Ozaki, Elor win third world title in two months

By Vinay Siwach

PONTEVEDRA, Spain (October 21) -- Since the U23 World Championships were introduced in 2017, there were only two wrestlers to win all four world titles till Thursday.

In the space of two days, three more have been added to the group which only had Haruna OKUNO (JPN) and Masako FURUICHI (JPN).

After Yui SUSAKI (JPN) won the 'Grand Slam' on Thursday, Nonoko OZAKI (JPN) and Amit ELOR (USA) won their first U23 world titles to complete the haul.

Both Ozaki and Elor have won three world titles in the last two months with the first coming at the U20 Worlds in Sofia. They won the senior gold in Belgrade last month before winning the U23 gold on Friday in Pontevedra, Spain.

As women's wrestling ended at the U23 World Championships, Japan won the team title with 225 points with the USA finishing second with 107 points. Ukraine was third also with 107 points but fell behind the USA as the latter had a gold medalist [Elor] while Ukraine did not.

Apart from Ozaki and Elor, senior world champion Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) won the 62kg gold, former senior and U23 world champion Haruna OKUNO (JPN) won the 53kg gold and Sae NANJO (JPN) won the 57kg gold.

Amit ELOR (USA)Amit ELOR (USA) won the 72kg gold medal. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

While Ozaki and Elor have been very similar in their way of winning the gold at the World Championships, both reflect on their achievements differently.

Ozaki, who has lost only once since her 2018 Inter High School Championships semifinals against Yuzuka INAGAKI (JPN), feels that the world titles mean little unless she wins the Olympics.

"I don't really have an actual feeling that I am number one in the world," Ozaki said. "Becoming number one was the goal, but since winning the [senior world] championship, nothing has changed for me. For this tournament, I never thought about my being the world champion. Also, it was my first tournament at U23. I just felt it was a regular international tournament. I didn't feel any pressure."

Ozaki, just 19 years old, spent four minutes and 54 seconds in her four bouts in Pontevedra to win the gold at 62kg. In the final, she defeated Iryna BONDAR (UKR) using the leg lace. She led 8-0 after 37 seconds but dropped the pace of the bout after that and won the final in two minutes and 13 seconds. 

In the semifinal, she defeated returning champion Ana GODINEZ (CAN) via technical superiority.

"My style is to finish it [match] off with a single action," she said. "If it doesn't end there, I go to a counterattack. That happened in the semifinal. It wasn't bad to not finish it off all at once, and overall it was a good match."

Despite a 41-0 result in Pontevedra, Ozaki thinks that there are a lot of areas in which she can improve.

"From a mental point of view, the way I dealt with the matches was really good," Ozaki said. "I was in several tournaments over the past year and there were good things and bad things from a mental aspect. Each match was different, and I had to think about how I can ensure my best performance and what should I think about before the match. Over this year, I feel I found a good way to do that. I think this will be useful from now."

For 18-year-old Elor, the tournament was another learning experience as keeps improving with every gold medal.

"With each world championship I've gone a little bit better," Elor said. "Even this summer, each time I wrestled I gained experience and I felt stronger, mentally and physically."

The USA wrestler was up against Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL) in the 72kg finals and won 11-0 in four minutes and 12 seconds. She also defeated returning silver medalist Kendra DACHER (FRA) 13-2 in the quarterfinals.

"I can't believe this summer," she said. "This has been the best summer of my life. [At the start of the year] I would not believe that [winning 3 world titles]. I was injured. I had surgery in January this year. It's unbelieve. That [senior world] medal means the world so far and was an amazing experience for me."

With a lot accomplished, a lot remains for the two. Ozaki and Elor want to be Olympic champions and as the next season approaches, both will have to go through a grinding qualification process.

Ozaki will have to win the Emperor's Cup in December this year before the Meiji Cup in June next year to qualify for the 2023 World Championships which offers 2024 Olympic quotas. A medal there will seal the berth for Ozaki.

"I prepared for this [U23] tournament, but my number one objective is the Olympics," Ozaki said. "I went into this [U23] tournament regarding it as the last one to get ready for the Emperor's Cup. At this tournament, a number of new issues to be addressed came up. I want to use that in my final preparations."

Ozaki's win-loss record reads 60-1 dating back to 2018 with that one loss coming at the 2021 World Championships against Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ), her first against a non-Japanese opponent in 11 career international tournaments.

Riding on a 26-0 winning streak, Ozaki will be the favorite at the Emperor's Cup especially since she beat Olympic champion Yukako KAWAI (JPN) at the Meiji Cup in June this year to qualify for the 2022 World Championships.

However, Ozaki does not think much of that win.

