Olympic Games preview in women's freestyle at 53 kg/116.5 lbs.

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | July 22, 2016, 2:27 p.m. (ET)
World champion Helen Maroulis of the USA scores a takedown at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.

Date of competition: Thursday, August 18

The winningest wrestler in history, Japan superstar Saori Yoshida, enters her fourth Olympic Games as the favorite at 53 kg. Yoshida has won three Olympic gold medals, and alongside teammate and three-timer Kaori Icho, seeks to be the first four-time Olympic champion ever in wrestling. Add in her record 13 World Championships golds, and her combined 17 World and Olympic titles makes her one of the greatest athletes in history, regardless of sport.

Yoshida wrestled her entire Senior-level career at 55 kg, and chose to drop to 53 kg when the Olympic weights for women increased, but 55 kg became a non-Olympic weight. She has won both World gold medals in her new weight class. She is strong in all positions and has a killer instinct. However, in recent years, not only has she suffered defeat but her big wins have had close margins of victory. The rest of the world believes that she can be beaten at the Olympics, and the young challengers want to be the one to do it.

American Helen Maroulis could be the one to stop the streak. A 2015 World champion at 55 kg, Maroulis boasts three World medals, with a 2012 World silver and 2014 World bronze. She has not lost a match since the 2014 Worlds, and has an extended winning streak. Outside of Yoshida, she has beaten most of the top contenders recently. When Maroulis is winning, she is scoring points in bunches with strong defense. Yoshida beat her in the 2012 World finals, and Maroulis wants another shot at her.

2009 World champion and six-time World medalist Sofia Mattsson of Sweden is the other big favorite. Mattsson lost to Yoshida in the last two World Championships finals. She has a recent loss to Maroulis, but has also beaten her at the World level. Mattsson has numerous European titles and other big wins, but was unable to win a medal at either the 2008 or 2012 Olympics, something she is motivated to change in Rio.

Myong Suk Jong of North Korea was a 2014 and 2015 World bronze medalist. Her only other big achievement was an Asian Junior title at 2013. Like many from North Korea, she has not entered many international events, but will be very tough at the Olympic Games.

A 2015 World bronze medalist was young Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria, who thrilled the crowd in Las Vegas with her victory dance after getting her bronze. She boasts a 2015 All-Africa Games gold and a 2016 African Championships gold.

Canada will bring 2014 World bronze medalist Jillian Gallays to Rio. She has been on three Senior World teams and qualified for the Olympics with a win at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. Kumari Babita of India, a 2012 World bronze medalist, qualified through the Asian Qualifier.

Isabelle Sambou of Senegal was fifth in the 2012 Olympic Games, her best international showing ever. Sambou has won the African Championships nine times, and qualified for Rio by winning the African Olympic Qualifier. Maria Prevolaraki of Greece won a 2012 World bronze medal and competed at the 2012 Olympic Games up at 55 kg. Another 2012 Olympian was Thi Lua Nguyen of Vietnam, whose best finish was fifth at the 2009 World Championships.

Two-time Asian champion Xuechun Zhong of China qualified her nation for Rio by placing fifth at the 2015 World Championships. 2016 Asian champion Pang Qianyu was also fifth at the 2015 World Championships up at 55 kg, but came down to 53 kg to win her Asian title.

2015 European Games champion Anzhela Dorogan of Azerbaijan punched her Rio ticket with a fifth place at the 2015 Worlds, and has competed in five Senior World Championships. Poland’s tough Katarzyna Krawczyk won the European Olympic Qualifier, and was a 2014 World Military champion. Yulia Khavaldzhy of Ukraine earned her trip to the Olympics with a gold medal in second World Olympic Qualifier in Turkey.

Others in the field include Joseph Essombe-Tiako of Cameroon, Nina Hemmer of Germany and Bediha Gun of Turkey. Hemmer was a 2011 Junior World bronze medalist and a 2013 World University Games bronze medalist. It is possible that some 55 kg wrestlers might drop at 53 kg for Rio, if their nation decided to go that route.

