WAKO, SAITAMA PREF. - Four-time defending Olympic wrestling champion Kaori Icho’s bid for a fifth title took a severe hit on Saturday, when the 35-year-old failed to qualify for September’s World Wrestling Championships.
Icho lost her 57-kg qualification playoff against Rio de Janeiro Olympic 63-kg champ Risako Kawai, who will represent Japan at the worlds in Kazakhstan. The worlds are the main qualifying event for next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
“Frankly, this is frustrating,” she said. “But I did everything I could up to this point and came prepared, so I don’t have any regrets.”
Reaching the medals podium at the worlds will satisfy the Japan Wrestling Federation’s Olympic qualifying standards, so any medal in Kazakhstan will see Kawai represent Japan next summer at the Olympics.
“Now I wait,” Icho said.
“(Five straight Olympic golds) is a rare feat, something highly out of the ordinary. My desire going forward to attract people to wrestling — either as a competitor or a coach — is unchanged.”
Icho only returned to competition last October after the resolution of bullying charges against her former coach. She finished on top in December at the All-Japan Championships, but lost in June’s National Invitational Wrestling Championships to Kawai, sending the two into Saturday’s qualifying playoffs.
“Making up for that hiatus was difficult and that has played a part,” Icho said.