Ozaki leads strong Japan team; USA, Ukraine eye U20 Worlds glory

By Vinay Siwach

SOFIA, Bulgaria (August 10) -- Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) has competed in three World Championships so far in her career. At the two U17 World Championships, she was unperturbed and claimed gold with much ease.

In 2019, she debuted at the senior World Championships and hoped to continue her unbeaten international record. But her opening round opponent, the defending champion Aisuluu TYNYBEKOVA (KGZ) came from behind to hand Ozaki her first international loss and second overall since 2017.

Before she makes another run for the senior world title in Serbia in September, Ozaki will make a pit spot in Sofia, Bulgaria at the U20 Worlds.

Ozaki, who defeated Tynybekova in the Asian Championships final, will be leading a talented Japan squad into the tournament which begins August 15.

Like the U17 World Championships, Japan skipped the 2021 edition due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the nation is primed to win the women's team title in Sofia. The USA claimed it in Japan's absence in Ufa, Russia last year.

The USA has once again entered a strong team hoping to repeat the title-winning performance. Ukraine, which also missed the Worlds in Ufa, will be one of the favorites as well with India hoping to build on its U17 success.

Apart from Ozaki, two other senior world team members -- Ami ISHII (JPN) and Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) -- are also taking the trip to Sofia. All three would hope to warm up for Belgrade with gold medals at the U20 level.

Former U17 world champions Umi ITO (JPN), Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) and Ruka NATAMI (JPN) and senior Asian Championships silver medalist Sumire NIIKURA (JPN) add depth to the squad.

Ozaki, undoubtedly, will be the favorite to win the 62kg weight class but it not be a cakewalk.

Returning bronze medalist Birgul SOLTANOVA (AZE) won the U20 European Championships in Rome and would be keen on adding a world title to her name. At the Euros, she pulled off an upset by pinning Iryna BONDAR (UKR) who was leading 11-4. Bondar will look to avenge that loss in Sofia.

Luisa SCHEEL (GER) will be another wrestler hoping to reverse the result against Soltanova as she finished second to her in Rome.

Two-time U17 world champion and Tokyo Olympian Sonam MALIK (IND) will also be making her U20 debut and hope to become India's first woman to be a world champion in this age group.

Amit ELOR (USA)Amit ELOR (USA), red, is a returning U20 world champion. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

The USA will be led by returning world champion Amit ELOR (USA) who is hoping to become the nation's first two-time U20 world champion. Elor won the U17 and U20 world titles last year and like Ozaki, will represent the USA in Belgrade.

In the four competitions she has wrestled internationally, Elor has suffered only one loss when Honoka NAKAI (JPN) defeated her in the semifinals of the '19 U17 Worlds, incidentally in Sofia.

She will face a packed field at 72kg with Niikura leading the contenders. Her experience at the senior level will give her an upper hand against Elor but the American is one of the most composed wrestlers around the world.

Others in the pack include U20 European champion Iryna ZABLOTSKA (UKR), silver medalist Nazar BATIR (TUR), U20 Asian champion REETIKA (IND) and Tokyo Olympian Zaineb SGHAIER (TUN).

Katie GOMEZ (USA)Katie GOMEZ (USA) will hope to add a U20 world to her U17 one she won in 2021. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Another world champion for the USA is Katie GOMEZ (USA) who won the U17 title last year. She will try to win the gold medal at 53kg which also has the returning silver medalist Mihaela SAMOIL (MDA) who also won the silver at U20 Europeans this year.

Gomez may run into ANTIM (IND), a wrestler she defeated at the U17 Worlds in a controversial ending to all but clear her path to the gold. ANTIM has since won the U20 Asian title and claimed the Ranking Series gold medal in Tunis.

U20 European champion Amory ANDRICH (GER), who outscored her opponents 38-1, will hope to carry her form in Sofia and challenge the other stars. Returning bronze medalist Emine CAKMAK (TUR) has a chance to upgrade her medal as well.

Japan is sending Ayaka KIMURA (JPN) at this weight class. Kimura was second to world champion Akari FUJINAMI (JPN) at the Junior Queen's Cup and will be making her international debut.

As the winner of the Junior Queen's Cup, Fujinami was in the Japan team but the 18-year-old decided to skip the tournament.

Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR)Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR) will try to win her first world title in Sofia. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Leading the Ukraine star is World Championships bronze and European silver medalist Oleksandra KHOMENETS (UKR). The experienced international star won the U20 European Championships and will be the favorite to win the 57kg gold.

The category has three returning medalists in silver Aurora RUSSO (ITA) and both bronze winners -- SITO (IND) and Sezim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ).

But the biggest threat to Khomentes hopes of winning the gold is Ruka NATAMI (JPN) who is trying to add a U20 world title to the 2019 U17 title she won in Sofia, the last time she was competing internationally.

