Women’s Feature – 1999 U.S. Women’s Team, first World Champions

By Gary Abbott USA Wrestling | March 04, 2015, 7:59 a.m. (ET)
1999 U.S. WOMEN’S WORLD TEAM
First U.S. women’s team to win the World Team Title


Ever since women’s freestyle wrestling came onto the international scene in the late 1980’s, the United States fielded strong teams, The first U.S. team to compete at the World Championships was in 1989 in Martigny, Switzerland, placing fifth as a team with three medalists. At the time, there were a handful of women competing on the Senior level in the United States, and less than 100 girls wrestling on the high school level in American schools.

Women’s wrestling began to grow steadily, both in the United States and around the world, and the United States was right in the mix at the World Championships each year. Japan quickly established itself as the dominant power in women’s wrestling, winning all the World Team titles from 1989-1994, until Russia snapped its streak at the 1995 World Championships on its home mats in Moscow.

As the sport developed, USA Wrestling increased its investment and support for the women’s program. Although it was not yet an Olympic sport and did not receive funding from the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Wrestling created a National Teams Program in women’s wrestling, which provided needed financial support to athletes to remain in wrestling and set high goals for themselves. USA Wrestling also appointed its National Freestyle Developmental Coach to coach the women’s program and help in their growth and improvement.

Traditionally, the international wrestling federation gives trophies to the first three teams at the World Championships, and the USA broke through to get its first trophy in 1996 in Sofia, Bulgaria, placing third in the Worlds. The team was third for three straight years, adding third place finishes in 1997 in Clermont Ferrand, France and 1998 in Poznan, Poland.

The 1999 World Championships were set for Boden, Sweden, and the United States had an experienced and talented team. The legend Tricia Saunders, a three-time World champion, was at 46 kg/101.25 lbs. Kristie Marano, who had won three straight World silver medals, was at 75 kg/165.25 lbs. Sandra Bacher, an Olympic judo athlete who became a star in wrestling, had won World silver and bronze medals the previous two years and was entered at 68 kg/149.75 lbs.

Lauren Lamb was on her fifth straight World team, competing this time at 62 kg/136.5 lbs. Stephanie Murata, on her fourth straight World team, held down 51 kg/112.25 lbs. The young buck of the team was Tina George, who was in her second straight World Championships at 56 kg/123.25 lbs. It was the same exact team members who were on the 1998 World Team that placed third.

National Freestyle Developmental Coach Mike Duroe led the delegation, which included head coach Rob Eiter, a 1996 Olympian, and assistant coach Shannon Williams Yancey, a four-time World silver medalist and pioneer in the sport.

The first day of the competition went well for Team USA, as the women won seven of their first eight matches. George was the only to lose a bout, a wild 12-13 match to Haiying Chao of China. Murano and Murata pinned both of their opponents and Bacher also had a fall.

The second day saw Team USA place three athletes into the gold-medal finals. Saunders won a tough 5-3 semifinal over 1998 World bronze medalist Inga Karamtjakova of Russia. Marano contined to dominate, including a pin over 1998 Junior World silver medalist Elvina Barriga of Austria in the semifinals. Bacher lost a semifinal match to 1999 Junior World champion Heidi Skemark of Sweden in overtime 3-2, but U.S. coaches had a successful protest. The match was rewrestled, and Bacher came out with a 4-0 win.

Murata lost a 3-4 semifinal match to Erica Sharp of Canada, and earned a bronze-medal bout. Lamb and George both went 1-1 for the day and did not qualify for medal-round matches.

Japan entered the final day with four finalists and an athlete going for third place. It would be a tight team race with only medal matches left to go.

Right off the bat, Saunders faced five-time World champion Xiue Zhong of China for the gold, and the match went to overtime tied at 2-2. Saunders scored a two-point reversal in overtime for a 4-2 win and her fourth World title.

“Tricia had a very solid performance. She is very calculated and wrestles smart in the big matches. She had a very tough weight class with many strong competitors. Tricia scored a reversal in overtime for the win. She knew what she had to do and did it,” said Coach Mike Duroe.

Japan’s Shoko Yoshimura lost her bronze-medal bout at 46 kg, but rebounded when Seiko Yamamoto took the gold at 51 kg. Murata was unable to win her bronze-medal bout, falling to young Yanchi Gao of China in an overtime referee’s decision, finishing fourth.

Japan took another loss at 56 kg, when French star Anna Gomis beat Mariko Shimizu in the finals, but added a second champion with Ayako Shoda getting the gold at 62 kg.

Bacher drew 1998 Junior World champion Anita Schatzle of Germany in the finals at 68 kg and was tough under pressure, winning by a convincing 8-1 decision. It became the first time ever that the United States had two champions at the same World Championships, and Bacher also was only the second American to win a Women’s World gold.

“Sandy is such a tough competitor. She had a good game plan and followed it very well. Being in the Olympics in judo has certainly helped her. From the opening whistle in the gold-medal match, she dominated her opponent,” said Duroe.

The final at 75 kg featured Japanese star Kyoko Hamaguchi, who pinned Marano in the finals. It was the third straight year that Hamaguchi had beaten Marano in the gold-medal match.

It all came down to simple math. Based on the matches they had won earlier in the event, Lamb finished fifth and George finished sixth in their weights, gaining valuable team points for the USA. At the same time, Japan’s entry at 68 kg did not place in the top 10, earning no points for her nation. The final team score was 47 points for the USA and 46 points for Japan, a razor-thin one-point victory for the American women and their first World Team Title in history.

“It was a fantastic team performance. I am extremely proud of the team’s performance. To have every team member score points is difficult at the World Championships. This is a huge step for our program and brings credibility and notoriety to our women’s team,” said Duroe.

Photo in this story: The 1999 Women’s World Team poses together in a pyramid, with Sandy Bacher, Lauren Lamb and Kristie Marano on the bottom, Tina George and Stephanie Murata in the middle, and Tricia Saunders on the top.
Photo on TheMat.com Home Page: The 1999 Women’s World Team poses together during the World Championships in Boden, Sweden.

This week, TheMat.com will feature a top women’s wrestler who has reached a major milestone for USA Wrestling.