PARIS - Kenichiro Fumita won gold in the men’s Greco-Roman 59-kg division Tuesday for Japan’s first medal of the world wrestling championships in Paris, becoming the country’s first male wrestler in 34 years to be crowned world champion.
In his fifth bout of the day, the Asian champion and world championships debutant won the bout with a bandage wrapped around his head after sustaining a cut in the qualifying round, edging Mirambek Ainagulov of Kazakhstan 2-1 in a hard-fought final.
“I knew he (Ainagulov) was watching out for my suplex throws. My coach and I decided to secure points by pressing forward and putting pressure on him. I was able to strategize,” said Fumita.
Fumita’s father Toshiro, who taught him the basics of wrestling and coached him in high school, was also in the stands watching, saying the last 30 seconds felt long but he was impressed by his son’s perseverance.
Fumita, who was unable to take part in the Rio Olympics last summer, beat Kanybek Zholchubekov of Kyrgyzstan 2-1 in the semifinals to set himself up for a clash with Ainagulov in what turned out to be a rematch of the Asian Championships final held in India in May.
“I heard the national anthem at the Asian Championships but this one resonated with me more and it felt good,” said Fumita, who hugged his coach Makoto Sasamoto as soon as he secured victory.
“I want to hear it played again when I’m on the mat at the Tokyo Olympics. A gold at the Tokyo Olympics is my ultimate goal. I can’t imagine how happy I’ll be if I win an Olympic gold. If I didn’t win here, I thought I’d have no chance three years from now,” he said.
According to the Japan Wrestling Federation, at 21 years and eight months, Fumita is the youngest Japanese champion in either the world championships or the Olympics.
Masaki Eto was the last Japanese man to earn a gold medal at the worlds, winning the Greco-Roman 57 kg in 1983. Fumita is only the fourth Japanese Greco-Roman world champion in history after Eto, Hideo Fujimoto (1970) and Masamitsu Ichiguchi (1962).
Ichiguchi, who also won bantamweight gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is the only Japanese Greco-Roman wrestler who has completed a world championships-Olympics double.
Fumita earned his world championships berth by beating Rio silver medalist Shinobu Ota in a qualifying meet in June.
Last year, he won gold in the Golden Grand Prix Final in December and followed up his success with a maiden title at the national championships in June.
Elsewhere for Japanese men in Greco-Roman, Shogo Takahashi was eliminated in the third round in the 66 kg, while Yuya Maeta and Arata Sonoda made first-round exits in the 80 kg and 130 kg, respectively.
The women’s competitions start Wednesday.