Yoshida, Icho extend dominance

Kyodo

Three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida beat Sofia Mattsson of Sweden in the women’s 53-kg final to claim her 12th consecutive title at the wrestling world championships on Thursday.

Three-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho made it a double victory for Japan in the three weight classes contested, downing Russian Valeria Koblova in the 58-kg final to capture her ninth world title.

The 31-year-old Yoshida secured her 15th consecutive world crown, including her three Olympic gold medals at 55 kg, accomplishing the feat six months to the day that her father and former wrestling coach Eikatsu died from a subarachnoid hemorrhage.

Yoshida, who has dropped 2 kg to 53 kg in order to compete at the 2016 Rio Games, defeated Pang Qianyu of China in her first match as she rolled into the final with technical falls in all three matches, including a 4-0 win over Jillian Gallays of Canada in the semifinals.

“Wrestling is my life, so I am overjoyed to win. This is also the day of my father’s death (six months ago), and I wanted to deliver this victory to him,” said Yoshida, who did not drop any points in her four matches.

“I am relieved. I can’t let up at all until I get to the Rio Olympics. I have to keep studying my opponents to get even stronger.”

The 30-year-old Icho, who won three Olympic golds at 63 kg, beat American Allison Ragan 10-0 in the quarterfinals and dropped Anastasiya Huchok of Belarus, also by technical fall, in the semis.

“It still wasn’t enough,” said Icho, despite also beating Koblova by technical fall. “Koblova was my strongest opponent today. I give myself about a 45 (out of 100 percent). I’d like to say 50, but I am rough on myself. I still don’t understand wrestling, so that’s why I continue. It gets harder the more I do it.”

Both Yoshida and Icho got off to flying starts in the newly introduced weight classes, which have been increased from four to six categories for Rio, as they aim to become the first Japanese athletes to win four consecutive Olympic titles.

At 75 kg, Hiroe Suzuki got through two matches before losing to reigning 72-kg world bronze medalist Adeline Gray of the United States in the third round and also falling in the repechage.