In Rio Kaori Icho joined a select group of athletes to have won four consecutive Olympic titles as she preserved her unbeaten record at the Games. She spearheaded a Japanese charge on the medals, with only Helen Maroulis (USA), who denied legend Saori Yoshida a fourth Olympic title, and heavyweight Erica Wiebe (CAN) standing in the way of a sweep of the golds.
First introduced into the Olympics in Athens 2004, women’s wrestling had its programme increased from four to six weight categories in Rio to give it parity with men’s Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling.
Eri Tosaka was the first female wrestler to top the podium, overcoming Mariya Stadnik (AZE) 3-2 in the 48kg final to add Olympic gold to the three consecutive world titles she won from 2013 to 2015. It was the second Olympic silver medal for Stadnik, while bronze was shared by Elitsa Yankova of Bulgaria and Sun Yanan of China.
The 22-year-old Japanese wrestler left no doubt as to her superiority as she recorded convincing wins over Zhuldyz Eshinova (KAZ) 6-0 in the first round, Haley Augello (USA) 11-2 in the quarter-final and Sun Yanan (CHN) 8-3 in the semi-final on her steady march to the final.
Tosaka’s last-second takedown of Stadnik earned Japan their eighth gold medal of Rio 2016. After her victory she said, “I want to say thank you to everyone was has supported me. I tried to stay focused in the final and as I wanted to win I just continued!”
To the delight of the crowd Tosaka celebrated her win by hoisting her coach onto her shoulders as she did her victory lap of the ring.
Icho enters the record books
Already a three-time Olympic champion in the 63kg category, Kaori Icho was once again crowned Olympic victor, this time at 58kg. Competing in the second final of the evening, Icho faced off against Valeria Koblova of Russia. She defeated the Russian 3-1 to preserve her unbeaten streak at the Olympic Games.
With her win Icho became the first ever wrestler to win four consecutive individual Olympic gold medals, a stunning achievement. Her achievement has only ever been equalled by three other athletes: discus champion Al Oerter, Carl Lewis in the long jump and swimmer Michael Phelps in the 200m IM.
Icho was on unbeatable form during the night and defeated two of her opponents to nil, Marwa Amri of Tunisia and Yuliya Ratkevich of Azerbaijan. “I’ve been wrestling for many years now,” said Kaori Icho after the final bout. “I need to thank everyone who has supported me: my family, friends and my support team.”
“The thought of my fourth consecutive victory didn’t put any pressure on me but I think these are the first Games when I’ve been a bit afraid. My mum wasn’t there and there were many things going on inside my head but I think I won this because of my desire,” said the Olympic champion afterwards.
It was also a special night for Sakshi Malik of India who won her country’s first ever wrestling medal and first Olympic medal of these Games after making her way through the repechage to fight for bronze. She defeated Aisuluu Tynybekova (KGZ) 3-1 in one of the two third-place playoffs, with the other bronze medal awarded to Marwa Amri after her victory over Ratkevich.
“Girls can do so much if you trust in them,” said Malik after her inspirational performance. “This has been a dream of mine for 12 years and it’s become reality. I’m so happy. There was a lot of pressure on the fight because there was a medal at stake. I was very confident I could win the match under the pressure.”
Dosho makes it a Japanese hat-trick
In the last final of the night, Sara Dosho made it three out of three for Japan as she clinched the win 3-1 over defending Olympic champion Natalia Vorobieva in the 69kg category.
With only thirty seconds remaining Dosho was still trailing but a dramatic takedown in the closing seconds gave her the victory. It was Japan’s first in the category despite their dominance in women’s wrestling. Jenny Fransson (SWE) and Elmira Syzdykova (KAZ) shared the bronze medals.
Her win earned Japan their 10th victory in Rio as well as their 10th in the wrestling. “The gold has been my goal since I was young,” explained Dosho afterwards.
As with the previous finals on the night, Dosho got off to a slow start. “It wasn’t our aim to win this way and make a comeback in the final seconds. But I didn’t give up; I had self-belief right until the end. I won by taking down my opponent and it was my coach who taught me that move,” she explained. “Now I know how it feels to won an Olympic gold medal. It’s huge and so heavy!”
Kawai adds to Japan’s collection
The second evening of competition in the women’s wrestling at the Carioca Arena 2 started where the Japanese team left off the previous night, with Risako Kawai winning a fourth wrestling title for Japan.
A two-time world junior champion, the 21-year-old secured a clean victory in the 63kg final over Mariya Mamashuk of Belarus, not letting her score a single point during the 6-0 win. She won her semi-final in similarly dominating fashion, taking just three minutes to defeat Inna Trazhukova of Russia.
After the final Kawai said, “I’m so happy and I just want to say thank you to everyone: my opponent, my friends, my family and everyone who encouraged me.”
For Mamashuk, her medal was also the first ever for Belarus in women’s wrestling. “I wanted the gold medal but today I came away with silver and I’m happy with that,” she reacted after the final. “These are my first Olympic Games and I’m so happy.”
Bronze medals went to Yekaterina Larionova of Kazakhstan and Monika Michalik of Poland.
Maroulis scores huge upset over Yoshida
The result of the 53kg category caused huge shockwaves as American wrestling champion Helen Louise Maroulis defeated three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida in the final. It was the legendary wrestler’s first and only defeat in a major tournament in 14 years, preventing her from equalling compatriot Kaori Icho’s record-breaking four Olympic titles.
Prior to the final Yoshida had easily won her three previous fights to nil, whereas Maroulis faced a stern test against Jong Myong-suk (PRK) in the quarter-finals. “I’ve dreamed of this my whole life,” said an ecstatic Maroulis after her win. “I put her on a pedestal. I’ve been dreaming about wrestling Saori for so long. She’s my hero; she’s the most decorated wrestler ever. It is such an honour to have wrestled her.”
Maroulis scored two takedowns over her legendary opponent in the second half to secure an uncontested 4-1 victory. “My opponent was stronger than me, that’s it,” said the 13-time world title holder through tears. “I should have attacked sooner and more quickly but she was just stronger than me.”
Maroulis and Yoshida were joined on the podium by bronze medallists Nataliya Sinishin (UKR) and Sofia Mattsson (SWE).
Wiebe springs rare victory for Canada
In the final fight of the Rio 2016 women’s wrestling, world no. two Erica Elizabeth Wiebe (CAN) clinched the win over Guzel Manyurova (KAZ) in the 75kg category to secure her first ever Olympic medal. Wiebe didn’t concede a single point in either the semi-final or final, using defensive tactics which allowed her to win points on the counter-attack.
Right at the beginning of the fight Wiebe made her first move on Manyurova, scoring two points from a failed force-out attempt. Shortly after the break she made another counter-attack which resulted in a double-leg takedown. Now leading 4-0, the Canadian wrestler was well in control for the final minute. Manyurova made a final attack which Wiebe was also able to fend off to score two more points, bringing the final score to 6-0.
The 38-year-old Kazakh’s silver medal adds to her glittering collection after winning silver in Athens 2004 while competing for Russia and bronze in London 2012. Bronze medals went to Zhang Fengliu of China, who defeated Wiebe’s semi-final opponent Vasilisa Marzaliuk 8-4 in the first of the bronze medal matches, while the other went to Ekaterina Bukina of Russia who defeated Annabel Laure Ali of Cameroon 5-3.
“I took each fight as it came,” said the Olympic champion after her final. “I didn’t even think about who I was fighting. I didn’t think about who it was. I just concentrated on what I needed to do in that moment and I still can’t believe it.”