Masters of their own wrestling universes, Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho had no trouble fending off the latest domestic challengers.
Yoshida captured her 12th title at the All-Japan Wrestling Championships, winning the women’s 53-kilogram division, while Icho made it 11 national titles with a victory at 58 kilograms at Tokyo’s Yoyogi No. 2 Gym.
With the revision of weight classes in preparation for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, it was the first title for both of the three-time Olympic champions in these respective divisions.
Both had added to their growing collection of world titles in September in Tashkent, Yoshida for the 12th time and Icho for the ninth.
Yoshida chalked up three consecutive victories by technical fall (10 or more points) leading up to the final, where she defeated Chiho Hamada by fall in 53 seconds in a rare clash of reigning world champions.
Nippon Sport Science University’s Hamada captured the 55-kilogram title in Tashkent, but dropped down to challenge Yoshida as that weight class will not be included on the Olympic program.
Hamada has now lost six times in six career meetings with Yoshida, but only lost 4-1 in their most recent clash. How much more she has closed the gap was left unknown by the suddenness of Yoshida’s win.
Hamada shot for a single-leg takedown and hooked Yoshida’s left leg. But the Olympic champion reached over the top and used a reverse Nelson to pry Hamada over, eventually touching her shoulders to the mat.
For Yoshida, who has not lost a domestic match since 2001, it capped a bittersweet year that included the death of her father.
“After my father passed away in March, I’ve felt he’s been watching over me this year,” Yoshida said in a post-match interview.
Icho hardly had to work for her title. Her weight class drew just seven entries, and she had a bye into the semifinals, which she won by technical fall.
In the final, she disposed of Risako Kawai 6-0, fending off a number of tackle attempts by the Shigakkan University student in the second period.
In other action on the final day of the three-day tournament, world silver medalist Sosuke Takatani survived a scare in the men’s 74-kilogram final, rallying from a 5-0 deficit to defeat Daisuke Shimada 8-6 in a repeat of the final from the All-Japan Invitational Championships last spring.
In the 57-kilogram class, Fumitaka Morishita won his third straight title when a late 4-point trip gave him a 5-2 victory over Yuki Takahashi, avenging a loss from the final at the invitational meet.