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

Women's World Cup

Japan Storms Past U.S., Into All-Asian Clash for Gold with China

By Ken Marantz

The big showdown at the Women's World Cup turned into the big blowout, as host Japan powered into the final with a one-sided victory over the United States in the final preliminary group match.

Next up, an all-Asian clash with an impressive Chinese squad that absolutely decimated its group at Takasaki Arena.

Japan, getting an unexpectedly tough win from world champion Haruna OKUNO at 53kg and a surprisingly easy victory from erratic Katsuki SAKAGAMI at 57kg, earned a shot at a fourth consecutive title by routing the U.S. 8-2 and finishing 3-0 in Group A.

China capped its dominant run in Group B by crushing Belarus 10-0, with seven of the matches won by either fall or technical fall, and two by default or forfeit. Only the final match at 76kg went the distance as China lost only one match the entire day in finishing 3-0.

World and Olympic champion Risako KAWAI (JPN) by Max Rose-Fyne 

Japan's victory in the highly anticipated clash with the U.S. was clinched in the minimum of matches when world and Olympic champion Risako KAWAI (JPN) chalking up a solid but somewhat mediocre 5-0 victory over Mallory VELTE (USA) at 62kg to give Japan an insurmountable 6-0 lead.

"Against the U.S., that's like a bad habit I have," Kawai said. "I have the desire, and I want to do more, but I'm always thinking that the opponent will attack and I make it more complicated for myself. It happens all the time and things become difficult."

Still, she did enough to ensure the victory, scoring a takedown in the first period, then gaining an activity point in the second before capping the match with a late takedown.

"Winning is the most important thing, but with everyone thinking that it's only natural that I win all of the time, there are certain things I want to accomplish. The problem is not on the technical side."

Katsuki SAKAGAMI (JPN) defeated world silver medalist Allison RAGAN (USA), 10-0. Photo by Max Rose-Fyne. 

Sakagami showed her mental toughness by stepping up and showing the potential that had previously abandoned her on big stages. She was a bronze medalist at the 2017 Asian Championships where Japan won five of eight gold medals and two silvers, and was one of only two Japanese to fail to medal at that year's world championships in Paris.

With Japan leading 3-0, a loss to Paris 2017 silver medalist Allison RAGAN (USA) could have turned the tide. Instead, Sakagami came out like gang-busters, scored with a 4-point tackle in the opening seconds and rolled to a 10-0 technical fall in just under two minutes.

"In my first match, I didn't finish up my moves to the end," Sakagami said, referring a technical fall victory over Sweden in the opening session. "I scored points, but I didn't finish well, so my coach said, 'You're not going to die, so give it everything you've got.'"

Sakagami gained motivation after seeing Okuno, the Paris 2017 gold medalist at 55kg, struggle to eke out a 7-6 victory over Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA) that could have gone either way.

"I thought the three before me would win handily one after the other, but the 53kg had a tough match," she said. "I thought, maybe America will change the momentum. I knew my opponent Ragan is strong, and that made me go that much harder."

For the United States, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Adeline GRAY (USA) picked up one of two victories for the United States against Japan. Photo by Max Rose-Fyne. 

"I don't think we ever expected to get beat that bad," said Adeline GRAY (USA), the former three-time world champion whose 6-1 victory over Paris 2017 bronze medalist Hiroe SUZUKI (JPN) at 76kg left her 3-0 individually for the competition.

"For the most part, we came in ready for this day and it's so disappointing that we didn't live up to the expectations that we set for ourselves. It's a bummer for sure."

Gray acknowledged that the U.S. is still playing catch-up with Japan, the dominant force in women's wrestling since its inception.

"Japan is doing something excellent here and on home soil, when they get the momentum going, it's tough to stop," she said. "It's almost awesome to see from the unfortunate side. They have some motivation that comes from within that truly shines on the wrestling mat. It's unfortunate, but we're going to break through one of these days."

The pairing between Japan and China carries so much intrigue because of the incredible progress China has seemed to make in the half-year since hiring Bulgarian coach Simeon CHTEROV.


At the recent Asian Championships in Bishkek, China won six of 10 gold medals (five of those wrestlers are on the team in Takasaki), albeit with Japan entering a second-string team. Sunday's final, to be televised nationally, can be considered in some cases to be de facto Asian gold medal matches.

"The Chinese team now believes in themselves," Chterov said. "If they continue believing, I think they can win. This is very important, desire, to win."

For Kawai and Japan, the key to victory will be doing what they know they are capable of.

"I really don't know what's going to happen, but I know the Japanese team has practiced very hard," she said. "If everyone gives their full effort, the result will come."

As an independent but interested observer, Gray expects nothing short of fireworks in the clash between the Asian powers.

"They didn't have a tough match today at all, it looked like a technique practice going on the other mat," Gray said of China's rout of Belarus. "They went out there and executed. Those are some STRONG women. I'm looking forward to it....I'll be curious to see how they [Japan] matches up with China."

The U.S. will vie for the bronze medal against Mongolia which, like the final between Japan and China, is a repeat of the medal match pairings from the 2017 World Cup held three months ago in Russia. Mongolia won that clash.

In the other pairings for classification, it will be Canada and Belarus in the match for fifth place, while Sweden and Romania will battle for seventh place.

Canada finished up the group stage by crushing Sweden 9-1 (the lone loss was an injury-induced default), but one match stood out in particular---the clash at 72kg between Erica WIEBE (CAN), the Rio 2017 Olympic gold medalist at 75kg, and Jenny FRANSSON (SWE), who won a bronze at 69kg.

