MOSCOW, Russia - Elena Pirozhkova has returned to the country she was born in and made quite an impression.
The Russian-born Pirozhkova beat two-time World silver medalist Lubov Volosova of Russia 1-0, 1-0 in the semifinals of the World Championships on Thursday afternoon at the Olympiysky Sports Complex.
Pirozhkova now advances to the finals to face Japanese legend Kaori Icho for the World gold medal in women's freestyle at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. Icho is a five-time World champion and two-time Olympic champion. Icho returned to competition this year after taking last season off.
"This will be real exciting," Pirozhkova said. "I am from the next generation. When I was younger, I always wanted to wrestle her, and then she came back. It's like a dream for me."
Pirozhkova is one of three U.S. wrestlers with a chance to win a medal. Americans Tatiana Padilla and Kelsey Campbell will wrestle for bronze medals on Thursday night.
The medal matches are set for 7:30 p.m. local time (11:30 a.m. Eastern) in Russia.
Pirozhkova becomes the first U.S. wrestler to medal in the 2010 World Championships. The U.S. women's team did not win a medal in 2009.
"Last year when we got no medals it was a bummer," Pirozhkova said. "We wanted to prove that we can. Last year we had the ability to win, but it didn't play out that way."
Pirozhkova won the first period in the semifinals 1-0 by defending the leg clinch. The second period was 0-0 after two minutes. Russia challenged a call late in the match after Volosova shot in on a leg attack, but the call was upheld and Russia lost a point for an unsuccessful challenge. That gave Pirozhkova the period and the match.
Pirozhkova fell short of medaling in trips to the Worlds in 2008 and 2009. She is a past World University champion.
Campbell reached the semifinals before being pinned by Lan Zhang of China in the second period at 59 kg/130 lbs. Zhang, 19, is a Junior World champion.
Padilla, a 2008 World bronze medalist, ran into one of the best women's wrestlers of all-time in Saori Yoshida of Japan in the quarterfinals at 55 kg/121 lbs. Yoshida, a seven-time World champion and two-time Olympic champion, rolled to a 3-0, 6-0 win over Padilla.
Padilla rebounded to beat Korea's Ji-Eun Kim in the repechage to reach the bronze-medal match. Padilla, 19, has secured her third straight top five World finish. She was fifth in this event last year after taking third in 2008.
Day 5 of the seven-day event is set for Friday in Moscow. Americans Kristie Davis (Oklahoma City, Okla./New York AC) and Stephany Lee (Colorado Springs, Colo./Sunkist Kids) will compete in women's freestyle, and Obe Blanc (Stillwater, Okla./Gator WC) will wrestle in freestyle.
Davis is a nine-time World medalist and two-time World champion. She is competing at 67 kg/147.5 lbs. Lee wrestles at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. This is her second Worlds.
Blanc is competing in his first World Championships.U.S. RESULTS FROM THURSDAY'S WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPSWomen's freestyle55 kg/121 lbs. - Tatiana Padilla, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
WIN Zalina Sidakova (Belarus), 2-0, 7-4
WIN Ana Maria Paval (Romania), 1-3, 3-1, 6-0
LOSS Saori Yoshida (Japan), 0-3, 0-6
WIN Ji-Eun Um (Korea), 1-0, 5-3
Vs. Maria Gurova (Russia) - for bronze medal59 kg/130 lbs. - Kelsey Campbell, Colorado Springs, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
WIN Ludmila Cristea (Moldova), 1-0, 2-3, 1-0
WIN Blessing Oborududu (Nigeria), fall 0-1, 1:14
WIN Laura Skujina (Latvia), 0-1, 2-0, 3-0
LOSS Lan Zhang (China), fall 0-1, 1:04
Vs. Johanna Mattson (Sweden) - for bronze medal63 kg/138.75 lbs. - Elena Pirozhkova, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Gator WC)
WIN Tatyana Zakharova (Kazakhstan), 0:21
WIN Maria Mendez (Spain), 1-0, 4-0
WIN Katerina Lopez (Cuba), 0-6, 4-2, 3-1
WIN Lubov Volosova (Russia), 1-0, 1-0
Vs. Kaori Icho (Japan) - for gold medal