Japan Wrestling Federation News ― April 2024 (Asian Olympic Qualifier/Asian Championships)


Kiyooka, Ishiguro, Sogabe earn tickets to Paris Olympics

Three more Japanese wrestlers secured tickets to the Paris Olympics with victories at the Asian Olympic Qualifier held April 19-21 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Kotaro KIYOOKA at 65kg and Hayato ISHIGURO at 86kg secured Olympic spots in freestyle for Japan, while Kyotaro SOGABE earned a Paris place at 67kg in Greco-Roman. According to Japan federation criteria, the three will automatically fill the berths themselves.

Kotaro KIYOOKA celebrates securing his ticket to the Paris Olympics at freestyle 65kg.(photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Combined with the results from last year’s World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, Japan now has four quotas in freestyle and three in Greco-Roman. Japan qualified in all six women’s weight classes in Belgrade and did not have to compete in Bishkek.

The last chance in weight classes in which Japan has not yet secured a Paris berth will be May 9-12 at the World Olympic Qualifier in Istanbul, where three berths will be up for grabs in each division.

Kiyooka, who had to defeat Tokyo Olympic champion Takuto OTOGURO at last December’s All-Japan Championships to get the opportunity to compete in Bishkek, made sure not to let the chance go to waste.

Kiyooka had his closest encounter in his opening match of the day, when he held on for a 10-7 victory over Abdulmazhid KUDIEV (TJK). But he left no doubt after that, beating Junsik YUN (KOR) 10-0, then earning his ticket to Paris with an equally dominant 11-0 win over former Asian 70kg bronze medalist Shaohua YUAN (CHN).

Ishiguro needed just 33 seconds of mat time to secure his Paris berth. His first opponent, Asian Games silver medalist Deepak PUNIA (IND), was disqualified for being late to the weigh-in. That put Ishiguro directly into the semifinal — the de facto Paris qualification match — where he reeled off a 10-0 victory over 2021 Asian bronze medalist Gwanuk KIM (KOR) in just over half a minute.

Hayato ISHIGURO needed just 33 seconds to win his Paris qualification match at freestyle 86kg.(photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

In the two other freestyle weight classes, Nihon University’s Arash YOSHIDA won his first-round match at 97kg over DEEPAK (IND), but his day came to an end with a 9-1 loss to Zagreb Open champion Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI). At 125kg, Taiki YAMAMOTO fell 10-0 at the first hurdle to 2023 Asian champion Lkhagvagerel MUNKHTUR (MGL).

In Greco, 2023 Asian silver medalist Sogabe was faced with a formidible obstacle right away, having been drawn against veteran two-time former world champion Hansu RYU (KOR). But Sogabe never flinched against the 36-year-old Ryu, scoring four rolls from par terre for a quick 9-0 victory.

Another victory by technical superiority followed over Muhammad ALIANSYAH (INA), putting Sogabe into the Paris qualification match against Asian Games silver medalist Meiirzhan SHERMAKHANBET (KAZ).

Sogabe nearly saw his Olympic dream ended when he scored a 4-point takedown, only to be rolled over and come dangerously close to losing by fall. But he worked out of the predicament, kept his composure and eventually chalked up an 11-2 victory.

Sogabe made a name for himself at last year’s World Championships, where he more than held his own in a third-round match against Olympic champion Mohammadreza GERAEI (IRI), only to suffer a controversial 11-10 defeat. The match was interrupted by an incident in which Geraei’s older brother Mohammadali tossed a plastic bottle from the stands onto the mat. That defeat has served as motivatation for Sogabe ever since.

Kyotaro SOGABE made up for a disappointing loss at the World Championships by storming to a Greco 67kg berth in Paris.(photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

In other weight classes, Sota OKUMURA came one win away from qualifying at 130kg, but lost 9-0 to Seungchan LEE (KOR). Soh SAKABE lost his first-round match to Kumar SUNIL (IND) at 87kg, while Yuri NAKAZATO defeated Olzhas SYRLYBAY (KAZ) before losing to veteran Rustam ASSAKALOV (UZB) at 97kg.

Mixed results for women’s Olympic team members at Asian Championships

Four of the six Japanese women who had already secured places at the Paris Olympics competed at the Asian Championships, which was held April 11-16 in Bishkek at the same venue prior to the Asian Olympic Qualifier. Two won gold medals and the other two came away with silvers.

Tokyo Olympic and world champion Yui SUSAKI won the 50kg gold in her final tune-up before Paris, while world 65kg champion Nonoka OZAKI captured the 68kg title in her first international appearance at that weight class.

Susaki, making her only appearance at the Asian Championships since winning the 2017 gold, had a tough opening test, forging a 4-1 victory over Yong Ok HWANG (PRK), then swept past Thi Xuan NGUYEN (VIE) 10-0 to advance to the final. There, she found herself in the rare position of trailing in a match, but came back to beat world bronze medalisst Ziqi FENG (CHN) 8-4 for the gold.

