Yoshida, Icho Aim For More Global Gold, Ticket To Rio

Yoshida, Icho aim for more global gold, ticket to RioAs Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho attempt to continue the global dominance of their respective weight classes, there will be more than another world title at stake for each.
Japan’s top stars will also be battling for berths in next year’s Rio de Janeiro when they take the mat here at the world wrestling championships, which got underway on Monday.

Yoshida will be in action Wednesday in the women’s 53-kilogram class. Including her triumphs in the old 55-kilogram division, she has won 15 straight global titles from the Olympics and world championships.

Icho, like Yoshida a three-time Olympic champion, will be aiming for her 10th world title when the 58-kilogram class competition is held Thursday. The majority of her golds came at the former 63-kilogram division.

The top six finishers in each weight class secure an Olympic berth for their country or region. Under criteria set by the Japan Wrestling Federation, a Japanese wrestler who finishes in the top three will automatically fill the spot at Rio.

That is on Yoshida’s mind, who will face competition from China’s Zhong Xuechun, who gave her a tough match at last year’s Asian Games, and Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson, her opponent in the final at the last two world championships.

“I’m only thinking about the title, but the world championships in the year before an Olympics, the competition gets tougher,” Yoshida said. “I hope to ride it out.”

Icho, despite recovering from a right shoulder injury, is the overwhelming favorite in a weight class without a clear rival. In fact, at the All-Japan Invitational Championship, which served as the final qualifier for worlds, her weight class drew just three entries.

“I’m glad I’ll be able to face some different types of wrestlers,” Icho said.

In other weight divisions, expectations are high for Eri Tosaka to win a third straight title in the women’s 48-kilogram class, and for Sara Dosho to capture an elusive first gold in her third attempt at 69 kilograms.