Women's World Cup

Host Japan Favored at Women's World Cup

By Ken Marantz

For world and Olympic champion Risako KAWAI, the upcoming Women's World Cup not only gives her a chance to help host Japan win a fourth consecutive title but share the experience with her sister Yukako KAWAI.

"I went to the world championships with my sister, but she didn't do well. This time, we want to do well together," Kawai said at a press conference last month to announce the Japanese team, which will be the prohibitive favorite in the tournament in Takasaki, about 100 kilometers northwest of Tokyo.

Risako, who won the Rio 2016 Olympic gold at 63kg and Paris 2017 world title at 60kg, captured her third straight Japan crown in the newly created 62kg class. Earlier, Yukako earned her first national title at 59kg, making the two the first sisters to win golds at the same Japan championships since Chiharu and Kaori ICHO in 2007.

Risako said she likes the rare chance to compete for a team in what is generally an individual sport.

"When you win as a team, you're twice as happy," she said. "If you lose, but the team wins, it helps make it easier to take. That's the appeal."

For a few on the Japan team, it will not only be a team event, but a family affair. In addition to the Kawais, there are two other pairs of sisters who will take the mat.

2018 Asian champion Saki IGARASHI. Photo by Max Rose-Fyne. 

Newly crowned Asian champion Saki IGARASHI (55kg) made the team along with older sister Miho IGARASHI (50kg), while the upper weights include high school twins Naruha MATSUYUKI (72kg) and Yasuha MATSUYUKI (76kg).

While they will all likely see action sometime during the preliminary group stage, for the major matches, Japan will rely on its big guns that, along with Risako Kawai, include Paris 2017 champions Haruna OKUNO (53kg) and Sara DOSHO (68kg, also a Rio 2016 gold medalist), runner-up Mayu MUKAIDA (55kg) and bronze medalist Hiroe MINAGAWA (76kg).

Attesting to Japan's depth in the lightweights is the fact that world champion Yui SUSAKI did not make the team, as she lost in the semifinals at the national championships at 50kg to eventual winner Yuki IRIE. Only the top two finishers in each weight class made the cut.

Due to a scheduling quirk, it was just three months ago in Cheboksary, Russia, that Japan won its three straight World Cup and ninth out of 16 since the competition started in 2001. Japan captured the title despite sending a weaker team that just barely beat the United States in the group stage, then eked out a victory over China in the final.

"In Russia, we sent our No. 2 wrestlers and only barely beat China," Japan Wrestling Federation managing director Hideaki TOMIYAMA said. "This time, we are the home team.  But now there are 10 weight classes, so we can't say what's going to happen."

This year, Japan was once again grouped with the United States, with Canada and Sweden filling out the other spots in Pool A. Pool B consists of China, Mongolia, Belarus and Romania.

Three-time world champion Adeline GRAY (USA). 

According to preliminary reports, the United States, which won its lone title in 2003 in Tokyo, will field a strong team led by three-time world champion Adeline GRAY (76kg). Also on the team are Paris 2017 world silver medalist Alli RAGAN (57kg) and bronze medalist Becka LEATHERS (55kg), and two-time junior world champion Victoria ANTHONY (50kg).

U.S. national team coach Terry Steiner says that when the U.S. faces Japan in the competition is irrelevant, as winning the championship is the only consideration.

“Japan has been the team to beat," Steiner told the USA Wrestling website. "They have set the standard in the sport.

 "We just need to be ready to compete....We are not going to Japan to be a part of the mix; we are going to Japan to come out of there with a World Cup title and be the best we can be. We have to focus on ourselves and what we need to do as we prepare ourselves to go in there with the best results possible.”

The Canadian team features Paris 2017 world bronze medalists Michelle FAZZARI (62kg) and Justina DI STASIO (76kg), who are also among five winners from the 2017 Pan American Championships on the squad.

 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Jenny FRANSSON (SWE). Photo ​​​​​by Max Rose-Fyne. 