Fransson was holding a 4-0 lead in the second period when Wiebe scored a pair of takedowns, the second in the final 30 seconds to pull out a 4x-4 win and finish 3-0 in the group stage.

"That's like the trademark of my wrestling," Wiebe said. "I love being behind, and pulling out the win. That's when I really feel I'm able to wrestle---so I've got to work on that."

Wiebe had previously beaten Fransson in a second-round match at the 2013 world championships, and knew---and welcomed---the tough challenge facing her.

"Jenny Fransson is an incredible competitor, she's really tough. We know each other really well. As athletes, I think also as friends, I have a lot of respect for her. I knew it was going to be a tough match, and I always cherish those tough matches. I was excited to draw her, and excited to test out new things in my arsenal."

Asked what new moves she tried out, she said "I shot some high crotches today which I don't usually do. It's Year 2 of the quad [four-year Olympic cycle] and I'm trying to add some tools."

So she expects to be back in Japan for Tokyo 2020?

"That's the hope, that's the plan."

Final Day Pairings
Gold Medal: Japan vs China
Bronze Medal: United States vs Mongolia
5th Place: Canada vs Belarus
7th Place: Sweden vs Romania

Session 3
Group A

50 kg: Jessica MACDONALD (CAN) df. Malin LJUNGSTROEM (SWE) by Fall, 5:33 (4-0)
53 kg: Diana WEICKER (CAN) df. Linn LUNDSTROEM (SWE) by TF, 10-0, 4:27
55 kg: Jade PARSONS (CAN) df. Liliana JUAREZ ANDINO (SWE) by TF, 10-0, 3:49
57 kg: Samantha STEWART (CAN) df. Sara LINDBORG (SWE), 6-3
59 kg: Emily SCHAEFER (CAN) df. Emma JOHANSSON (SWE) by Fall, 3:58 (4-0)
62 kg: Jessica BROUILLETTE (CAN) df. Therese PERSSON (SWE) by Default
65 kg: Moa NYGREN (SWE) df. Braxton STONE (CAN) by Default
68 kg: Danielle LAPPAGE (CAN) df. Alexandra SANDAHL (SWE) by TF, 10-0, 3:25
72 kg: Erica WIEBE (CAN) df. Jenny FRANSSON (SWE), 4x-4
76 kg: Justina DI STASIO (CAN) df. Denise MAKOTA STROEM (SWE) by Fall, 5:07 (2-0)

50 kg: Yuki IRIE (JPN) df. Victoria ANTHONY (USA), 8-2
53 kg: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) df. Sarah HILDEBRANDT (USA), 7-6
55 kg: Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) df. Becka LEATHERS (USA) by TF, 10-0, 3:26
57 kg: Katsuki SAKAGAMI (JPN) df. Allison RAGAN (USA) by TF, 10-0, 4:02
59 kg: Yukako KAWAI (JPN) df.  Kayla MIRACLE (USA) by TF, 12-1, 1:01
62 kg: Risako KAWAI (JPN) df. Mallory VELTE (USA), 5-0
65 kg: Ayana GEMPEI (JPN) df. Julia SALATA (USA), 5-2
68 kg: Tamyra MENSAH (USA) df. Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN), 8-2
72 kg: Masako FURUICHI (JPN) df. Victoria FRANCIS (USA), 9-2
76 kg: Adeline GRAY (USA) df. Hiroe MINAGAWA (JPN), 6-1

Group B

50 kg: Alina VUC (ROU) df. Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 5:14

53 kg: Otgonjargal GANBAATAR (MGL) df. Estera TAMADUIANU DOBRE (ROU) by Fall, 1:36 (9-8)
55 kg: Davaachimeg ERKHEMBAYAR (MGL) df. Simona PRICOB (ROU), 3-0
57 kg: Battsetseg ALTANTSETSEG (MGL)  df. Kateryna ZHYDACHEVSKA (ROU), 11-5
59 kg: Shoovdor BAATARJAV (MGL) by Forfeit
62 kg: Kriszta Tunde INCZE (ROU) df. Orkhon PUREVDORJ (MGL) by Default
65 kg: Battsetseg SORONZONBOLD (MGL) df. Adina POPESCU (ROU) by Fall, 3:47 (9-0)
68 kg: Tumentsetseg SHARKHUU (MGL) df. Alexandra Nicoleta ANGHEL (ROU) by Fall, 2:16 (16-10)
72 kg: Nasanburmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) df. Catalina AXENTE (ROU) by Fall, 4:59 (4-0)
76 kg: Chantsalnyamaa AMGALANBAATAR (MGL) by Forfeit

50 kg: SUN Yanan (CHN) df. Kseniya STANKEVICH (BLR) by Fall, 4:54 (2-0)
53 kg: OUYANG Junling (CHN) df. Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR) by Default
55 kg: ZHANG Qi (CHN) df. Iryna KURACHKINA (BLR) by TF, 10-0, 4:14
57 kg: RONG Ningning (CHN) df. Zalina SIDAKOVA (BLR) by TF, 10-0, 4:43
59 kg: PEI Xingru (CHN) df. Katsiaryna HANCHAR YANUSHKEVICH (BLR) by TF, 10-0, 4:11
62 kg: LUO Xiaojuan (CHN) df. Veranika IVANOVA (BLR) by Fall, 4:47 (4-0)
65 kg: TANG Chuying (CHN) df. Krystsina FEDARASHKA (BLR) by TF, 10-0, 3:55
68 kg: ZHOU Feng (CHN) df. Hanna SADCHANKA (BLR) by TF, 11-0, 3:21
72 kg: HAN Yue (CHN) by Forfeit
76 kg: ZHOU Qian (CHN) df. Vasilisa MARZALIUK (BLR), 3-2