Former world champion Akari FUJINAMI of Nippon Sports Science University was one of five Japanese women who captured titles at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, on March 2-5, winning the gold medal at 55kg and extending her current winning streak to 116 matches.
NSSU’s Kotaro KIYOOKA was Japan’s lone male champion, triumphing at freestyle 65kg in his international debut.
Japan won 14 medals overall with a 47-member contingent, made up of top collegians across all styles that included a number of national collegiate champions as well as the best from West Japan.
Joining Fujinami at the top of the women’s podium were Ikuei University’s Yumi SHIMONO at 53kg and the Shigakkan University trio of Sara NATAMI at 59kg, Yuzuka INAGAKI at 62kg and Naomi RUIKE at 65kg.
Fujinami, who normally competes at 53kg, moved up to 55kg for the tournament, the same weight class in which she won the national collegiate title in August last year. None of her five victories went the distance, as three ended by technical fall and two by fall, all without conceding a point.
“With the 2-kilogram allowance at 55kg, I fought wrestlers who were two weight classes above [my usual weight],” Fujinami said. “There were things that worked and things I need to work on, but winning at two weight classes up gives me confidence. It was a good trip in that it gave me experience from the aspect of having to take care of physical preparation and my health overseas.”
The victory followed up on Fujinami’s triumph at 53kg at the UWW Ranking Series Zagreb Open in Croatia the previous month. With her entry in the Asian Championships in April in Kazakhstan, it will mean competing in three tournaments in three months.
“The Asian Championships are coming up, so I feel I have keep working hard leading up to that,” Fujinami said.
Kiyooka, whose younger sister Moe KIYOOKA won both the world U20 and U23 titles last year, came away with the gold medal in his first overseas tournament by defeating European bronze medalist Islam DUDAEV of Albania 7-6 in the final.
“It was my first international tournament, and while I was nervous, I’m glad I had a good result,” Kiyooka said. “I went with the attitude of, as long as I’m here, I should accomplish something.”
Kiyooka was not completely unfamiliar with his opponent. At last year’s World Championships, Rei HIGUCHI, who trains with Kiyooka in the NSSU group at his alma mater, beat Dudaev by technical fall in the first round en route to the gold medal at 61kg. “I feel like I had to beat him, too,” Kiyooka said.
The following is a complete list of Japanese medalists (all affiliations are universities):
53kg: Yumi SHIMONO (Ikuei) – Gold
55kg: Akari FUJINAMI (NSSU) – Gold
59kg: Sara NATAMI (Shigakkan) – Gold
62kg: Yuzuka INAGAKI (Shigakkan) – Gold
65kg: Naomi RUIKE (Shigakkan) – Gold
76kg: Mizuki NAGASHIMA (Daito Bunka) – Silver
61kg: Kaisei TANABE (NSSU) – Bronze
65kg: Kotaro KIYOOKA (NSSU) – Gold
92kg: Tatsuya SHIRAI (NSSU) – Bronze
55kg: Kohei YAMAGIWA (NSSU) – Bronze
60kg: Koto GOMI (Ikuei) – Bronze
63kg: Komei SAWADA (Takushoku) – Bronze
67kg: Kyotaro SOGABE (NSSU) – Silver
72kg: Yuga KASUGAI (NSSU) – Bronze
Fujinami is among three Japanese women who will defend their titles at the Asian Championships to be held April 9-14 in the Kazakhstan capital of Astana, according to the announcement of the team comprised mainly of victors at the All-Japan Championships last December.
Also putting titles on the line that they won a year ago in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, are Remina YOSHIMOTO at 50kg and Nonoka OZAKI at 62kg. Fujinami is entered at 53kg.
There are two returning bronze medalists among the men — Kodai SAKURABA at Greco 77kg and Rikuto ARAI at freestyle 57kg. Two bronze medalists from 2021 are back on the team in Takashi ISHIGURO at freestyle 97kg and Taishi HORIE at Greco 72kg.
In weight classes in which the national champion withdrew from consideration due to injury or other reasons, those in the next places were asked to fill the spots.
Here is the team:
55kg: Taiga ONISHI (Waseda Univ.)
60kg: Maito KAWANA (SDF PTS)
63kg: Chiezo MARUYAMA (NSSU)
67kg: Kyotaro SOGABE (NSSU)
72kg: Taishi HORIE (SDF PTS)
77kg: Kodai SAKURABA (SDF PTS)
82kg: Yuya MAETA (Tottori Pref. Wrestling Assn.)
87kg: Masato SUMI (SDF PTS)
97kg: Yuta NARA (Tokyo MPD Security Bureau)
130kg: Sota OKUMURA (SDF PTS)
50kg: Remina YOSHIMOTO (KeePer Technical Laboratory)
53kg: Akari FUJINAMI (NSSU)
55kg: Rino KATAOKA (Waseda Univ.)