Sweden, which was added to the field when Turkey withdrew, will be led by former world champion and Rio 2016 bronze medalist Jenny FRANSSON (72kg), but otherwise is expected to send a young team.

The other group is expected to be a shootout between China, which won the last of its six titles in 2013, and Mongolia, the third-place finisher in the past two World Cups.

At the recent Asian Championships in Bishkek, to which Japan sent a mainly second-string team, the Chinese women came away with five golds, one silver and a bronze. Four of those champions are slated to make the trip to Takasaki---PEI Xingru (57kg), RONG Ningning (59kg), ZHOU Feng (68kg) and ZHOU Qian (76kg).

SUN Yanan (CHN) competing against Yui SUSAKI (JPN) in the 2017 Women's World Cup. 

Add to that group Rio 2016 bronze medalist SUN Yanan (50kg), Bishkek 2018 silver medalist LUO Xiaojuan and Paris 2017 bronze medalist HAN Yue (72kg), and you have quite a formidable lineup.

Mongolia, the runner-up to China when it hosted the event in 2013, will aim for a place in the final behind world champion Orkhon PUREVDORJ (62kg), who added the Asian gold in Bishkek, and Asian runner-up Tumentsetseg SHARKHUU (68kg). 

Purevdorj holds the unique distinction of having handed a rare loss on four-time Olympic champion Kaori ICHO, a technical fall victory in the final at the 2016 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.

Belarus, making its first appearance since 2013, will field three world medalists, but it remains to be seen if the European side has the depth to overcome the Asians.

2017 world champion Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR). 

Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (53kg) is well known to Japanese wrestling fans, as her miracle comeback for an 8-6 win in the final in Paris denied Japan's Mukaida a world title. Five years earlier, she stunned future Olympic and world champion Eri TOSAKA in the 48kg final.

Joining Kaladzinskaya will be Paris 2017 bronze medalist Irina KURACHKINA (55kg) and silver medalist Vasilisa MARZALIUK (76kg).

Romania, making its World Cup debut, features Paris 2017 silver medalist Alina VUC (50kg).

For Japan's Kawai, who has not lost an international match since 2015 (a loss in the world 63kg final to Mongolia's Battsegseg SORONZOBOLD, who is slated to wrestle at 57kg in Takasaki), the tournament is also serving as a stepping stone toward defense of her Olympic title at Tokyo 2020.

"It's my first World Cup with a new weight class [for me] and the new system for weigh-in," Kawai said. "Aiming to win our fourth title in a row, I want each one of us to feel the responsibility so that it becomes a building block toward the Tokyo Olympics."

Saturday, March 17 (Local Time)

9:00 am: Canada v. United States (Mat A) // Mongolia v. China (Mat B)
10:15 am: Japan v. Sweden  (Mat A) // Belarus  v. Romania (Mat B)
11:30 am: Sweden v. United States  (Mat A) // Romania v. China (Mat B)
12:45 pm: Japan v. Canada (Mat A) // Belarus  v. Mongolia (Mat B)
4:30 pm: Opening Ceremonies
5:00 pm: Sweden v. Canada (Mat A) // Romania v. Belarus  (Mat B)
6:15 pm: Japan v. United States (Mat A) // Belarus v. China (Mat B)

Sunday, March 18 (Local Time)
9:00 am: Seventh Place Match
10:30 am: Fifth Place Match
1:00 pm: Bronze Medal Match
2:30 pm: Gold Medal Match

Women's World Cup

Host Japan Holds Off China for 4th Straight Women's World Cup Title

By Ken Marantz

Missing one of its world and Olympic champions from the lineup, Japan needed someone among its less heralded members to step up and notch a pivotal win.
Enter Ayana GEMPEI (JPN), whose come-from-behind victory at 65kg clinched host Japan's 6-4 victory over China in the final of the Women's World Cup, giving the host country its fourth consecutive title and 10th overall.

