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Younger Icho wins wrestling gold; Hamaguchi settles for bronze

by David Hueston and Dave Hueston

Kyodo News

Golden Girl No. 2, please stand up.

Kaori Icho successfully defended her crown in the women’s freestyle at 63 kg in a victory over Alena Kartashova of Russia on Sunday following a gold medal finish by countrywoman Saori Yoshida a day earlier at the Beijing Games.

Athens Olympic bronze-medalist Kyoko Hamaguchi, meanwhile, won her second straight bronze at 72 kg after losing earlier to China’s Wang Jiao in the semifinals at China Agricultural University Gymnasium.

Icho, the Athens Olympic champion, gave Japan its eighth gold of these games and was the sixth athlete from the country to win back-to-back titles, Yoshida accomplishing the same feat at 55 kg.

Icho’s sole regret was not being able to win gold along with her older sister Chiharu, who took the silver for the second time in a row at 48 kg a day earlier.

“I felt that without Chiharu also getting gold, I had lost my motivation to fight. But she told me to forget that and go for gold,” Icho said. “Even though we both didn’t win gold like we had aimed, I believe we won this gold together.”

Icho arguably had her toughest match in the final against three-time European champion Kartashova.

After drawing in the first period, Icho countered the Russian’s tackle to win the playoff and later got a tackle on her opponent’s right leg in the second playoff for the victory.

Canadian Martine Dugrenier was the only one who gave Icho trouble early in the day, latching onto her right leg several times during the match and forcing a third period.

Dugrenier stuck to Icho like glue and went in for a tackle, only for the five-time world champion to counter the move for the decisive point to make the final.

“I was so tired after that match that I could hardly walk. But it was really just because of my feeling for my sister that I think I was able to win it,” Icho said.

Hamaguchi dominated her third-place match over American Ali Bernard, winning two periods for the bronze. The 20-year-old Wang beat Bulgaria’s Stanka Zlateva in the final to grab the gold in her Olympic debut.