57kg: Sae NANJO (Toshin Housing)
59kg: Yui SAKANO (Tokyo MPD Security Bureau)
62kg: Nonoka OZAKI (Keio Univ.)
65kg: Mahiro YOSHITAKE (NSSU)
68kg: Ami ISHII (Ikuei Univ.)
72kg: Sumire NIIKURA (Kanagawa Univ.)
76kg: Mizuki NAGASHIMA (Daito Bunka Univ.)
57kg: Rikuto ARAI (SDF PTS)
61kg: Kodai OGAWA (SDF PTS)
65kg: Ryoma ANRAKU (Nobitel)
70kg: Yoshinosuke AOYAGI (Yamanashi Gakuin Univ.)
74kg: Kirin KINOSHITA (Cleanup)
79kg: Yajuro YAMASAKI (Saisan)
86kg: Hayato ISHIGURO (SDF PTS)
92kg: Arashi YOSHIDA (Nihon Univ.)
97kg: Takashi ISHIGURO (New Japan Pro Wrestling)
125kg: Daiki YAMAMOTO (SDF PTS)
As she continues her quest to defend her Olympic title next year in Paris, women’s 50kg champion Yui SUSAKI took time to coach at the Waku-waku Wrestling Club for people with Down syndrome organized by former Olympic medalist and current Chuo University coach Takuya OTA.
The 24-year-old Susaki enthusiastically taught techniques at the club’s practice on March 11. The club is aimed at giving the participants confidence and self-esteem as they take on the challenges of life.
Susaki’s links to the club predate her college years at Waseda University. Before entering the school, Susaki had been interested in the club, which was based at the time at Waseda after being started by Ota while he was coach of the university team.
When Susaki enrolled in Waseda in 2018, she also became a coach at the club. The club went on hiatus during the pandemic, but was restarted by Ota earlier this year at a different location in Tokyo, which Susaki found out about on Instagram. She contacted Ota and arranged to join in the March 11 practice.
Learning that the Olympic gold medalist would be joining them, the excitement in room was palpable. When Coach Ota asked them, “What technique would you like Susaki to teach you?” they immediately replied, “Ankle hold,” showing they were aware of the lace-lock roll that Susaki used so effectively in winning the gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
When it was time to pair off for sparring, it even surprised Ota that more than a few courageously approached Susaki to be their practice partner. “The way they got excited and the way they moved was different than usual,” he said.
Susaki has said she draws immense energy from the participants in the club. It came to a head when she won the title at the All-Japan Championships in December 2019 to revive her dream of making the Tokyo Olympics that had been seemingly shattered earlier in the year.
The Waku-waku Club members cheered her on en masse in the stands that day at Tokyo’s Komazawa Gym, encouraging her with passionate shouts of “Fight, Coach Susaki!” that reverberated throughout the arena. She has never forgotten her feelings of gratitude, and that came out when she took the mat with them again.
“They all purely enjoy wrestling,” Susaki said. “The feeling of having fun wrestling is so important. I enjoy wrestling, too, and never forgetting that as the starting point, I have strived for success.”
Reinvigorated, she continues her drive to the Paris Games now less than 500 days away.
Sara DOSHO, winner of the women’s 69kg gold medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, announced her retirement on March 30 on her Twitter account.
The 28-year-old Dosho, who now goes by her married name of OKADA, was a four-time world medalist, winning her lone gold in 2017, and was a four-time Asian champion. She won eight straight national championships from 2011 to 2018.
Dosho never seemed to fully recover from a shoulder injury suffered at the 2018 World Cup for which she had to undergo surgery. She needed to win a close playoff with Miwa MORIKAWA to fill Japan’s spot at 68kg at the Tokyo Olympics, where she finished in fifth place. Her loss in a bronze-medal match would be the last of her career.
“After the Tokyo Olympics ended, I thought I would like to aim to get back to the big stage again,” Dosho wrote on Twitter. “But as the days went on, my physical condition and the effects of the shoulder and all the little injuries that built up kept me from giving all I could to wrestling as I did before, and that led me to this decision.
“But looking back at my life in wrestling, I can say with pride that I gave it my all.”
Dosho resigned this month from Toshin Housing Co., the Aichi Prefecture-based company that sponsors a wrestling team that she joined in 2017 out of Shigakkan University.
She will begin the next stage of her life as an civil servant in the municipal office of her hometown of Matsusaka City, Mie Prefecture. She will work in the sports promotion division of the board of education.
The federation was saddened to hear of the death of natural causes of the legendary Shozo SASAHARA, a gold medalist at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and former JWF president. He was 93.
His obituary on the United World Wrestling website can be accessed here:
–Translation by Ken Marantz