"I was so focused, I didn't really think about that," Gempei said of being in position to give Japan an insurmountable lead. "Anyway, I went out there absolutely determined to win."

Facing TANG Chuying (CHN), Gempei was trailing 3-2 when she scored a takedown and roll in the final 12 seconds to notch a 6-3 victory.

"I was losing, but I thought I could definitely get something somewhere. I believed in what I brought [to the mat]. I went for it with confidence."
Yuki IRIE (JPN) celebrates her 10- technical fall over Olympic bronze medalist SUN Yanan of China (Photo: Max Rose-Fyne). 

Yuki IRIE (JPN) got the host country off to a perfect start when she overwhelmed Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist SUN Yanan (CHN), building up a 10-0 lead before scoring a fall with :46 remaining.

Irie, who had beaten world champion Yui SUSAKI at the Japan championships in December, was coming off a disappointing showing at the recent Asian Championships in Bishkek, where she had to settle for a bronze medal in a tournament dominated by China.

But before the packed house of 2,000 at Takasaki Arena and national TV audience, Irie showed what makes her a force to be reckoned with.

"At the start, I was wondering about Irie," Japan head coach Hideo SASAYAMA said. "If we lose there, it could be a problem. But if we win the opener, it gets things rolling. She came up with a fantastic victory and that got the momentum going for Japan."

Paris 2017 world champion Haruna OKUNO (JPN) followed with a victory at 53kg by fall over OUYANG Junling (CHN), in contrast to her labored 7-6 victory the day before over Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA).

"In yesterday's match, I allowed the opponent to work her strategy," Okuno said. "Today, I was able to do what I wanted to do."

Paris 2017 silver medalist Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) kept the ball rolling with a 10-0 technical fall victory in 1:27 over XIE Mengyu (CHN) at 55kg.

While those three victories could be expected, the next few matches would be decisive for China, which was relying on setting the stage for its highly touted trio of heavyweights.

RONG Ningning (CHN) looks for the fall in the finals of the Women's World Cup (Photo: Max Rose-Fyne)

Next up for China was Bishkek 2018 gold medalist RONG Ningning at 57 kg, and it was a surprise to many when Katsuki SAKAGAMI jumped out to a 4-0 lead. But Rong stuffed Sakagami on a double-leg tackle attempt, sending her to her back before ripping off five consecutive rolls---the last of which just beat the first-period buzzer for a 15-4 technical fall.

At 59kg, Yukako KAWAI (JPN) pulled off a key win when she scored a second-period takedown for a 3-1 victory over PEI Xingru (CHN), who, like Rong, was one of five newly crowned Asian champions who took the mat for China on Sunday.

Kawai's older sister, Rio 2016 Olympic and Paris 2017 world champion Risako KAWAI (JPN) lived up to expectations by forging a 10-4 victory over Bishkek 2018 silver medalist LUO Xiaojuan, putting Japan up 5-1.
Ayana GEMPEI (JPN) battles for control in Sunday night's final (Photo: Max Rose-Fyne)

Gempei, a world under-23 champion, scored her decisive victory over the lanky Tang, who was a head taller than the stocky Japanese.

"Whoever the opponent, whatever their body type, I only think about having to fight by using the moves that I know," Gempei said. "So I don't think about that."

With Rio 2016 Olympic and Paris 2017 world champion Sara DOSHO (JPN) skipping the final due to a shoulder injury suffered during the preliminary round, Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) proved no match at 68kg for Bishkek 2018 champion ZHOU Feng, going down to defeat 9-0.

China's two other Asian champions, Yue HAN (CHN) at 72kg and ZHOU Qian (CHN) at 76kg, finished up with wins that only served to slim Japan's margin of victory.

Han, a Paris 2017  bronze medalist, was pushed to the limit by Masako FURUICHI (JPN) and needed two second-period takedowns to notch a 10-7 victory, while Zhou followed by topping Paris 2017 bronze medalist Hiroe SUZUKI (JPN) 7-1.