PROJECTED OLYMPIC GAMES FIELD
Azerbaijan - Anzhela Dorogan (World No. 13)
Cameroon - Joseph Essombe-Tiako
Canada - Jillian Gallays (World No. 17)
China - Xuechun Zhong (World No. 4) or Pang Qianyu (World No. 9 at 55 kg)
Germany - Nina Hemmer (World No. 8)
Greece - Maria Prevolaraki (World No. 15)
India - Kumari Babita
Japan - Saori Yoshida (World No. 1)
Nigeria - Odunayo Adekuoroye (World No. 3)
North Korea - Myong Suk Jong (World No. 5)
Poland - Katarzyna Krawczyk (World No. 6)
Senegal - Isabelle Sambou (World No. 18)
Sweden - Sofia Mattsson (World No. 2)
Turkey - Bediha Gun (World No. 11)
Ukraine - Yulia Khavaldzhy (World No. 9)
United States - Helen Maroulis (World No. 1 at 55kg)
Vietnam - Thi Lua Nguyen (World No. 19)
Venezuela - Betzabeth Arguello (World No. 14)

RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS

2015 World Championships

53 kg/116.5 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver – Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); Bronze – Myong Jong Suk (North Korea); Bronze – Odunayo Adekuoroye (Nigeria); 5th – Anzhela Dorogan (Azerbaijan); 5th – Xuechun Zhong (China); 7th – Kumari Bubita (India); 8th – Nina Hemmer (Germany); 9th – Thi Lua Nguyen (Vietnam); 10th – Otgontsetseg Davaasukh (Mongolia)

2014 World Championships
53 kg/116.5 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver – Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); Bronze – Jillian Gallays (Canada); Bronze – Jong Myong Suk (North Korea); 5th – Natalia Malysheva (Russia); 5th – Natalia Budu (Moldova); 7th – Alma Jane Valencia (Mexico); 8th – Yuliya Blahinya (Ukraine); 9th – Whitney Conder (USA); 10th – Sumiya Erdenchimeg (Mongolia)

2013 World Championships

51 kg/112.25 lbs. - Gold – Yanan Sun (China); Silver – Erdennechimeg Sumiya (Mongolia); Bronze – Sim Hyang So (North Korea); Bronze – Jessica MacDonald (Canada); 5th – Victoria Anthony (USA); 5th – Yuliya Blahinya (Ukraine); 7th – Iriyna Kurachkina (Belarus); 8th – Isabelle Sambou (Senegal); 9th – Yu Miyahara (Japan); 10th - Vinesh (India)

2012 World Championships
51 kg/112.25 lbs. - Gold – Jessica MacDonald (Canada); Silver – Yanan Sun (China); Bronze – Alyssa Lampe (USA); Bronze – Kumari Babita (India); 5th - Zamira Rakhmanova (Russia); 5th - Abdutalipova Abdutalipova (Kazakhstan); 7th - Risako Kawai (Japan); 8th - Roksana Zasina (Poland); 9th - Otgontsetseg Davaasukh (Mongolia); 10th - Alina Ryzhova (Belarus)

2011 World Championships
51 kg/112.25 lbs. - Gold - Zamira Rakhmanova (Russia) ; Silver - Otgontsetseg Davaasukh (Mongolia); Bronze - Patimat Bagomedova (Azerbaijan); Bronze - Jessica MacDonald (Canada); 5th - Rathi Neha (India); 5th - Mareka Shidochi (Japan); 7th - Kum Ok Han (North Korea); 8th - Yanan Sun (China); 9th - Alexandra Engelhardt (Germany); 10th - Maryia Ivanova Yahorava (Belarus)

2010 World Championships
51 kg/112.25 lbs. - Gold –Oleksandra Kohut (Ukraine); Silver – Yu Horiuchi (Japan); Bronze – Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); Bronze – Zamira Rakhmanova (Russia); 5th – Roksina Zasina (Poland); 5th – Tatiana Bakatyuk (Kazakhstan); 7th – Estera Dobre (Romania); 8th – Isabelle Sambou (Senegal); 9th - Jessica Medina (USA); 10th – Anzhela Dorogan (Azerbaijan)

2009 World Championships
51 kg/112.25 lbs. - Gold - Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); Silver - Kum Ok Han (North Korea); Bronze - Oleksandra Kohut (Ukraine); Bronze - Yuri Kai (Japan); 5th - Natalia Budu (Moldova); 5th - Di Hong (China); 7th - Alexandra Englehardt (Germany); 8th - Babita Kumari (India); 9th - Tatyana Bakatyuk (Kazakhstan); 10th - Emese Szabo (Hungary)