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2024.02.01

Japan Wrestling Federation News ― January 2024 (Zagreb Open/Olympic 68kg playoff/Fujinami-Sakurai)

 

Susaki repeats at Zagreb Open; Kusaka knocks off former world champ en route to bronze

Reigning world and Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI and two other Japanese wrestlers who have already clinched berths at the Paris Olympics competed at the Zagreb Open on Jan. 10-14 in the Croatian capital.

Susaki successfully defended her women’s 50kg title in the UWW Ranking Series tournament, while Sakura MOTOKI finished fifth at women’s 62kg and Nao KUSAKA won a bronze medal at Greco-Roman 77kg.

Susaki defeated world bronze medalist Ziqi FENG (CHN) by 10-0 technical superiority in the final. She had started off with victories by fall over Mariana ROJAS DIAZ (VEN) and Elizaveta SMIRNOVA (AIN), then beat both Kseniya STANKEVICH (AIN) and 2021 world bronze medalist Nadezhda SOKOLOVA (AIN) by technical superiority.

The title was good for 13,000 ranking points, moving Susaki closer to securing the top seed at the Paris Olympics. It was her 23rd consecutive gold medal in international tournaments, and improved her career record against foreign opponents to 91-0.

Yui SUSAKI gestures after winning a 23rd consecutive international tournament with a victory at women’s 50kg at the Zagreb Open. (photo from UWW website)

Motoki cruised through three matches to advance to the semifinals, where she lost to reigning world champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) in a rematch of last year’s world final.

Motoki, who moved up to the Olympic weight after winning a 2022 world bronze at 59kg, took a 3-0 lead into the second period, but with 30 seconds left, gave up a takedown and an activity point to lose 3-3 on last-point criteria. Motoki defaulted from the bronze-medal match due to injury.

Kusaka, who clinched his ticket to Paris with a bronze medal at last year’s World Championships, came from behind to defeat 2022 world 82kg champion Burhan AKBUDAK (TUR) in the bronze-medal match at Greco 77kg. Trailing 7-4 in the last minute, Kusaka cut the gap to one point, then scored a takedown in the last 10 seconds to win 8-7.

Kusaka opened the tournament with a hard-fought 8-7 victory over Stoyan KUBATOV (BUL). After a pair of victories by technical superiority, he lost in the fourth round to 2022 world silver medalist Zoltan LEVAI (HUN) before working his way through the repechage to the bronze-medal match.

Including a second place at last year’s German Grand Prix, it marks the third straight podium finish in international tournaments for Kusaka.

Nao KUSAKA works to take down 2022 world 82kg champion Burhan AKBUDAK (TUR) for the Greco 77kg bronze medal. (photo from UWW website)

Ozaki prevails in dramatic playoff for Olympic 68kg spot

Nonoka OZAKI filled the open spot for the Paris Olympics at women’s 68kg by defeating Ami ISHII in a dramatic playoff on Jan. 27 at Tokyo’s National Training Center.

Ozaki scored a takedown and activity point in the first period for a 3-0 lead. In the second period, Ishii received an activity point, then scored a takedown with 10 seconds remaining that was upheld by an unsuccessful challenge to go ahead 4-3. But Ozaki immediately shot for and successfully scored a single-leg takedown with just seconds remaining for a 5-4 victory.

Ozaki, the world champion at 65kg, earned a place in the playoff against Ishii by winning the title at the Emperor’s Cup All-Japan Championships in December. En route to that title, she defeated Ishii in the first round.

Ishii had secured the 68kg berth in Paris for Japan at last year’s World Championships in Serbia. But, in accordance with Japan federation criteria, because she did not win a medal (she placed fifth), she did not automatically fill the spot herself, as was the case in the five other women’s weight classes. Had Ishii won the title at the Emperor’s Cup, she would have clinched the berth.

Nonoka OZAKI, right, squares off with Ami ISHII in the women’s 68kg playoff, one month after Ozaki defeated her at the Emperor’s Cup.

Ozaki, of Keio University, was the 62kg world champion in 2022. But she missed out on a chance for a repeat — and a ticket to the Paris Olympics — in that weight class when she failed to win the title at either the 2022 Emperor’s Cup or the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships the following June. When Motoki won the world silver at 62kg, the door closed completely.

Ozaki won a playoff for the world team at 65kg and, while she captured her second world title, she saw it as small consolation. When the door opened at 68kg after Ishii failed to win a medal in Belgrade, Ozaki seized on her last chance and moved up to that weight class.

Fujinami wins rare collegiate clash between world champions

Two of Japan’s top women wrestlers, both of whom will be battling for Olympic gold in Paris this summer, faced each other in a rare clash of titans at the STI Cup East Japan University Women’s League, held on Jan. 14 at Kokugakuin High School in Tokyo.

Nippon Sport Science University’s Akari FUJINAMI, the 53kg world champion, defeated 57kg world champion Tsugumi SAKURAI of Ikuei University 5-0 in a 59kg match of the five-team competition, which paired squads of three in the 53kg, 59kg and over-59kg weight classes in a duel-meet format.

Fujinami won her two other matches on the day to stretch her current winning streak to 133, dating back to her junior high school days and which includes two world senior titles.

When the lineups were first announced, there was some speculation that the two would not actually face each other, if for no other reason than to avoid the risk of injury ahead of the Paris Olympics. But both were ready for the challenge.

Akari FUJINAMI, right, won the battle with fellow world champion Tsugumi SAKURAI. Both will be going for gold at the Paris Olympics.

“I have practiced quite a lot with Sakurai [at national training camps].” Fujinami said. “But in an actual match, I felt nervous. I thought I couldn’t avoid her here. I’m glad I took part in this competition. I competed with the idea that it’s all in preparation for Paris.”

Although Fujinami won the individual battle, Sakurai’s Ikuei defeated Nippon Sports Science 2-1 and went on to win the championship.

–Translation by Ken Marantz







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