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Yoshida wins fourth straight Asian Games title

by Dave Hueston


Three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida captured her fourth consecutive title in winning the women’s 55-kg final against Mongolia’s Byambatseren Sundev in the wrestling competition at the Asian Games on Sunday.

It was by no means easy going as the Japanese ace struggled early on before breaking out the heavy artillery in the final against Sundev in her last match of the night at Dowon Gymnasium.

“The Mongolian wrestlers are strong so it motivates me to be even stronger. I fought with confidence in the final,” said Yoshida, who blew her opponent away in a 12-1 victory.

In the first match, China’s Zhong Xuechun, who won a bronze medal, gave Yoshida trouble from the jump.

This year’s Asian champion at 53 kg stunned the 12-time world champion, dragging Yoshida down in a tackle that almost ended the match.

But Yoshida, who is aiming to fight at 53 kg at the Rio Games after years in the heavier 55-kg class, used her head to prop herself and bridge her back into an arch to avoid a pin. The Japanese ace used her right leg as a brace as she kicked out with her left to escape the hold.

“I thought the match was over,” Yoshida said after rallying to win. “Yesterday Rio (Watari), who’s my junior, battled back to win the gold (at 63 kg). As her senior, I didn’t want to lose in such a way. I had to escape.”

Yoshida, who will be 32 on Oct. 5, had to work furiously to close a 5-0 deficit from the first period as Zhong scored more points in the second and went up 9-8.

That’s when Yoshida’s primal instincts kicked in as she lifted the Chinese woman for a two-legged tackle to go ahead 10-9 before finishing off with another submission to win 12-9.

“I can’t make excuses for the weight class. I fought at this class for years. I got thrown down twice. As a veteran I have to keep winning. If I’d have lost it would be hard to return to Japan. I was a little careless since I beat her easily before (at a World Cup in March).”

Yoshida manhandled Pham Thai Loan of Vietnam in the quarterfinals before beating India’s Kumari Babita 14-4 in the semis. She was a different beast in the final, tackling out Sundev’s legs to win the first period 4-1, then pouncing again in the second with a third and thunderous tackle to end it.

“In the first match, I let the Chinese woman grab my arm and this was a big mistake,” she said. “I got locked into her pace. I tried to change my mind set and avoid letting my opponents grab my arm and I was able to deploy more and more tackles in the final. I started moving forward, using my legs, feints. When I get back to Japan I want to restart my training.

“This was my second time facing her since 2003. I was nervous and the match didn’t go my way, but I am gaining in confidence,” said Sundev. “I want to congratulate her on the gold medal. She is my role model,” she said.

China’s Zhou Feng, the 2012 world champion at 72 kg, won the gold in the women’s 75 kg, beating Guzel Manyurova of Kazakhstan in the final in a bracket with only seven wrestlers competing.

The 35-year-old Kyoko Hamaguchi lost her first match against Zhou and lost the bronze-medal match against reigning world bronze medalist Burmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia.

Hamaguchi, a five-time world champion at 72 kg, thought she had won the match when she deployed a tackle near the end with the pair tied 2-2, only for the point to be reversed since the tackle had been out of bounds. She did a victory lap before she was called back to the mat by the referee.

“I gave it my best shot,” said Hamaguchi, who lost on technical points.

In the men’s freestyle, India’s Yogeshwar Dutt beat Zalimkhan Yusupov of Tajikistan to win the 65-kg gold, while Reza Yazdani of Iran downed Magomed Musaev of Kyrgyzstan to win the men’s 97-kg gold.

Japan’s Tomotsugu Ishida fell in the 65-kg semifinals to Yusupov before losing to Ikhtiyor Navruzov of Uzbekistan in the bronze medal match. Ishida led 4-1 at the start of the second period, only to see his opponent tie it 5-5 and clinch victory with a powerful backward flip at the end.

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