Japan star Kawai announces birth of first child

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (May 12)---Japanese star Risako KAWAI (JPN), who has not competed since winning a second straight Olympic title last summer in Tokyo, made a surprising announcement on Instagram that she had recently given birth to her first child.

The 27-year-old Kawai, a three-time world champion who won the Tokyo Olympic gold at 57kg, wrote that she had given birth to a girl on May 10. The baby's name and other details were not included.

Kawai expressed her gratitude to the doctors and medical staff who took her from pregnancy to childbirth and the many people who provided support, adding, "From now, everything I face will be an unknown to me, but I want to grow as a person along with my family."

Kawai's victory in Tokyo came a day after younger sister Yukako won the 62kg title, and the golden sister combination exponentially enhanced their national notoriety. The two became regular guests on talk shows and variety shows, milking the opportunity for all it was worth.

But neither has returned to competition since, and for Risako, the reason has become clear.

Just under a month after her Olympic triumph, Kawai announced on Aug. 27 that she had married Kiryu KINJO (JPN), a former wrestler with the Japan Self-Defense Forces. The two had been going together for five years, and she credited him with motivating her and helping her capture a second Olympic title.

The two are living in Fukui Prefecture, where Kinjo is now a teacher and wrestling coach at his alma mater of Tsuruga Kehi High School. They made no announcement of the pregnancy, and Kawai reportedly returned to her home in neighboring Ishikawa Prefecture to give birth, which is common in Japan.

Kawai, who won the 63kg gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics, had a tough road to winning again in Tokyo. By moving down to 57kg, it put her on a collision course with four-time Olympic champion Kaori ICHO (JPN).

The two went head-to-head four times during the qualifying process that drew world attention, with Kawai winning three times and eventually earning a place on Japan's team to the 2019 World Championships in Nur-Sultan, where she won her third straight world gold and clinched a berth at the Tokyo Olympics.

At a ceremony at the All-Japan Championships last December to honor Japan's Olympic medalists, Kawai expressed her intention to attempt to win a third Olympic title at the 2024 Paris Games.

"I will be 30 years old the year of the Paris [Olympics]," Kawai said at the time. "I'll probably have to put up with more injuries, so I will keep that in mind. I'm going to practice so I can be ready to come back any time. I want to set my goals while keeping tabs on my physical condition."

As expected, the recent birth has kept Kawai out of the upcoming All-Japan Invitational Championships in June, which in turn rules her out of this year's World Championships in Belgrade. Kawai's name was not on the list of entries released Friday by the Japan Wrestling Federation for the tournament, which is the second domestic qualifier for the worlds. 

Sankei Sports, citing an unnamed source, reported that Kawai will aim for the All-Japan Championships in December, which will be the first step in the qualifying process for the Paris Olympics. That tournament will serve as the first qualifier for 2023 World Championships, where the first berths for Paris 2024 will be awarded.

The sports daily said that Kawai's mother Hatsue--a two-time national champion during her wrestling days--will help in taking care of the baby, freeing up time for Risako to train.

Unlike in the past, motherhood is no longer a barrier keeping a woman from continuing their career in sports. Among top wrestlers, four-time Olympic medalist Mariya STADNIK (AZE) has a boy and girl, and Tokyo bronze medalist Vanessa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR) has a son. Adeline GRAY (USA), who won a sixth world title last year in Oslo, is expecting twins.

Kumar hopes for Gilman showdown at Worlds

By Vinay Siwach

NEW DELHI, India (May 17) -- Ravi KUMAR (IND) stepped on the mat after a week's gap having twisted his foot during one of the practice sessions. Yet, he had little trouble winning his two bouts to make the Indian team for the August's Commonwealth Games.

Wrestling for the first time since his third consecutive gold at Asian Championships in April, Kumar got a wake-up call against junior world medalist Vijay PATIL (IND) after trailing 3-1 at the start. But as the match progressed, Kumar got into his groove and broke the Maharashtra wrestler and secured the fall.

In the final against two-time cadet world bronze medalist and national champion Aman SEHRAWAT (IND), Kumar won via technical superiority despite the bout being disrupted by a commotion after the 125kg final.

The Tokyo silver medalist has never won a medal at the Commonwealth Games, a tournament India dominates in freestyle. But Kumar is more focused on a tournament a month after the Birmingham Games -- World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia.

"I know I can win a medal at the Commonwealth Games," Kumar said. "But World Championships is a bigger tournament and I want to win there."

Ravi KUMARRavi KUMAR (IND) won his first bout via fall against Vijay PATIL (IND). (Photo: UWW / Vinay Siwach)

Kumar is not new to World Championships. He has wrestled at the mega event only once and finished with a bronze medal. His only loss came against eventual champion Zavur UGUEV (RWF) who also won the Olympic gold after beating Kumar in the final.

With ambitions of winning a gold medal in Belgrade, Kumar will probably have to go through defending world champion Thomas GILMAN (USA).

