Tokyo Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI will be employed by a company in her native Chiba Prefecture as she makes her post-graduation run to the 2024 Paris Olympics, the two sides announced on Feb. 22.
The 22-year-old Susaki has accepted a job with the Kitz Corporation, a leading manufacturer of industrial valves, upon her graduation from Waseda University in April. The job will allow Susaki to devote herself full-time to her wrestling career.
“It’s a company in the prefecture where I was born and raised, and an enterprise that is making an effort to promote sports,” Susaki said at a press conference, accompanied by Kitz President Makoto KONO. “It is the most suitable company for achieving my next goal of winning a second straight Olympic title in Paris in 2024.”
Fittingly, Kitz’s headquarters is in the Mihama district of Makuhari, the city where the venue for wrestling at last year’s Tokyo Olympics was located and Susaki won the gold medal in the women’s 50kg class. “I feel like it was destiny,” Susaki said.
Susaki, who left her home in Matsudo while in junior high school to join the JOC Elite Academy in Tokyo, will continue to use the Waseda wrestling room as her training base.
“I am extremely grateful to be able to continue wrestling under new circumstances,” Susaki said. “I will devote myself so that I succeed at the Olympic Games with awareness as being a member of adult society.”
Susaki, who has not competed since her Olympic triumph, said she plans to make her return to action at the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships in Tokyo in June. A victory there would put her into a playoff for a spot on Japan’s team to the senior World Championships, where she would aim for a third world title and first since 2018.
Pakistan’s Haroon ABID, who has emerged as his country’s top hope for its first Olympic medal since 1960 after starring for four years at Nippon Sports Science University, has joined Pro-Wrestling Noah as a means to continue his training.
The 22-year-old Abid, who competes at freestyle 97kg and 125kg, and the pro wrestling group made the announcement at a press conference on Feb. 22. He will become a member from April while continuing to train mainly at NSSU.
Abid represented Pakistan at the qualifying tournaments for the Tokyo Olympics — at 125kg for the Asian qualifier in Kazakhstan and at 97kg for the final World qualifer in Bulgaria — but failed to secure a place. He joins Noah with the goal of making it to the 2024 Paris Olympics, then becoming a pro wrestler after his freestyle career is over.
Abid, born in Lahore, comes from a family with a long pedigree in wrestling. He is the grand-nephew of the legendary Akram Pehelwan, who became well known in Japan when he took on Antonio INOKI, the pro wrestler who famously fought Muhammad ALI in the ring. It was Inoki who arranged and provided funding for Abid to first come to Japan as a high schooler.
Abid had never wrestled or taken part in any combat sport up to that time, but showed that the sport was in his genes by finishing third at 120kg at the Inter High School championships while at NSSU Kashiwa High School. He matriculated to NSSU, where in his freshman year he placed second at 97kg at the national collegiate championships. He would place second or third in all of his four years.
Pakistan has not had a wrestler at the Olympics since Mohammad BHALA competed at the 1996 Atlanta Games at freestyle 90kg. The Southeast Asian nation’s lone Olympic wrestling medal came in Rome in 1960, when Mohamed BASHIR won a bronze at freestyle 73kg, and it has not had a world medalist since winning two bronzes in 1959.
At the Noah press conference, a message from Pakistan Ambassador to Japan Imtiaz AHMAD was read out stating: “The embassy of Pakistan in Japan fully supports his efforts and prays for his success.”
A joint national team training camp of the three styles scheduled to start Feb. 19 was canceled due to a surge of coronavirus infections caused by the omicron variant. Kosei AKAISHI, the new national director of performance enhancement, took time to talk about what lies ahead for the national team with the JWF website.
Q: While you were serving as assistant director, Japan won five gold medals and seven overall at the Tokyo Olympics. I would call that a “victory.” Still, are there points that you need to reflect on, or think you might have done otherwise?
A: For specific areas of enhancement, we left that up to the discretion of the person in charge of each style. Our main task was to create an environment where we could concentrate on raising the level. From that perspective, I don’t think there were any major shortcomings. From here on, we will continue to rely on the respective style directors and allow them to design their own programs. I think it is my role to make adjustments when problems such as working within the budget come up.
Q: The Asian Championships will be held in April in Mongolia.
A: We plan to send the  All-Japan champions. We wanted to dispatch wrestlers to overseas competitions and training, but taking into consideration the pandemic situation overseas and the requirement to self-quarantine for two weeks upon returning [to Japan], the circumstances were not right, so we will prepare at home. Also, the omicron variant has spread in a way that was unimagined.
Q: What is the plan leading up the World Championships (Sept. 10-18 in Belgrade, Serbia) and Asian Games (Sept. 21-24 in Hangzhou, China)?
A: Following the All-Japan Invitational Championships in June (16-19), if there are requests from national team members to make overseas trips, we would like to accomodate them. But we have to think about what happens if they suddenly can’t go because of the coronavirus situation in the country they want to go to.
Q: The World Championships and Asian Games are very close to each other. Will it be possible for a wrestler to enter both?
A: The Japan Olympic Committee informed us that it is highly unlikely that travel from one country to another will be allowed. Under the assumption that traveling from Serbia to China will not be possible, we will be assembling two completely different teams.
Q: I would like to ask about the long-range plan up to the 2024 Paris Olympics. Normally, you would plan over a four-year cycle, but this time, it is three years. From right now, there is 2 1/2 years until the next Olympics. Is that a short time span?
A: I see it as there is no time to lose. After this year’s World Championships, we will start the performance enhancement and selection for Olympic qualifying [starting with the 2023 World Championships]. But, judging by the All-Japan Championships last December, younger wrestlers have been making amazing progress. There are some weight classes which we regard as being difficult for members of the Tokyo Olympic team to win out. The Tokyo Olympics were postponed for a year, and the next generation used that time to improve. That makes it interesting.