Reigning world and Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI and former world titlist Akari FUJINAMI were among six Japanese women who took home gold medals at the Grand Prix Zagreb Open, the opening tournament in United World Wrestling’s Ranking Series held Feb. 1-5 in the Croatian capital.
Susaki won the title at 50kg while Fujinami triumphed at 53kg in the event offering ranking points used to determine seedings at this year’s World Championships. Susaki moved up to the No. 1 rank and Fujinami, who missed last year’s World Championships due to injury, jumped up 20 places to No. 11.
Other Japanese champions were Moe KIYOOKA at 55kg, Sae NANJO at 57kg, Sakura MOTOKI at 62kg and Mahiro YOSHITAKE at 65kg. Japan also got a silver medal at 59kg from Yui SAKANO and a bronze at 72kg from Sumire NIIKURA.
Wins by technical fall in Susaki’s first two matches set up a semifinal clash against veteran Mariya STADNIK (AZE) in what would have been a rematch of their semifinal at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, which Susaki won 11-0. But unfortunately, Stadnik had to default due to injury.
In the final, Susaki rolled to a 12-1 technical fall over Jiang ZHU (CHN), a member of the Chinese team that finished second at the World Cup in December, extending her streak of tournament titles on all levels to 19 in a row.
Fujinami was equally dominant in powering to the 53kg title, posting technical falls in all five matches without surrendering a point and running her current win streak to 111. After sweeping aside Tokyo Olympian Lucia YEPEZ GUZMAN (ECU) and 2021 world 55kg bronze medalist Karla GODINEZ (CAN) along the way, she easily overwhelmed Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Bolortuya BAT-OCHIR (MGL) 10-0 in the final.
At 57kg, Nanjo had a bye into the second round, then reeled off three straight shutouts before crushing Chinese world team member Yongxin FEN (CHN) 12-1 in the final. Having won a second world U23 title last October, the 2021 senior world bronze medalist has now medaled in 15 consecutive international tournaments.
Motoki, coming off a stunning run to the national 62kg title that included wins over both the reigning Olympic and world champions, captured her first international title since moving up to the Olympic weight class with a 7-0 victory in the final over world 59kg silver medalist Grace BULLEN (NOR).
En route to the title, Motoki, last year’s world U20 champion at 59kg, knocked off 2021 senior world 59kg champion Bilyana DUDOVA (BUL) 8-1 in the third round.
At 55kg, Motoki’s Ikuei University teammate Kiyooka went unscathed in the five-woman round-robin competition. She clinched the title with a 12-2 technical fall over European silver medalist Mariana DRAGUTAN (MDA) in her fourth and final match. It was her fifth title in five trips overseas, including last year’s world U23 crown.
Yoshitake, the 2022 world U20 champion, lost during the round-robin group stage at 65kg to Emma BRUNTIL (USA), but bounced back to defeat BHATERI (IND) in the semifinals then score a 2-1 victory over 2022 world bronze medalist Mallory VELTE (USA) for the gold.
Not to be outdone, the men’s freestyle team also grabbed a number of places on the medal podium with rising high school star Yuto NISHIUCHI at 57kg and Hayato ISHIGURO at 86kg taking silver medals.
Nishiuchi, the world U20 champion at 61kg last year, made a good showing in his senior international debut, defeating 2022 world U23 champion AMAN (IND) by technical fall to make the final, where he came up on the short end of a tough 2-0 loss to European silver medalist Aliabbas RZAZADE (AZE).
Ishiguro took some major scalps himself in winning his first international medal on the senior level, beating Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist Myles AMINE (SMR) in the second round and scoring a technical fall over 2022 Pan American champion Zahid VALENCIA (USA) in the semifinals.
In the final, he showed no fear in facing one of the current greats of the sport, three-time world champion Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), scoring a takedown in the opening seconds. But the Iranian superstar proved too much and came back to win the title with a 13-2 technical fall.
Ryoma ANRAKU made it to the bronze-medal match at 65kg but came up short.
In Greco-Roman, Japan had entries in six weight classes, and was assured of its lone medal when Maito KAWANA and Kaito INABA faced each other in a bronze-medal match at 60kg. Kawana won the duel 4-1 to earn a medal in his first and only international competition since a first-round loss at the 2017 Asian Cadet Championships.
Japan’s top junior high and high schoolers were dispatched to the prestigious Klippan Lady Open in Sweden on Feb. 17-19, and showed that the future looks bright for the top women’s wrestling nation in the world.
In the senior division, Japan got golds from Mihoko TAKEUCHI at 50kg, Kanon YAMASHITA at 57kg and Suzu SASAKI at 62kg. The seven-member squad, made up entirely of high schoolers, also earned one silver medal and two bronzes.
Japan completely dominated the U17 division, with the all-junior high school team winning golds in all seven weight classes in which it had an entry. Taking home titles were Mona EZAKA (40kg), Yuu KATSUME (43kg), Nana KOZUKA (49kg), Sowaka UCHIDA (57kg), Yuri KOSHIBA (61kg), Yurina HONDA (65kg) and Chisato YOSHIDA (69kg).
There was also one silver medalist and one bronze medalist in a pair of weight classes in which Japan had more than one entry, with their only losses coming to their compatriots.
Fujinami, coming off her victory in Zagreb and looking to make up for lost competition time after an injury-plagued autumn, heads a 46-member squad of elite collegians as Japan’s entries in next month’s Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov international tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Nippon Sport Science University’s Fujinami, who won the gold at 53kg in Zagreb, will move up to 55kg for the senior tournament scheduled for March 2-5. Also entered is 2022 Asian champion Sara NATAMI of Shigakkan University at 59kg.
In men’s freestyle, NSSU’s Yudai TAKAHASHI, who finished seventh at 79kg at last year’s senior World Championships, is entered at 86kg, while teammate Tatsuya SHIRAI, the world U23 champion at 86kg, will wrestle up a weight class at 92kg.
Heading the Greco-Roman contigent will be NSSU’s Kyotaro SOGABE, a 2022 world U23 bronze medalist at 67kg.