LONDON (August 8-9) – Kaori Icho became the first female wrestler to win three gold medals at an Olympic Games, Saori Yoshida joined her a day later, and Hitomi Obara joined the Japanese golden girls as the women kicked off freestyle wrestling at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
But, while Japan improved its gold medal count in women's wrestling to three, it lost a chance for a fourth Olympic Games medal when Kyoko Hamaguchi lost her opening bout at 72kg to long-time rival and Athens 2004 silver medalist Guzel Manyurova (KAZ).
On her way to becoming female wrestling's first three-time Olympic Games champion, Icho defeated three former world champions — Martine Dugrenier (CAN), Soronzonbold Battsetseg (MGL) and Jing Ruixue (CHN).
Icho did not surrender a single period in her march to the title at 63kg and outscored her opponents 21-3. Along with her three Olympic gold medals, Icho has also won seven world championship titles.
Yoshida became a three-time Olympic Games gold medalist at 55kg, but after a loss in the World Cup competition in May, appeared cautious in the early rounds before defeating rival Tonya Verbeek (CAN) in the finals.
Yoshida has also won nine world championships, drawing level with greco-roman great Alexander Karelin (RUS) for most career world-level titles in wrestling. Karelin and Yoshida both have 12 world and Olympic titles.
For Verbeek, it was her second silver medal at the Olympics and third overall with a bronze medal at the Beijing 2008 Games.
At 48kg, Hitomi Obara defeated Beijing gold medalist Carol Huynh (CAN) and 2009 world champion Mariya Stadnyk (AZE) to become Japan's first gold medalist in female wrestling at 48kg. Icho's older sister, Chiharu, took silver medals in 2004 and 2008.
Obara, who wrestled as Hitomi Sakamoto before getting married in 2011, has also won eight world championship crowns — sis of them at 51kg.
Hamaguchi, meanwhile, was seeking her third Olympic Games medal after winning bronze medals in Athens and Beijing, but her loss to Manyurova and then the former Russian's loss to eventual gold medalist Natalia Vorobieva (RUS) ended her quest.
The three gold medals won by the Japanese women marked the first time since 1968 that Japanese wrestlers have won more than two gold medals at an Olympic Games. Japan won four gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Games.
Results of bouts involving Japanese entries:
48kg – OBARA, Hitomi (Gold medal, 19 entries)
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Maroi MESIEN (TUN) by fall, 1P=0:48 (5-0)
Obara, stepping onto the mats in her first Olympic Games, scored an early takedown and wrapped the 2010 Africa champion up for the fall.
R3 – df. Isabelle SAMBOU (SEN), 2-0 (2-0, 5-0)
Obara scored single-leg takedowns in both periods and converted a gut wrench for one point in the first period and a cross-ankle lock for three turns in the second against the 2011 Africa champion.
SF – df. Carol HUYNH (CAN), 2-0 (2-0, 2-1)
Obara scored a force-out point off a single-leg attack in the first period and added a go-behind point of a counter against the 2008 Olympic champion. In the second period, Obara scored with a single-leg and go-behind before Huynh answered with a late point of her own.
F1 – df. Mariya STADNYK (AZE), 2-1 (0-4, 1-0, 2-0)
Stadnyk came out firing with a two takedowns and a cross-ankle turn for a 4-0 first period win, but Obara came out with a lower stance in the second to slow the 2009 world champion, taking a go-behind point to even the period count.
Obara took control in the third period with an early takedown and another for insurance with 15 seconds remaining for the gold medal.
55kg – YOSHIDA, Saori (Gold medal, 19 entries)
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Kelsey CAMPBELL (USA), 2-0 (1-0, 1-0)
Wrestling tentatively against the 2011 Pan American champion, Yoshida counters to go behind for a point in the first period, and scores a force-out off a takedown attempt in the second.
R3 – df. Yuliya RATKEVICH (AZE), 2-0 (1-0, 2-0)
Yoshida, wrestling cautiously against the former 59kg world champion, took a single-leg takedown in the first period, then fought off a takedown attempt in the second period and scored with back exposure to advance to the semifinals.
SF – df. Valeria ZHOLOBOVA (RUS), 2-0 (1-0, 2-0)
Yoshida scored with a single-leg early in the first period and then held off the young challenger. In the second, Yoshida scored exposure off a front headlock to defeat the 19-year-old former junior world silver medalist and avenge a loss to her in the World Cup in May.
F1 – df. Tonya VERBEEK (CAN), 2-0 (3-0, 2-0)
Yoshida found her rhythm and range against perennial rival Verbeek, scoring with a double-leg takedown for three points in the first period, then taking a force-out in the second off a takedown attempt. Another point was added after a failed challenge by the Canadian corner.
63kg – ICHO, Kaori (Gold medal, 20 entries)
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Martine DUGRENIER (CAN), 2-0 (4-0, 2-1)
Icho opened with a single-leg takedown in the first 30 seconds for a point and followed quickly with a gut wrench for two more against the former world champion at 67kg. A late go-behind made it 4-0 in the first period. In the second, Icho gave up an early takedown, but scored a takedown in the closing seconds for the last point and the win. A challenge from the Canada was rejected and Icho received a second point.
R3 – df. Henna JOHANSSON (SWE), 2-0 (1-0, 4-1)
Icho scored in the final 30 seconds of the first period with an ankle-pick against the European champion, then got rolling in the second with a takedown midway through the period followed by a gut wrench. A counter and go-behind closed the scoring for Icho.
SF – df. SORONZONBOLD Battsetseg (MGL), 2-0 (1-0, 4-1)
Icho was on the attack throughout the first period but the 2010 world champion matched counter-for-attack until the final 10 seconds when Icho scored with a force-out. In the second period, Icho took an early point with a takedown and got another with a go behind then came out on top of Soronzonbold's takedown counter attempt.
F1 – df. JING Ruixue (CHN), 2-0 (3-0, 2-0)
Icho surprised the former world champion at 67kg with a double-leg takedown for a 3-0 win in the first period. In the second period, Icho spun behind for a point and added another off a leg attack for the gold medal.
72kg – HAMAGUCHI, Kyoko (11th, 18 entries)
R1 – bye
R2 – lost to Guzel MANYUROVA (KAZ), 1-2 (1-5, 1x-1=last, 0-4)
Hamaguchi lost three points off an early double-leg takedown by the Athens 2004 silver medalist and dropped the first period. In the second, Hamaguchi scored a takedown in the final 15 seconds to even the period count on last-point criteria.
In a scoreless third period, Hamaguchi won the draw for the clinch, but was countered for three points and then lost another point after the Japanese challenge was rejected.
Hamaguchi was eliminated from the competition when Manyurova lost in the quarterfinals to eventual gold medal winner Natalia Vorobieva (RUS).