Olympic Games preview at 72 kg 158 5 lbs in women s freestyle

By Gary Abbott | July 23, 2004, 12 a.m. (ET)
The dominant star in this division has been Japan's Kyoko Hamaguchi, who has won five World titles and was the World gold medalist in 2003. Hamaguchi is a sports hero in her homeland, and will be under a tremendous microscope during the Olympics. She was selected to carry Japan's flag in the Opening Ceremonies in Athens, an amazing honor for an athlete who has never been to the Olympics before. Hamaguchi has had a strong 2004 season so far, winning a gold medal at the Olympic Testing Event in Athens, Greece as well as at the Asian Championships. Much will be expected of Hamaguchi, and there will be tremendous pressure on her to win. Hamaguchi has not been perfect, placing third in the 2000 World meet and fourth in the 2001 World Championships. She seemed to revive her career in 2002, and now can make history by being one of the historic first Olympic champions. In the World finals last year, she beat two-time World silver medalist Toccara Mongtomery of the United States, 4-1. Montgomery beat Hamaguchi a month later at the World Cup, an indication that she is ready to challenge for that first gold, as well. In the semifinals at the Olympic Testing event, Hamaguchi won a tight 4-3 match. A showdown between these stars would be big news for the sport in both nations. Montgomery was named 2001 FILA Women's Wrestler of the Year after winning her first silver medal. She moved up in weight after the Olympic divisions were announced in 2002. To make the U.S. team, she stopped two-time World champion Kristie Marano, who missed weight at 63 kg and moved up to challenge Montgomery. She has great athletic skills and great competitive instincts. Overall, the most successful athlete in the field is Canada's six-time World champion Kristie Nordhagen, who won her last World title in 2000. She did not even make Canada's 2003 World team, but came back to take the Canadian Olympic Trials this year. Montgomery defeated her in the Titan Games in June, earning a pin. Nordhagen was also eighth in the Olympic Testing event, losing to Hamaguchi in the pool competition. Many fans will be pulling for her, hoping that this great veteran athlete will beat the odds with a medal at the first Olympics for women's wrestling. China has a strong challenger in Wang Xu, who was second in 2002 World Championships and third in the 2003 World Championships. She pinned Montgomery in the first round of the 2002 World Championships in Greece, but Montgomery got revenge by pinning Xu in the semifinals at the 2003 World Championships in New York. Xu has not been active this year, as China entered different athletes at the Olympic Testing event and the Asian Championships. Also qualifying for the Athens Olympics by placing in the top five at the 2003 World Championships in New York were Stanka Zlateva of Bulgaria and Anita Schaetzle of Germany. Neither were able to win a medal at the European Championships or the Olympic Testing Event. Schaetzle was fifth and Zlateva sixth at the Olympic Testing Event. Schaetzle was fourth and Zlateva fifth at the European Championships. Schaetzle had an upset victory over Montgomery in the semifinals at the Dave Schultz International this past winter. Russia's Gouzel Manyurova won the 2004 European Championships. By placing ninth at the World Championships, Manyurova did not qualify the nation for the Olympics, which she achieved by placing third at the first Olympic Qualifying event. Russia might consider sending Svetlana Martynenko, who was fourth at the Olympic Testing Event at this weight class and was third at the 2003 World Championships at 67 kg. Svetlana Sayenko of Ukraine placed second in the first Olympic Qualifying event, then was second at the 2004 European Championships. She was also eighth and seventh in the last two World Championships. Receiving the final three spots in the field were the medallists at the last Olympic Qualifying Tournament, champion Marina Gastl of Austria, runner-up Katarzyna Juszczak of Italy and bronze medalist Burmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia. Gastl just missed out getting in at the World Championships, placing sixth in New York City, one spot short of qualifying. Juszczak was seventh in the 2002 World Championships. Ochirbat's top performance may have been her 2004 Asian Championships silver medal, where she was pinned in the finals by Hamaguchi. Greece receives an automatic entry, which is expected to be filled by Aikaterinii Siavou, who was not a factor at either the Olympic Testing event or the European Championships this year. Nations qualified (alphabetically): Austria, Bulgaria, Canada, China, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Mongolia, Russia, Ukraine, United States Past gold medalists expected in field: Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan (2003, 2002, 1999, 1998, 1997), Christine Nordhagen of Canada (2001, 2000, 1998, 1997, 1996, 1994) Top World-level placement for Toccara Montgomery: 2nd (2003, 2001) 72 kg/158.5 lbs.- Women 1st at 2003 World Championships - Japan (Kyoko Hamaguchi) 2nd at 2003 World Championships - United States (Toccara Montgomery) 3rd at 2003 World Championships - China (Wang Xu) 4th at 2003 World Championships - Bulgaria (Stanka Hristova) 5th at 2003 World Championships - Germany (Anita Schaetzle or Nina Englich) Host Nation entry - Greece (Aikaterinii Siavou) 1st at Olympic Qualifier #1 - Canada (Christine Nordhagen) 2nd at Olympic Qualifier #1- Ukraine (Svetlana Sayenko) 3rd at Olympic Qualifier #1 - Russia (Gouzel Manyurova or Svetlana Martynenko) 1st at Olympic Qualifier #2 - Austria (Marina Gastl) 2nd at Olympic Qualifier #2 - Italy (Katarzyna Juszczak) 3rd at Olympic Qualifier #2 -Mongolia (Burmaa Ochirbat) RECENT WORLD RESULTS 2003 World Championships results 72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan) dec. Toccara Montgomery (United States), 4-1; Bronze - Wang Xu (China) pin Stanka Zlateva Hristova (Bulgaria), 2:39; 5th - Anita Schaetzle (Germany); 6th - Marina Gastl (Austria); 7th - Edyta Witkowska (Poland); 8th - Svetlana Yaroshevich (Kazakhstan); 9th - Gouzel Manyurova (Russia); 10th - Min-Jeong Kang (Korea) 2002 World Championships results 72 kg/158.5 lbs. - 1st - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan) dec. Wang Xu (China), 5-1; 3rd - Edyte Witkowska (Poland) won by ref. dec. over Zarife Yilidrim (Turkey), 2-0, ot, 9:00; 5th - Katerina Halova (Czech Rep.); 6th - Galina Ivanova (Bulgaria); 7th - Svitlana Sayenko (Ukraine); 8th - Katarzyna Juszczak (Italy); 9th - Anita Schatzle (Germany); 10th - Toccara Montgomery (USA) 2001 World Championships results 75 kg/165.25 - Gold - Edyta Witkowska (Poland) dec. Ma Bailing (China), 6-0; Bronze - Nina Englisch (Germany) pin Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan); 5th - Jenna Pavlik (USA); 6th - Kang Min-Jeong (Korea); 7th - Tetyana Komarnitska (Ukraine); 8th - Yasmili Ramos (Venezuela); 9th - Zumrud Kurbangadzieva (Russia); 10th - Akuffo Ohenewa (Canada) 2000 World Championships results 75 kg/165.25 lbs. - Gold - Christine Nordhagen-Vierling (Canada); Silver - Edyta Witkowska (Poland); Bronze - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan); 4th - Katerina Halova (Czech Rep.); 5th - Nina Englich (Germany); 6th - Sumrud Kurbangadshieva (Russia); 7th - Iris Smith (USA); 8th -Heidi Hannele Martti (Finland); 9th - Elisaveta Toleva (Bulgaria); 10th - Jo-Mei Wang (Taipei)