Olympic standard is all about at an early age.”
Gold medalist Kaori Icho of Japan competes in the Women's Freestyle 63 kg Gold Medal Boult against Alena Kartashova of Russia on Day 9 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
Discussing the advice she is planning to give the young champions she will be mentoring in Nanjing, the three-time Olympic gold medallist said: “I want to see youngsters carry on training so that they can follow us to the next level, which is the Olympic Games,” she says.
“They need to gain an understanding of wrestling first of all and not focus too much on winning or losing. It’s more important that they maintain their interest in the sport and to try and find out more and more about it.”