Gilman, who won a bronze at the Tokyo Olympics, is already looking forward to wrestling Kumar. After winning his first Pan-Am title last week, Gilman said that Kumar is one wrestler he would like to wrestle with as both have a similar style which will entertain the fans.

Kumar echoes a similar thought and hopes that the fight can happen in Belgrade in September.

"It will be a good bout," Kumar said. "I also want to wrestle him and hope that it happens in Belgrade because I really want to be a world champion."

Initially, Kumar had decided to go for 61kg at the competition apart from the Games this year. But with September's Asian Games postponed, Kumar is happy to go down to 57kg and become India's only second world champion.

"I will go down to 57kg for World Championships," he said. "There are just two years left for the Olympics so it's good to remain at that weight and keep wrestling there."

In the run-up to the Worlds, Kumar is expected to compete at two Ranking Series events and the Commonwealth Games. He has also planned two training camps after the Games.

"I can't go into the no practice zone after the CWG," he said. "It breaks the rhythm and you take time to return to the mat."

Bajrang PUNIABajrang PUNIA (IND), red, will be eyeing his third Commonwealth Games medal in Birmingham. (Photo: UWW / Vinay Siwach)

Punias make team

Bajrang PUNIA (IND) and Deepak PUNIA (IND), who won silver medals at the Asian Championships in Mongolia, also made it to the Commonwealth Games team after winning the selection trials at 65kg and 86kg respectively.

The 65kg Olympic bronze medalist barely scraped past Vishal KALLIRAMAN (IND) in the 65kg final. He was sitting in the semifinal as others battled to wrestle him in the last four.

Sujeet emerged as his opponent from the upper side of the bracket and got the crowd excited with a few attacks. But Punia defended most of them including one in the dying moments of the bout.

"The wrestlers are sweating so much it's difficult to grip," Punia said referring to the sweltering heat in the capital and the air-conditioning malfunction in the stadium. "The moment I attacked, I would lose the hold. But it's the same for everyone."

Punia has been struggling to get training partners in the country with other wrestlers either training at their own centers or not being part of the camp. This has forced Punia to return to Chhatarsaal stadium, a center which he had left in 2014 after a fallout with fellow wrestlers. He now trains there three times a week.

Incidentally, four out of the six wrestlers selected for the Games train at the Chhatarsaal stadium in Delhi.

Deepak PuniaDeepak PUNIA (IND) will wrestle at 86kg at the Commonwealth Games. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad)

At 86kg, Sanjeet reached the final against Punia but could not break through the defense of the world silver medalist who now has a chance to win his first Commonwealth Games medal.

But it won't be easy for him as defending champion Muhammad INAM (PAK) has already announced his intentions of winning back-to-back gold medals.

NaveenNAVEEN (IND), right, is a 70kg bronze medalist at the Asian Championships. (Photo: UWW / Bayrem Ben Mrad) 

At 74kg, NAVEEN (IND) emerged as a surprise winner after he posted three back-to-back big wins at the trails. The Asian Championships bronze medalist at 70kg first got the better of Asian silver medalist JITENDER (IND), defeated cadet world champion Sagar JAGLAN (IND) in the semifinal before stunning 79kg Asian silver medalist Gourav BALIYAN (IND) 12-2 in the final.

"I was very confident today," Naveen said. "Once you get your first attack going, you realize how the other wrestler is defending and as the match goes on, you know they are getting tired.

"In the final, after I got four points, I realized Baliyan cannot keep up with me. They are cutting weight while for me it is easier to gain weight and wrestle."

GrewalMohit GREWAL (IND) won the trials at 125kg. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

Mohit GREWAL (IND) clinched the spot at 125kg after beating veteran wrestler SATENDER MALIK (IND) in a tense final which saw a long challenge review before a brawl at the end of the bout.

Malik was leading 3-0 with 30 seconds on the clock when Grewal got a single leg attack but was unable to finish it. However, Malik lost balance and fell which gave Grewal two points before he scored another with a stepout. The mat chairman did not score the two points.

Grewal challenged the call and lost before the review for the previous was checked again which made it clear that a takedown was completed. Malik was unhappy with the decision claiming that Grewal had no control during the takedown.

DeepakDEEPAK (IND) defeated Satywart KADIAN (IND) in the 97kg semifinal. (Photo: UWW / Vinay Siwach)

India saw the rise of new stars at 97kg after the domination of Satywart KADIAN (IND) and Mousam KHATRI (IND) for more than a decade. '21 junior world bronze medalist DEEPAK (IND) defeated Kadian in the semifinal while Sahil SEHRAWAT (IND) defeated Khatri in the other semifinal. Deepak humbled Kadian with a 5-2 win thanks to two takedowns while Sehrawat beat Khatri 10-0 using four gut wrenches.

But the final was a little anti-climatic as Deepak went past Sehrawat 10-0 with ease to make the Commonwealth Games team.

The team is scheduled to take part in the Bolat Turlykhanov Cup Ranking Series event next month but the wrestlers can skip it as well. The wrestlers for non-Olympic weight classes for the ranking series will be selected by the Wrestling Federation of India.