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08 Mar 2015
IOC News

Equal footing thrills women wrestlers

Much to the delight of the USA’s Helen Maroulis, Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson and Japan’s Saori Yoshida, the women’s freestyle wrestling competition at Rio 2016 will feature six weight categories, putting it on the same footing as the men.

At 23, Helen Maroulis is a rising star of women’s freestyle wrestling. Competing in the 55kg category, the American won silver at the Worlds in 2012, a bronze in 2014, and then took her first gold at the 2011 Pan American Games. She says that the decision to add women’s wrestling to the Olympic programme at Athens 2004 was a landmark moment for her sport.

“It proved to be incredibly beneficial because now it allowed the other 50 percent of the population to partake in one of the greatest and the oldest sports ever,” she says. “When women’s wrestling was originally included, they only added four weight classes, so we would have seven weight classes during non-Olympic years and then there’d only be four Olympic weights.”

Six of the best

That was the case at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, where women only competed in the 48kg, 55kg, 63kg and 72kg categories. However, in Rio in 2016, they will have six categories just like the men:48kg, 53kg, 58kg, 63kg, 69kg and 75kg.

“Since it became an Olympic event, there has obviously been a big increase in the youngsters taking part,” comments three-time Olympic gold medallist and 12-time world champion Saori Yoshida. “Since then we’ve started to hear a lot more from children wanting to wrestle at the Olympics. Compared to having only four categories, moving up to six means that more people can experience the Olympics, and that’s something I’m really pleased about.”

More work ahead

“Olympic status for women’s wrestling is really important,” says Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson, who competed in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and has three European titles to her name as well as the 2009 51kg world crown. “I think it was about then when people really opened their eyes and took women’s wrestling seriously. The Olympics is the biggest thing you could ever win. It’s everyone’s dream”

“The fact that there are more opportunities to go to the Games will encourage more competitors to try and get there,” comments Yoshida. “It’s obviously a really great thing that the number of people in women’s wrestling has gone up and that the number of categories is the same as the men. I think that we’re going to have to work even harder.”

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Past struggles

Recalling past struggles, Maroulis adds: “Before… athletes would wrestle for three years at the weights they were comfortable at and that was probably the most healthy for them. But to achieve the Olympic dream they were going to have to make some type of sacrifice, either cutting down a lot of weight or going up a weight class. But now with six weights, it gives women more opportunities and a broader range of weight classes for them to pick.

 “I think adding weights for the women and having it be equal with the men really shows that this sport for women is serious and it is growing and it is developed,” she continues. “I’m incredibly excited to see that there are six weights now for the Olympics in Rio 2016. I remember in 2004 just thinking that it was such a milestone that there are four weights now.

“In 2008 and 2012 I started to wonder: ‘Is it ever going to be even?’. I’m just incredibly thankful that I get to see this during my career and get to live it out. I can’t wait to see how all the women are going to do at the Olympic Games.”  

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