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2024.04.01

Japan Wrestling Federation News ― March 2024 (Akazawa/Masuda/Asian tournaments’ entries)

 

Expat Akazawa qualifies for Paris Olympics for Samoa

Gaku AKAZAWA, who obtained citizenship for Samoa in December last year, qualified for the Paris Olympics at freestyle 65kg at the Africa-Oceania Olympic Qualifier, held March 22-24 in Alexandria, Egypt.

Akazawa, a graduate of Nihon University, needed three victories to secure one of the two tickets to Paris available, and achieved it despite suffering a knee injury.

In his opening match, Akazawa defeated recently crowned African Games champion Omar MOURAD (EGY) by technical superiority, then chalked up another victory by technical superiority over Junjun ASEBIAS (FSM), the 2023 Oceania champion at 61kg.

That put him into the semifinals — and the match that would decide the Paris qualifier — where he defeated Wotna Cana NDOC (GBS), who was sixth at the African Championships held the previous week. Akazawa gave up two points in the first period, but came back strong in the second period, scoring a takedown that led directly to a victory by fall.

Akazawa said that he injured his right knee in the second match, and went into the final match unable to walk properly. He said that during the match, he heard a popping sound and felt the pain intensify. But amid that hardship, he thought, ‘I don’t want to regret this later,” mustered all his strength and pulled off the match-ending fall.

Gaku AKAZAWA scores a victory by fall to earn a ticket to the Paris Olympics for his adopted country of Samoa. (photo from UWW website)

Akazawa, who will turn 34 in June, started wrestling upon entering junior high school after competing in kendo, Japanese-style fencing. He won the national junior high school title in his third year. He went to high school powerhouse Hanasaki Tokuharu in Saitama Prefecture, where in 2008 he became the school’s first-ever Inter-High School tournament champion.

Going on to Nihon University, injuries kept him from producing results of any notice. After graduating, he went by himself to train in Russia, after which he ventured to Samoa, where he took up residence. His application for citizenship was approved in December, making him eligible to represent Samoa at the Paris Olympics.

Akazawa will become just the second Samoan wrestler to compete at the Olympics, after Faafetai IUTANA appeared at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He will be the first Nihon University alumnus to make the Olympics since Kenji INOUE won a bronze medal at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and the 20th overall, joining a prestigious list that includes 1984 Los Angeles Olympic gold medalist Hideaki TOMIYAMA and 1988 Seoul Olympics champion Takashi KOBAYASHI.

Akazawa, who earned Samoan citizenship in December, will be 34 when he competes in his first Olympics in Paris. (photo from UWW website)

“I am grateful to the prime minister and the president of the Samoan Wrestling Association for accepting me and allowing me to compete for the country,” Akazawa said. “I also want to thank everyone in Japan who was involved [in my development].

“I didn’t achieve much in college because of the injuries. After that I went to Russia and decided to change to Samoan citizenship, and after a six-year wait, this day has come. I think it’s a remarkable story, if I do say so myself.”

Masuda comes up short of Olympics for Australia

Nachi MASUDA, another Japanese-born wrestler attempting to qualify from the Africa-Oceania tourney, came up short in her bid to make it to Paris at women’s 62kg for her adopted country of Australia.

Masuda, a product of International Pacific University, lost in the second round and failed to advance to the Olympic qualifying match.

Masuda defeated Laralei GANDAOLI (GUM) by technical superiority in the preliminary round, but lost 9-0 to Esther KOLAWOLE (NGR), who won back-to-back golds at the African Games and African Championships in March.

Nachi MASUDA, wrestling for Australia, won her first match, but came up short of qualifying for Paris. (photo from UWW website)

“It’s a feeling like, maybe this is a good as I can be,” Masuda said after the match. “At 30, I give myself credit to putting in the effort. I think I was well prepared.”

Masuda will look to rebound and take another shot at the last-chance World Olympic Qualifier in May in Istanbul, Turkey.

Japan to dispatch 8 to Asian Olympic Qualifier

Japan will send eight wrestlers — four each in the two men’s styles — to the Asian Olympic Qualifier in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on April 19-21. They will each compete for one of the two available spots in Paris in each weight class.

The eight, listed below, earned the chance by winning titles at the Emperor’s Cup All-Japan Championships in December. Japan has already qualified for Paris in all six women’s weight classes, and two each in the men’s styles.

Freestyle
65kg: Kotaro KIYOOKA
86kg: Hayato ISHIGURO
97kg: Arash YOSHIDA
125kg: Taiki YAMAMOTO

Greco-Roman
67kg: Kyotaro SOGABE
87kg: So SAKABE
97kg: Yuri NAKAZATO
130kg: Sota OKUMURA

Full contingent of 30 going to Asian Championships

Preceding the Olympic qualifying tournament will be the Asian Championships on April 11-16, also in Bishkek. Japan will send a full contingent of 30 wrestlers, who are listed below. The squad is a combination of those who have already qualified for the Paris Olympics and winners at the Emperor’s Cup in December.

The Paris-bound wrestlers are defending Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI (women’s 50kg), world champion Tsugumi SAKURAI (women’s 57kg), Sakura MOTOKI (women’s 62kg), Nonoka OZAKI (women’s 68kg) and Nao KUSAKA (Greco-Roman 77kg). For most, it will likely be their last competition before the Paris Olympics.

For Ozaki, it marks her first-ever international competition at 68kg. She has won world golds at 62kg and 65kg.

The tournament will also mark the return to the global stage of two-time Olympic champion Risako KINJO, who failed to make the team to Paris at 57kg. This will be the first stepping stone in a bid to make the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

Two others who qualified for Paris and had planned to compete in Bishkek, Akari FUJINAMI (women’s 53kg) and Yuka KAGAMI (women’s 76kg), have withdrawn due to injuries. Fujinami injured her right elbow in practice, and Kagami suffered a rib injury. Fujinami would have been going for her third straight Asian title.

Freestyle
57kg: Kento YUMIYA
61kg: Kaisei TANABE
65kg: Masanosuke ONO
70kg: Yoshinosuke AOYAGI
74kg: Kota TAKAHASHI
79kg: Ryunosuke KAMIYA
86kg: Tatsuya SHIRAI
92kg: Satoshi MIURA
97kg: Hibiki ITO
125kg: Koki YAMAMOTO

Women
50kg: Yui SUSAKI
53kg: Nagisa HARADA
55kg: Moe KIYOOKA
57kg: Tsugumi SAKURAI
59kg: Risako KINJO
62kg: Sakura MOTOKI
65kg: Mahiro YOSHITAKE
68kg: Nonoka OZAKI
72kg: Sumire NIIKURA
76kg: Yasuha MATSUYUKI

Greco-Roman
55kg: Kagetora OKAMOTO
60kg: Kaito INABA
63kg: Ayata SUZUKI
67kg: Haruto YABE
72kg: Shingo HARADA
77kg: Nao KUSAKA
82kg: Taizo YOSHIDA
87kg: Masato SUMI
97kg: Masayuki AMANO
130kg: Keita KOBAYASHI







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