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FILA Worlds Preview for Women's Freestyle: Japanese loaded in women's freestyle at Worlds

By William May FILA | Sept. 14, 2013, 1:17 p.m. (ET)

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (September 13) -- One year ago, Japanese wrestlers left the London 2012 Olympic Games with three gold medals, while Natalia VOROBIEVA (RUS) grabbed the fourth.

Kaori ICHO (JPN) and Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) each won their third Olympic Games gold medals and Hitomi OBARA SAKAMOTO (JPN) won her first, underlining Japan's dominance in women's freestyle over the last quarter century.

And the country's on a roll after winning the IOC vote Sept. 6 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, setting the stage for the Japanese women's continued success on the world scene in Hungary.

This year, Japan comes to Budapest with a promising young squad that, even with the continuing improvement of women's freestyle worldwide, is likely to leave Papp Laszlo Budapest Sports Arena with multiple gold medals.

Leading the charge for Japan, as they have since 2002, will be YOSHIDA and ICHO at 55kg and 63kg, respectively. The Japanese duo wrestle on the second day of women's events, September 19, with ICHO going for her 8th world championship belt and YOSHIDA her 11th.

The first day of women's events, September 18, could be all North American with Alyssa LAMPE (USA) and defending champion Jessica MacDONALD (CAN) the favorites at 48kg and 51kg. World silver medalist Eri TOSAKA (JPN) and junior world champ Yu MIYAHARA (JPN) will be among the challengers.

Even with YOSHIDA and ICHO on the mats on the second day, most eyes in the arena will be on Marianna SASTIN (HUN) as she tries to become Hungary's first world champion in women's wrestling. Archrival Yulia RATKEVICH (AZE) will likely have a say in whether the hometown favorite is successful or not.

The final day of women's events, shared with Greco-Roman wrestling, will feature Olympic champion Natalia VOROBIEVA (RUS) at 72kg and her best friend, the fireman's carry.

Meanwhile, 67kg could be the most unpredictable category of the championships with two-time junior world champ Dorothy YEATS (CAN) among the favorites and Sara DOSHO (JPN) hoping to become the first and only Japanese woman to win a world title at 67kg.

For fans of statistics, Japan crowned four champions the last time the world championships were held in Budapest in 2005. A year later in Guangzhou, Japan had five champions, six finalists, and a medal for each of the seven weight categories.

Japan's largest gold medal haul was in 1994 when, led by Hall of Fame wrestlers Shoko YOSHIMURA (JPN) and Yayoi URANO (JPN), Japan won six of the nine weight categories.

The only time that Japan has gone home without a world champion is from the first women's world championships in 1987. And, the Japanese have been held to only one world champion twice - in 1997 and last year in Strathcona County.

Brief sketches of the individual weight categories:

48 kg - Alyssa LAMPE (USA), a bronze medalist at 51kg last year, took control of the lightest senior weight category with a triumph over Elena VOSTRIKOVA (RUS) at the Grand Prix of Spain in July. She followed up a month later with an equally convincing performance at the Poland Open.

Eri TOSAKA (JPN), the world silver medalist one year ago, stormed through the field at the Universiade, beginning with a technical fall over European champion Valeria CHEPSARAKOVA (RUS) and finishing with another tech over European junior champion Patimat BAGOMEDOVA (AZE).

Tatyana AMANZHOL-BAKATYUK (KAZ) was top-ranked at 51kg for June and July, but has recently dropped to 48kg. The Asia champion's unorthodox style could cause problems at 48kg or 51kg, wherever she decides to go.

51 kg - Yu MIYAHARA (JPN) seeks to become the first Japanese to win a senior world title at 51kg since 2008 when Hitomi SAKAMOTO won in Tokyo. MIYAHARA has won a 2010 Youth Olympic Games gold medal, a cadet world title in 2011 and the junior world crown last month in Sofia.

Defending champion Jessica MacDONALD (CAN) saddled MIYAHARA with her only loss outside of Japan this year at the World Cup in March. More recently, however, MacDONALD lost to European champion Roksana ZASINA (POL).

Also keep an eye on former Asia champion SUN Yanan (CHN), a silver medalist to MacDONALD in 2012, seeking to make the final step up on the medals podium.

55 kg - Saori YOSHIDA is wrestling for the record books now - seeking her 11th straight world title and, down the road, perhaps a fourth Olympic Games gold medal. YOSHIDA has a streak of 168 wins in a row in tournament competition, with her only two losses internationally coming at World Cup meets.