Mongolia takes bronze for 3rd straight year
In a thrilling third-place playoff that featured a number of late, come-from-behind wins, Tumentsetseg SHARKHUU (MGL) provided the shocker that helped clinch Mongolia's 6-4 victory over the United States for a third consecutive bronze medal.

The U.S. had cut Mongolia's lead to 4-3 with victories over two of its top wrestlers when Bishkek 2018 silver medalist Sharkhuu faced Tamrya MENSAH (USA) in a pivotal bout at 68kg.

Mensah stormed to a 5-0 lead, but in the second period, Sharkhuu used an inside trip to send the American to her back, then finished off the match with a fall with 1:56 left.

"Our team, we all supported each other and were saying, 'You can do it,'" Sharkhuu said. "I was just thinking about the team and thinking 'I have to win.'"

Regarding her winning move, Sharkhuu said, "That technique is not my technique, but for the last month I have been trying it."

After Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) at 55kg and Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL) at 59kg pulled off last-second victories, the U.S. got back into the match with two big wins.

Mallory VELTE (USA) held on for an 11-9 victory at 62kg over Paris 2017 world champion Orkhon PUREVDORJ (MGL), who was not at 100 percent and had defaulted two group stage matches.

Then, Forrest MOLINARI (USA) ended a close battle at 65kg with former world champion Battsetseg SORONZONBOLD (MGL) with a first-period fall. 

"Orkhon was injured, but she tried her best," Sharkhuu said. "I really appreciate her [effort]. We are all one team."

Mongolia coach Byambajov BATTULGA said the team is improving as younger wrestlers start to step up.

"We have a good mix with young wrestlers getting better," Battulga said. "We're more confident. Two champions lost, we were shocked. But Sharkhuu came up with a big win."

High drama for the lower places
Meanwhile, there was drama in the morning as both of the playoffs for lower places were split evenly 5-5 between the competing teams, and had to be decided on classification points.

Canada held on to edge Belarus 24-21, with the main difference coming from the fact that Belarus had one more victory by default or forfeit than Canada. 

The outcome was not decided until the final match at 76kg, when Vasilisa MARZALIUK (BLR), needing to win by fall, could only manage a 6-4 victory over Justina DI STASIO (CAN).

With the score 2-2 and less than minute left, Marzaliuk pressed to lock up di Stasio's arms to set up a throw. The Canadian resisted but was flipped over as they went out of bounds for a 4-point move.

"I think I was trying so hard to not step out of bounds that I overcompensated and drove so hard," di Stasio said. "I don't know how I got flipped over."

Adding to the drama, di Stasio was injured on the play and needed medical attention. "I've got a little neck thing going on," she said. "I don't know why I landed on my head in the last two matches."

A default would have given Belarus the victory---a detail that the Canadian said she was not aware of.

"No, I had no idea---which I'm happy about," said di Stasio, who added she never thought about stopping the match.

For Sweden, splitting the matches with Romania in the seventh-place playoff but losing on classification points 24-22 was a moral victory of sorts, given the young squad's bleak results in the group stage when it won just two matches overall.

"Yesterday was really tough for the whole team," said veteran Jenny FRANSSON (SWE), the Rio 2016 bronze medalist who beat Catalina AXENTE (ROU) by technical fall at 72kg. "When I was almost the last match, I could feel everyone was so sad. It was hard. But it's a good experience."