Susaki has now won 24 consecutive international tournaments, and remains unbeaten against non-Japanese opponents with a 94-0 record.

Ozaki, who moved up to 68kg after failing to make the Olympic team at her usual weight of 62kg, won all three of her matches by technical superiority. After beating Zelu LU (CHN) and world silver medalist Delgermaa ENKHSAIKHAN (MGL), both by 10-0 scores, Ozaki cruised by 2022 Asian 65kg bronze medalist RADHIKA (IND) 15-2 to win the gold.

Japan’s two other Paris-bound women who made the trip to Bishkek, Tsugumi SAKURAI at 57kg and Sakura MOTOKI at 62kg, both had to settle for silver medals.

After starting with a pair of one-sided wins, Sakurai gave up a quick four points in the final to Zagreb Open bronze medalist Yongxin FENG (CHN) and ended up on the short end of a 5-2 defeat.

Motoki also had little trouble advancing to the final to set up a third career meeting with local hero Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ). But as was the case of their previous two matches, Motoki could not find a way to beat the reigning world champion, who prevailed 9-6.

In other weight classes, Japan got gold medals from Moe KIYOOKA at 55kg and Mahiro YOSHITAKE at 65kg, while two-time Olympic champion Risako KINJO won a bronze medal in a move up to 59kg.

Japan won the women’s team title with 173 points, barely edging China by just one point. It gave Japan its fifth straight championship, not including the 2021 tournament which it skipped for coronavirus-related reasons.

The women’s team, with four golds, two silvers and a bronze, poses with the trophy for winning the team title.(photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Paris-bound Kusaka stuns world champ on home soil

Of the four wrestlers in the men’s styles who had already secured tickets to Paris, Nao KUSAKA was the only one to make the trip to Bishkek. And he posted one of the most stunning victories of the tournament by beating reigning world champion and home favorite Akzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) to win the gold at Greco 77kg.

Kusaka, a world bronze medalist, defeated Doniyorkhon NAKIBOV (UZB) 10-0 and Yeonghun NOH (KOR) 13-4 to set up the clash with Makhmudov, who had beaten him in the semifinals at the World Championships. Kusaka took a 3-0 lead, thanks to a 2-point leg penalty, and held on for a 4-2 victory and his first title in an international tournament.

Gold medalist Nao KUSAKA, 2nd from left, poses on the medal podium after defeating world champion Akzhol MAKHMUDOV (KGZ), left, in the Greco 77kg final.(photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Also taking home Greco gold medals were Shingo HARADA at 72kg and high schooler Taizo YOSHIDA at 82kg.

Harada, appearing in his just his second international tournament after placing a surprising fifth at the World Championships, began his quest by knocking off returning bronze medalist Adilkhan NURLANBEKOV (KGZ) 7-2, then advanced to the final with a 9-2 victory over 2023 Asian U20 champion Abdullo ALIEV (UZB).

In the final, Harada rallied from a five-point deficit for a 9-5 win over Mohammadreza ROSTAMI (IRI), a member of Iran’s 2022 World Cup-winning team.

Yoshida, the reigning world U17 champion, became Japan’s youngest-ever male Asian champion by also defeating an Iranian in the final, rolling to a 9-0 victory over 2022 champion Rasoul GARMSIRI (IRI). En route to the final, Yoshida defeated Rohit DAHIYA (IND) 7-2 and Mukhammadkodir RASULOV (UZB) 9-2.

At 17 years 11 months 23 days, Yoshida easily eclipsed the record for youngest male gold medalist set last year by Arash YOSHIDA (no relation), who won the freestyle 92kg gold at 19 years 3 months 3 days. He also became just the second Japanese to win a Greco gold in a weight class over 80kg, joining Shingo MATSUMOTO, who won at 84kg in 2008.

Meanwhile, Japan also had three bronze medalists in Kaito INABA at 60kg, Ayata SUZUKI at 63kg and Masato SUMI at 87kg.

It marked the first time that Japan had three gold medalists in either men’s style since 1989, and led to a third-place finish in the team standings with 142 points — just two behind second-place Kyrgyzstan. It was the first podium finish for a Greco team since 2008.

The Greco-Roman team celebrates a third-place finish in the team standings, the first from Japan to make the podium since 2008.(photo by Sachiko HOTAKA)

Not to be outdone, the freestyle squad had two champions in Nippon Sport Science University teammates Kento YUMIYA at 57kg and Kota TAKAHASHI at 74kg.

Yumiya scored a stepout in the last second for a nail-biting 5-4 victory in the final over UDIT (IND). Takahashi, who survived a 9-9 thriller in his opening match over Syrbaz TALGAT (KAZ), defeated Viktor RASSUDIN (TJK) 6-3 to win the gold in his senior international debut.

Yoshinosuke AOYAGI took the silver at 70kg, while Masanosuke ONO at 65kg and Tatsuya SHIRAI at 86kg came home with bronzes.

Japan finished second in the freestyle team standings for the second year in a row with 122 points.

—Translation by Ken Marantz

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