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Japanese Women Dominate Wrestling Meet (October 30, 2003)

Hamaguchi Kyoko
Hamaguchi Kyoko and her father (Jiji)
At the 2003 World Championships of Freestyle Wrestling held in New York in September, Japan's women turned in a spectacular performance, capturing the gold medal in five of the seven weight classes. Women are now joining in this traditional sport that was once the exclusive province of men. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, women's wrestling will be an official sport for the first time, and there are high hopes that the Japanese contingent will repeat their medal-winning performances at the games next summer.

A Spectacular Showing
On September 14, the final day of the championships, the Hinomaru, Japan's national flag, was raised repeatedly inside Madison Square Garden. The five women who finished in first place were Icho Chiharu in the 51-kilogram class, Yoshida Saori in the 55-kilogram class, Yamamoto Seiko in the 59-kilogram class, Icho Kaori in the 63-kilogram class, and Hamaguchi Kyoko in the 72-kilogram class. Several of these athletes have a distinguished wrestling pedigree: Hamaguchi's father, Heigo, was once a professional wrestler who went by the ring name of "Animal Hamaguchi"; Yoshida's father is a former all-Japan wrestling champion; and Yamamoto's father once wrestled for Japan's Olympic team. Icho Chiharu and Kaori are sisters just two years apart. Kaori, the younger of the two, took up wrestling after seeing her older sister at a youth wrestling club in their hometown of Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture.

While Yoshida, Yamamoto, and Hamaguchi can thank their fathers for much of their success, the Icho sisters are just two of the wrestlers who learned the sport in the many wrestling clubs that cater to children in Japan. Sakamoto Makiko, who made her first appearance in the World Championships this year at the age of 17 and placed fifth in the 48-kilogram class, began wrestling at a club in Hachinohe when she was still in elementary school. The Japan Wrestling Federation is working to discover and train talented female wrestlers while they are young, and it sponsors the All-Japan Junior Wrestling Championships each year. Promising young female wrestlers begin honing their skills from an early age.

Looking Ahead to Athens
One of the hotspots that has trained these young wrestlers and raised them to a world-class level is the Oka Wrestling Dojo, which was created in a disused school building in 1991 in Tokamachi City, Niigata Prefecture. Japan's national team hopefuls gather at this wrestling center in the mountains several times a year for intensive training. As a result of this hard work, the Japanese women's wrestling team has captured 15 gold medals at the five most recent World Championships. Japan is far and away the most successful country in the world in women's wrestling.

When women's wrestling makes its debut as an official sport at the 2004 Athens Olympics next year, there will be only four weight divisions: the 48-, 55-, 63-, and 72-kilogram classes. This is three fewer than at the World Championships, so the competition to represent Japan will be even more intense. Yamamoto, who won the 59-kilogram class at the World Championships, has stated her intention to drop some weight and compete in the 55-kilogram class next year. Since Yoshida won the 55-kilogram class in New York, this means that there will be two world champions competing to represent Japan in the same weight class. Icho Chiharu, who won the gold in the 51-kilogram class at the World Championships, has also said that she will lose weight in an attempt to represent Japan in the 48-kilogram class. There will be fierce competition among Japan's wrestlers for the chance to go to Athens. Japan Wrestling Federation President Fukuda Tomiaki, who worked tirelessly as vice-president of the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles to have women's wrestling included in the Olympics, welcomes the competition, saying, "If they can win nationally, they can win globally."

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2004 Athens Olympics
Japan Wrestling Federation

Copyright (c) 2004 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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