Japan's Icho wins third straight freestyle wrestling 63kg gold
LONDON, England (AFP) — Japan's Kaori Icho won her third successive Olympic women's freestyle wrestling 63kg gold medal by defeating China's Jing Ruixue 3-0 in the final at the Excel Arena yesterday.
Her victory meant Icho remained the lone Olympic champion in an event which only made its debut at the 2004 Games in Athens and in the process became the first triple women's wrestling gold medallist.
And the opening day of women's Olympic wrestling action also saw Japan take the other gold medal on offer when Hitomi Obara, coming out of retirement to compete at her first — and what she afterwards said would be her only — Games won the 48kg title.
In the final Icho's powerful pick-up move saw her win the opening period with a three-point score and, just when it seemed Jing was set to counter with a leg-grab in the second period, she somehow turned the tables on the Chinese.
Roared on by a vocal Japanese contingent in the Excel crowd, Icho, a seven-time world champion, ultimately proved to have too much guile for Jing.
"There were things I could not do in the final, but I'm happy to achieve my goal," said Icho. "In the final, I was able to tackle both legs of my opponent. I am happy I could do that because I have practised this technique."
She added she'd felt pressure leading up to London.
"I feel I have big responsibility in fighting at the Olympic Games. This is one of the biggest differences from (competing in) the World Championships."
Icho started yesterday by defeating Canada's Martine Dugrennier, eased past Sweden's Henna Johansson and overwhelmed Mongolia's Battsetseg Soronzonbold, an eventual bronze medallist.
Icho faced a familiar foe in Jing in the final after the Chinese overcame Russia's Lubov Volosova 3-1 in a semi-final bout that ended with both wrestlers collapsing on the mat in exhaustion.
Soronzonbold, the 2010 world champion at 59kg, dominated Dugrennier, a three-time world champion in the non-Olympic 67kg class, in her bronze match.
The other bronze was won by Volosova, who beat Poland's Monika Michalik in a match where two of the periods ended goal-less and had to be decided by extra-time leg-grabs.
Obara, who won seven world titles in the non-Olympic 51kg class, defeated Azerbaijan's Mariya Stadnyk 3-1 in a repeat of last year's World Championship final in Istanbul.
Beijing bronze medallist Stadnyk won the opening period convincingly, but the 31-year-old Obara stormed back with several well-judged takedowns and, after her referee raised her arm to confirm her victory, dissolved in a floods of tears.
"I am happy that I can show my smile to the people who have supported me," said Obara, who admitted she feared the worst after falling behind.
"I thought I was going to lose, but thanks to the advice of my coaches I was able to focus on the next periods. My coaches told me, 'It's all right, it's all right'. That helped me a lot."
She added: "I had decided that this would be the last Olympic Games for me, so I am so happy."
Canada's Carol Huynh, the 2008 Beijing champion who lost to Obara in the semi-finals, made the most of her good fortune to win bronze when the draw for leg-grabs after two goal-less periods twice fell in her favour as she beat Senegal's Isabelle Sambou.
In the other bronze bout, Clarissa Chun of the United States defeated Irini Merleni of Ukraine, the inaugural 2004 Athens Games champion and a Beijing bronze medallist.
"I did everything I could," said Merleni. "This was my last competition, I'm now retiring."