Sofia MATTSSON (SWE), the 2009 world champion at 51kg, has won five tournament titles this year, including the European crown. Valeria KOBLOVA-ZHOLOBOVA (RUS) has shown she has the style to defeat YOSHIDA, with a win in last year's World Cup. Helen MAROULIS (USA), 2012 world runner-up, defeated some of the top challengers in Kiev in February, but lost to MATTSSON in July.

59 kg - In 2005, Marianna SASTIN (HUN) had the Budapest crowd on its feet as Hungary's first woman in a world championship final. This year, the two-time world silver medalist will seek to become the host country's first-ever female world champion.

Olympic bronze medalist and 2009 world champion Yulia RATKEVICH (AZE) will likely be SASTIN's biggest obstacle, even though SASTIN defeated her archrival at the Poland Open. Braxton STONE (CAN) won two senior titles this summer and Petra OLLI (FIN) won the prestigious Klippan Open crown.

63 kg - Kaori ICHO (JPN) has seven world titles to go with her three Olympic Games gold medals and has only one loss in the last decade - a forfeit for medical reasons to HOU Min-wen (TPE) in the first round of the 2007 Asian championships. Except for that forfeit, ICHO has notched 156 wins in a row since the 2003 Klippan Open.

Reigning world champion Elena PIROZHKOVA (USA) is the first non-Japanese wrestler to win at 63kg since the current system of weights was installed in 2002. Along with PIROZHKOVA, three former world champions - Battsetseg SORONZOBOLD (MGL, 59kg), Ganna VASILENKO (UKR, 59kg) and XILUO ZHUOMA (CHN, 67kg) - will also be on the prowl to upend ICHO.

67 kg - Nasanburmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) has led the rankings all summer with wins at Ivan Yarygin in January and the Asian championships in April. But, the wrestler to watch here might be two-time junior world champion Dorothy YEATS (CAN), who was also silver medalist at the 2012 senior worlds.

Former junior world champ Sara DOSHO (JPN), getting her first chance at the seniors, held on for a 4-3 win over OCHIRBAT in the Universaide finals, but has suffered a one-sided loss to YEATS, 2-0 (7-1, 6-3), in the semifinals of last year's junior world meet.

On the human interest side, European champion Alina STADNIK-MAKHINYA (UKR) is the newest member of the wrestling Stadnik family that includes Beijing 2008 silver medalist Andrey STADNIK (UKR), European silver medalist Yana STADNIK (GBR), and London 2012 silver medalist Maria STADNYK (AZE).

72 kg - London 2012 gold medalist Natalia VOROBIEVA (RUS) won the big titles at Ivan Yarygin, Klippan and the European championships this year, she has also been tripped up in the semifinals of the Russian nationals and the Poland Open.

Although VOROBIEVA will not have to worry about 2011 world silver medalist Ekaterina BUKINA (RUS) in Budapest, reigning world champions Jenny FRANSSON (SWE) and Adeline GRAY (USA), who moves up from 67kg, will be looking to knock off the champ. Universiade bronze medalist Erica WIEBE (CAN), who edged VOROBIEVA in Poland, 8-1, will also be among the challengers.

Schedule for the Wrestling World Championships

September 16, Monday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: FS 55kg, 66kg, 96kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: FS 55kg, 66kg, 96kg

September 17, Tuesday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: FS 60kg, 84kg, 120kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: FS 60kg, 84kg, 120kg

September 18, Wednesday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: FS 74kg, FW 48kg, 51kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: FS 74kg, FW 48kg, 51kg

September 19, Thursday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: FW 55kg, 59kg, 63kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: FW 55kg, 59kg, 63kg


September 20, Friday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: FW 67kg, 72kg, GR 55kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: FW 67kg, 72kg, GR 55kg

September 21, Saturday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: GR 60kg, 84kg, 96kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: GR 60kg, 84kg, 96kg

September 22, Sunday
1 p.m. - 6 p.m. Elimination rounds and repechage: GR 66kg, 74kg, 120kg
7 p.m. - 9 p.m. Finals and awards ceremonies: GR 66kg, 74kg, 120kg

William May conducts the World Rankings for FILA. He has been active in wrestling across three continents for more than 40 years as a competitor, coach, referee and journalist. William worked as the "Sports Information Specialist" for wrestling at the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 Olympic Games. He can be reached on his Facebook page or by email, wmay52@hotmail.com.

About FILA
FILA, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles, is the global governing body of the sport of wrestling. It works to promote the sport and facilitate the activities of its 177 national federations from around the world. It is based in Corsier-Sur-Vevey, Switzerland.

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