Final Day Results
1st-2nd Place

50 kg: Yuki IRIE (JPN) df. SUN Yanan (CHN) by Fall, 0:46 (10-0)
53 kg: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) df. OUYANG Junling (CHN) by Fall, 4:33 (4-0)
55 kg: Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) df. XIE Mengyu (CHN) by TF, 10-0, 1:15
57 kg: RONG Ningning (CHN) df. Katsuki SAKAGAMI (JPN) by TF, 15-4, 3:00
59 kg: Yukako KAWAI (JPN) df. PEI Xingru (CHN), 3-1
62 kg: Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. LUO Xiaojuan (CHN), 10-4
65 kg: Ayana GEMPEI (JPN) df. TANG Chuying (CHN), 6-3
68 kg: ZHOU Feng (CHN) df. Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN), 9-0
72 kg: HAN Yue (CHN) df. Masako FURUICHI (JPN), 10-7
76 kg: ZHOU Qian (CHN) df. Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN), 7-1

3rd-4th Place

50 kg: Victoria ANTHONY (USA) df. Narangerel ERDENESUKH (MGL) by Fall, 3:49 (8-2)
53 kg:  Sumiya ERDENECHIMEG (MGL) df. Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA), 10-6
55 kg: Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) df. Jacarra WINCHESTER (USA), 9-6
57 kg: Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL) df. Allison RAGAN (USA) by TF, 10-0, 1:38
59 kg: Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL) df. Kayla MIRACLE (USA), 5-4
62 kg: Mallory VELTE (USA) df. Orkhon PUREVDORJ (MGL), 11-9
65 kg: Forrest MOLINARI (USA) df. Battsetseg SORONZONBOLD (MGL) by Fall, 3:22 (4-4)
68 kg: Tumentsetseg SHARKHUU (MGL) df. Tamyra MENSAH (USA) by Fall, 1:56 (4-5)
72 kg: Nasanburmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) df. Victoria FRANCIS (USA), 11-3
76 kg: Adeline GRAY (USA) df. Chantsalnyamaa AMGALANBAATAR (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 3:59

5th-6th Place

(Canada won 24-21 on classification points)
50 kg: Jessica MACDONALD (CAN) df. Kseniya STANKEVICH (BLR) by Fall, 3:12 (6-2)
53 kg: Diana WEICKER (CAN) df. Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR) by Default
55 kg: Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR) df. Jade PARSONS (CAN), 10-4
57 kg: Samantha STEWART (CAN) df. Zalina SIDAKOVA (BLR), 7-0
59 kg: Katsiaryna HANCHAR YANUSHKEVICH (BLR) df. Emily SCHAEFER (CAN) by TF, 12-2,2:15
62 kg: Veranika IVANOVA (BLR) df. Jessica BROUILLETTE (CAN) by Fall, 5:34 (4-0)
65 kg: Krystsina FEDARASHKA (BLR) df. Braxton STONE (CAN) by Default
68 kg: Olivia DI BACCO (CAN) df. Hanna SADCHANKA (BLR), 5-2
72 kg: Erica WIEBE (CAN) by Forfeit
76 kg: Vasilisa MARZALIUK (BLR) df. Justina DI STASIO (CAN), 6-4 

7th-8th Place

(Romania won 24-22 on classification points)
50 kg: Alina VUC (ROU) df. Malin  LJUNGSTROEM (SWE) by Fall, 3:56 (8-0)
53 kg: Estera TAMADUIANU DOBRE (ROU) df. Linn LUNDSTROEM (SWE) by TF, 10-0, 1:37
55 kg: Simona PRICOB (ROU) df. Liliana JUAREZ ANDINO (SWE) by TF, 10-0, 2:15
57 kg:  Kateryna ZHYDACHEVSKA (ROU) df. Sara LINDBORG (SWE) by Fall, 2:23 (10-3)
59 kg: Emma JOHANSSON (SWE) by Forfeit
62 kg: Kriszta INCZE (ROU) df. Therese PERSSON (SWE) by Default
65 kg: Moa NYGREN (SWE) df. Adina POPESCU (ROU) by Fall, 1:35 (6-2)
68 kg: Alexandra SANDAHL (SWE) df. Alexandra ANGHEL (ROU), 9-2
72 kg: Jenny FRANSSON (SWE) df. Catalina AXENTE (ROU) by TF, 10-0, 1:17
76 kg: Denise MAKOTA STROEM (SWE) by Forfeit