World Championships preview in women’s freestyle wrestling at 55 kg/121 lbs.

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Gary Abbott (USA Wrestling)

Date of competition: Thursday, September 19

The most decorated champion in the history of Olympic wrestling is women’s wrestling star Saori Yoshida of Japan, who has won 10 World gold medals and three Olympic gold medals. For most of her career, Yoshida had not lost a match on the Senior level in international competition. Going into the 2013 Worlds, she has two career Senior losses, both at the World Cup competition. 

The gold-medal record was set last year at the 2012 World Championships in Canada, shortly after Yoshida won her third Olympic title. The Japanese media was there in force to report back home when she broke the tie with Greco-Roman legend Alexander Karelin of Russia for the most World and Olympic titles. Yoshida defeated U.S. star Helen Maroulis in the World Championships finals in Canada to give her the lucky number 14. Yoshida has made this remarkable run of success with a complete set of wrestling skills, and one of the most competitive spirits in Olympic sports. The fact that she may make a run for a fourth Olympic gold medal adds even more interest in her amazing career.

Helen Maroulis of the United States made her first U.S. Senior World team at age 17, and has developed into one of the stars of women’s wrestling. Her silver medal effort at the 2012 Worlds added to her long list of achievements, including three career Junior World medals. She fell short of her quest of making the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team, and has been even more fiercely committed to her success ever since. In her loss to Yoshida last year, Maroulis was aggressive in her attacks, an indication that her confidence and experience has paid off with strong performances.

The 2013 European champion at this weight is Sofia Mattsson of Sweden, a 2009 World champion and three-time World medalist. Mattson wrestled at 59 kg when she won a World silver medal in 2011, but has been competing down at 55 kg ever since. This year, she has won gold medals at five different international tournaments, and has the No. 2 FILA World ranking behind Yoshida.

2012 London Olympic silver medalist Tonya Verbeek of Canada, who has an amazing three Olympic medals to her credit, has retired and is now on the Canadian coaching staff. The other 2012 Olympic medalists were Jackeline Renteria of Columbia and Yulia Ratkevich of Azerbaijan. Renteria, a two-time Olympic medalist, has continued to compete, but has wrestled mostly up at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. this year. Ratkevich, a 2009 World champion at 59 kg/130 lbs., has been at 59 kg/130 lbs. all year and is listed there on the Azebaijan roster. It is very possible that none of the Olympic medalists from London will be competing at this weight class at the Worlds in Budapest.

Coming on strong in the last year is 2012 World bronze medalist Maria Prevolaraki of Greece, who was second in the 2013 European Championships and also won a gold medal at the Mediterranean Games. 

The 2013 European bronze medalists are Irina Husyak of Ukraine and Emese Barka of Hungary. Husyak earned a silver medal at the 2013 World University Games and won gold at the 2012 World University Championships.  Barka won a bronze at the World University Games, and boasts six medals at international tournaments this year.

Russia’s entry looks to be Valeria Koblova-Zholobova, who won a gold at the World University Games in her native Russia and was fifth at the 2012 Olympic Games. A two-time Junior World medalist, she is starting to make a big impact on the Senior level.

The reigning Asian champion is Senlian Yang of China, who was also third in the 2012 University World Championships. Chen Yang was eighth in the 2012 World Championships for China at this weight. However, China lists Zuechun Zhong as their entry in Budapest, who was second in the 2012 Junior World Championships. In any case, China will have a strong entry in this event.

The Asian bronze medalists this year were Han Kum-Ok of North Korea and Kumari Babita of India. Han was 10th in the2012 Olympics, and Babita was a 2011 Commonwealth champion. India’s 2012 World bronze medalist at this weight, Geeta, has been competing up at 59 kg this year.

Mongolia’s Byambatseren Sundev competed in the 2012 Olympics, and has been very active this season. She won a silver in the World Cup and a bronze in the Grand Prix of Spain, a top World tune-up event.

Among the Pan American athletes who could make an impact are Jillian Gallays of Canada and Alma Jane Valencia of Mexico. Gallays was eighth at the 2010 World Championships, and has paid her dues for many years in the shadow of Tonya Verbeek. Valencia has also been on the international scene for some time, and is having her best performances recently.

Marwa Amri of Tunisia is the top talent out of Africa, winning this year’s African Championships. She was eighth at the 2012 Olympic Games and claimed a silver medal at the Mediterranean Championships this season. 