"I don't think it [win over Kawai] gives me confidence," she said. "More than that, I learned a lot about myself."

Elor will have to first decide which Olympic weight class -- 68kg or 76kg -- she wants to move before attending the Olympic trials for the USA if the country wins the quota for the Paris Olympics.

But she is taking one step at a time and not thinking too much ahead.

"I really want to grow and learn more techniques and work on new tactics," she said. "I want to see my body feels at training. For now, I will rest for a while. I am excited for the World Cup this summer."

Three other Japanese wrestlers won gold with Morikawa adding a U23 world gold to her U20 and senior world titles. She also has two U17 silver medals. In the final, Morikawa defeated Nigar MIRZAZADA (AZE) 10-0 and won the gold to join her Japanese teammates as the world champion. But like Elor, Morikawa has to quickly make a decision to switch to an Olympic weight class as the Emperor's Cup approaches in two months.

At 57kg, Nanjo added to her 2019 U23 world gold after beating Patrycja GIL (POL) 13-1 in the final. In the quarterfinals, Nanjo defeated senior world bronze medalist and returning champion Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) 10-0.

But Okuno, the first wrestler to win all world titles, won her third U23 world title with another dominant performance. She defeated defending champion Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) 10-0 in the 53kg final.

Okuno was a late replacement for Akari FUJINAMI (JPN) who pulled out due to cellulitis in her knee. Fujinami had to skip the senior World Championships as well due to injury.

The 18-year-old will try to be ready for the Emperor's Cup. Okuno will be one of her competitors along with Olympic champion Mayu SHIDOCHI (JPN).



GOLD: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) df. Lucia YEPEZ (ECU), 10-0 

BRONZE: Anastasia BLAYVAS (GER) df. Felicity TAYLOR (USA), 3-3
BRONZE: Zeynep YETGIL (TUR) df. Meng HSIEH (TPE), 7-0

GOLD: Sae NANJO (JPN) df. Patrycja GIL (POL), 13-1

BRONZE: Alina HRUSHYNA (UKR) df. Siwar BOUSETA (TUN), via fall (9-2)

GOLD: Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) df. Iryna BONDAR (UKR), 11-0

BRONZE: Astrid MONTERO (VEN) df. Ameline DOUARRE (FRA), 3-1
BRONZE: Ana GODINEZ (CAN) df. Paulina DANISZ (POL), 11-0

GOLD: Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) df. Nigar MIRZAZADA (AZE), 10-0 

BRONZE: Kateryna ZELENYKH (UKR) df. Asli DEMIR (TUR), via fall 
BRONZE: Elena ESPOSITO (ITA) df. Dariga ABEN (KAZ), 5-5

GOLD: Amit ELOR (USA) df. Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL), 11-0

BRONZE: Kendra DACHER (FRA) df. Maria NITU (ROU), 12-2



SF 1: Ahmet DUMAN (TUR) df. Giorgi GEGELASHVILI (GEO), 10-0
SF 2: AMAN (IND) df. Bekzat ALMAZ UULU (KGZ), 10-4 


SF 1: Hamza ALACA (TUR) df. Erik ARUSHANIAN (UKR), 14-8 
SF 2: Vazgen TEVANYAN (ARM) df. Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ), 7-6

GOLD: Amirmohammad YAZDANI (IRI) vs. Giorgi ELBAKIDZE (GEO)

SF 1: Amirmohammad YAZDANI (IRI) df. Yahya THOMAS (USA), 4-2
SF 2: Giorgi ELBAKIDZE (GEO) df. Orozobek TOKTOMAMBETOV (KGZ), 10-0


SF 1: Daulet YERGESH (KAZ) df. Carter STAROCCI (USA), 8-7
SF 2: Vladimeri GAMKRELIDZE (GEO) df. Georgios KOUGIOUMTSIDIS (GRE), 9-6

GOLD: Tanner SLOAN (USA) vs. Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI)

SF 1: Tanner SLOAN (USA) df. Islam ILYASOV (AZE), 10-2
SF 2: Amirali AZARPIRA (IRI) df. Ertugrul AGCA (GER), 8-0


Shirai gives Japan special gold; Georgia win team title

By Vinay Siwach

PONTEVEDRA, Spain (October 23) -- Not only Japan won a freestyle gold at the U23 Worlds after four years, but it was also a historic one.

No Japanese freestyle wrestler has won a world title in over 80kg at any age group. Tatsuya SHIRAI (JPN) changed that Sunday with gold at 86kg in Pontevedra, Spain.

On the final day of the U23 World Championships, he stunned one and all to beat Trent HIDLAY (USA) to win 3-3 in the gold medal bout to end a long drought for Japan.

With gold and two bronze medals, Japan finished eighth in the team race which was surprisingly won by Georgia with 141 points. Favorites Iran finished second with 134 points while the USA managed to get third with 112 points.

Georgia crowned two championships while Iran had four but only one wrestler of the former did not reach the medal bouts. Iran had a rather tricky tournament with only five wrestlers reaching the medal bouts.

The USA failed to crown a world champion for the first time since the 2018 U23 World Championships. It won three silver and two bronze medals.

One of the silver medals was won by Hidlay who was surprised by a strong defensive final by Shirai.

"The final was tiring," Shirai said. "After all, it was against the USA. I have never done this before so there was excitement and I had fun."

Shirai did not start on a positive note as Hidlay scored a stepout before making it 2-0 with Shirai's passivity points. But the Japan wrestler scored a stepout before a takedown gave him the lead with two minutes remaining.

He never engaged again. Hidlay, who backs himself with his underhook and pushout, was frustrated as his attacks were easily blocked by Shirai. The referee warned Shirai for not engaging and even penalized him for that.

But Shirai managed to hang on for the win. In freestyle, Hiroaki TAKAGI (JPN) made the 82kg final in the Espoir division (U20) but he was one of the eight wrestlers who failed to win the title.

"My focus is on weight training and sparring," he said. "That's all for me. And I want to improve my training."

At the Japan collegiate championships in August, Shirai won titles in both freestyle [92kg] and Greco-Roman [87kg} at Nippon Sports Science University. 

He now hopes to win a spot on the Japan team for the senior world championships next year. For that, Shirai will wrestle at the Emperor's Cup in December.

"There are many rivals," he said. "I will train hard and win."

Iran's dominance
Out of the five gold medals on offer Sunday, Iran won three of them. U20 world champions Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI) and Amirreaza MASOUMI (IRI) added a U23 world title to their respective age-group gold medals.

The third gold was won by Mohmmadsadegh FIROUZPOUR (IRI) who defeated Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE), 5-2, at 74kg.

Firouzpour gave up a takedown against Gadzhiyev but roared with his own takedown to lead 2-2 at the break, before hitting another own one in the second period to all but seal it for him.

Last year, Firouzpour fell in the final of the tournament but redeemed himself with the gold medal in Pontevedra.

At 92kg, the elder Firouzpour continued his unparalleled domination in age-group world championships. He finished with a bronze medal in the U23 Worlds last year but Firouzpour made sure he amends that record by winning the 92kg gold against Jacob CARDENAS (USA), 10-0.

The third gold medal was won by Masoumi who defeated Solomon MANASHVILI (GEO), 13-2, in the 125kg final. Manasvili scored two stepouts to open the scoring but that was all he would score.

Masoumi exposed the poor conditioning of Manashvili, and scored 13 answered points with ease to win his third gold at age-group tournaments.

The fifth gold was captured by Arsen HARUTYUNYAN (ARM) who became a two-time world champion at the U23 level. 

Wrestling Taiyrbek ZHUMASHBEK UULU (KGZ) in the 61kg, Harutyunyan led 1-0 with the point for passivity. But he started the second period with a takedown to make it 3-0. But Zhumashbek Uulu scored a takedown using duck under in the activity period to lead 3-3 on criteria.

Harutyunyan then rallied for a takedown and leg lace to make it 7-1. A late stepout against Harutyunyan just changed the score of the win. The two-time world bronze medal took home with gold medal 7-5.



BRONZE: Emrah ORMANOGLU (TUR) df. Aaron NAGAO (USA), 9-4

GOLD: Mohmmadsadegh FIROUZPOUR (IRI) df. Khadzhimurad GADZHIYEV (AZE), 5-2

BRONZE: Vasile DIACON (MDA) df. Hrayr ALIKHANYAN (ARM), 7-3 
BRONZE: Vadym KURYLENKO (UKR) df. Temuri BERUASHVILI (GEO), via inj. def.

GOLD: Tatsuya SHIRAI (JPN) df. Trent HIDLAY (USA), 3-3


GOLD: Amirhossein FIROUZPOUR (IRI) df. Jacob CARDENAS (USA), 10-0

BRONZE: Feyzullah AKTURK (TUR) df. Rizabek AITMUKHAN (KAZ), 14-3 

GOLD: Amirreza MASOUMI (IRI) df. Solomon MANASHVILI (GEO), 13-2

BRONZE: Anthony CASSIOPPI (USA) df. Yurii IDZINSKYI (UKR), via inj. def.
BRONZE: Alisher YERGALI (KAZ) df. Milan KORCSOG (HUN), 6-1