The key question in this weight class has to do with breaking Yoshida’s amazing streak of success. Will she win her record 11th World title, or will somebody have improved enough to give her a loss at the World level? 

1. Saori Yoshida (Japan); 2. Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); 3. Helen Maroulis (USA); 4. Valeria Koblova-Zholobova (Russia); 5. Irina Husyak (Ukraine); 6. Kanako Murata (Japan); 7. Byambatseren Sundev (Mongolia); 8. Emese Barka (Hungary); 9. Orkhon Purevdorj (Mongolia); 10. Sarah Hildebrandt (USA); 11. Nadesda Trentyakova (Russia); 12. Senlian Yang (China); 13. Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 14. Marie Prevolaraki (Greece); 15. Marwa Amri (Tunisia)

2012 Olympic Games
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver – Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze – Jackeline Renteria (Colombia); Bronze – Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 5th – Tetyana Lazareva (Ukraine); 5th – Valeria Zholobova (Russia); 7th – Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); 8th – Marwa Amri (Tunisia); 9th – Lissette Antes Castillo (Ecuador); 10th – Kum Ok Han (North Korea)

2012 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver – Helen Maroulis (USA); Bronze – Geeta Geeta (India); Bronze – Maria Prevolaraki (Greece); 5th - Nataliya Synyshyn (Ukraine); 5th - Brittanee Laverdure (Canada); 7th - Katarzyna Krawczyk (Poland); 8th - Chen Yang (China); 9th - Joice Da Silva (Brazil); 10th - Maria Gurova (Russia)

2011 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Tatyana Lazareva (Ukraine); Bronze - Ida-Theres Nerell (Sweden); 5th - Maria Gurova (Russia); 5th - Helen Maroulis (United States); 7th - Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 8th - Geeta (India); 9th - Katarzyna Krawczyk (Poland); 10th - Alma Valencia Escoto (Mexico)

2010 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver – Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); Bronze –Anna Gomis (France); Bronze – Tatiana Padilla (USA); 5th – Aiym Abdilina (Kazakhstan); 5th – Maria Gurova (Russia); 7th – Byambatseren Sundev (Mongolia); 8th – Jillian Gallays (Canada); 9th - Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 10th – Sylwia Bilenska (Poland)

2009 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Sona Ahmedli (Azerbaijan); Bronze - Alena Filipava (Belarus); Bronze - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); 5th - Tatiana Padilla (USA); 5th - Anna Gomis (France); 7th - Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 8th - Aiyim Abdildina (Kazakhstan); 9th - Yura Gandolgor (Mongolia); 10th - Geeta (India)

2008 Olympic Games
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Xu Li (China); Bronze - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Jackeline Renteri (Colombia); 5th - Ida-Theres Nerell (Sweden); 5th - Ana Paval (Romania); 7th - Olga Smirnova (Kazakhstan); 8th - Natalia Golts (Russia); 9th - Marcie Van Dusen (USA); 10th - Ludmilla Cristea (Moldova)

2008 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tetyana Lazareva (Ukraine); Bronze - Tatiana Padilla (United States); Bronze - Anna Zwirydowska (Poland); 5th – Britanee Laverdure (Canada); 5th – Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 7th – Natalja Smirnova (Russia); 8th – Naidan Otgonjarjal (Mongolia); 9th – Ainur Artikbaeva (Uzbekistan); 10th - Enid Rivera Velasquez (Puerto Rico)

2007 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Ida-Theres Karlsson (Sweden); Bronze - Olga Smirnova (Kazakhstan); Bronze - Natalya Golts (Russia); 5th - Alena Filipova (Belarus); 5th - Tatyana Lazareva (Ukraine); 7th - Jacqueline Renteria (Colombia); 8th - Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 9th - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); 10th - Marcie Van Dusen (United States)

2006 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. – Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Mariyia Yaharova (Belarus); Bronze - Minerva Montero (Spain); Bronze - Ida-Theres Karlsson (Sweden); 5th - Jessica Bechtel (Germany); 5th - Natalia Golts (Russia); 7th - Greeta (India); 8th - Anna Gomis (France); 9th - Naidan Otgonjargal (Mongolia); 10th - Li Song Ni (China)

2005 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Su Lihui (China); Bronze - Natalia Golts (Russia); Bronze - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); 5th - Minerva Montero (Spain); 5th - Ludmila Cristea (Moldova); 7th - Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 8th - Jessica Bechtel (Germany); 9th - Sylvia Bilenska (Poland); 10th - Anna Gomis (France)