Natami also has a U17 Asian silver medal from 2018 after she lost the final to now world silver medalist Anshu MALIK (IND).

Two-time U20 European champion at 59kg Yulia LESKOVETS (UKR) is aiming to win her first world title after being denied by Ozaki at 61kg in 2018.

The Ukraine wrestler has been on a serious run since that loss. She won '21 Euro gold and defended it without conceding a point in her five bouts in Rome.

But it won't be an easy road to gold in Sofia as Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) will be returning to international competition for the first time since winning the '18 U17 world title at 46kg. She defeated Asian champion Sara NATAMI (JPN) twice at the Meiji Cup to win the spot on Japan's team for the senior World Championships.

The weight class also has returning bronze medalist Madina AMAN (KAZ), who also finished with a silver at the U20 Asian Championships and Ebru DAGBASI (TUR) who was second to Leskovets at the U20 Euros.

Umi ITO (JPN)Umi ITO (JPN) is entered at 50kg. (Photo: UWW / Sachiko Hotaka)

Unbeaten internationally over six tournaments, Umi ITO (JPN) is back at the World Championships, the first time since winning the U17 title in 2017 at 43kg. She was injured during the Meiji Cup semifinal against world champion Remina YOSHIMOTO (JPN) but has recovered in time for Sofia.

Ito has won the Klippan Lady Open twice with the second coming in 2020. But since then, she has not been able to venture out of Japan due to the pandemic. 

Her biggest competitor may turn out to be U20 European champion Sevval CAYIR (TUR) as she continues to gain international experience. The 17-year-old is a two-time U17 Worlds bronze medalist with her second one coming in Rome two weeks ago.

Munkhgerel MUNKHBAT (MGL) won the bronze medal at the '21 U20 Worlds and will return with the aim of upgrading her medal.

Former U17 world bronze medalist Audrey JIMENEZ (USA) would like to put her disappointing experience at the U17 Worlds behind and look to win a medal in Sofia.

Elnura MAMMADOVA (AZE)U20 European champion Elnura MAMMADOVA (AZE) is eyeing her first World Championships medal. (Photo: UWW / Kadir Caliskan)

At 55kg, Elnura MAMMADOVA (AZE) is the most accomplished wrestler with experience in various senior-level events. The U20 European champion has never won a medal at any World Championships but Sofia will present her with another chance. Since finishing 12th at the previous U20 Worlds, Mammadova has won gold at U20 Euros and silver at the U23 continental level.

Another wrestler with a wealth of experience is Tuba DEMIR (TUR) who finished second to Mammadova at the U20 European Championships. Just 16 years of age, Demir won the U17 continental title and a bronze medal at the U17 Worlds as well.

But 2019 U17 world champion Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) will be returning to Sofia once again with the hope of winning another world title in the same arena. Recently, she finished second to Olympic champion Mayu SHIDOCHI (JPN) at the Meiji Cup in June.

Two continental champions can potentially collide at 65kg as PRIYANKA (IND) and Manola SKOBELSKA (UKR) are both entered for the competition.

Priyanka won the U20 Asian title in some style in Manama, Bahrain in June while two-time U20 European champion Skobelska was dominant during her golden run in Rome. She did not concede a single point during her four bouts.

Last year's U17 world champion and second to Skobelska in Rome, Eniko ELEKES (HUN) will be another threat to the gold medal.

Priya MALIK (IND)Priya MALIK (IND) is a two-time U17 world champion. (Photo: UWW / Martin Gabor)

Two of the most stacked weight classes in Sofia are the 68kg and 76kg as they have some of the most accomplished wrestlers in the field.

At 76kg, U20 Euro champion Veronika NYIKOS (HUN) is joined by silver medalist Mariia ORLEVYCH (UKR) who is likely to play a crucial role in the team race.

2021 U20 European champion Melisa SARITAC (TUR) is also entered in the field. She lost her opening bout via fall to Elena MARGAS (ROU) in 2022.

But Ayano MORO (JPN) may prove to be the dark horse and win the gold. She won gold at the 2018 and 2019 U15 Asian Championships and those runs are part of her 32-bout winning streak which began in 2017.

Two-time U17 world champion Priya MALIK (IND) will now test herself at the U20 level and become India's first-ever wrestler to hold three world titles. Malik has lost only once in her entire career -- a 3-2 loss to Nodoka YAMAMOTO (JPN) at the Asian Championships.

Pan-Am champion Vianne ROULEAU (CAN) is also joining the field and can make the run for the gold which will be Canada's first since 2013.

Ami ISHII (JPN)Ami ISHII (JPN) is Japan's respresentative for U20 and senior World Championships. (Photo: Japan Wrestling Federation / Takeo Yabuki)

The 68kg field offers Ami ISHII (JPN) who has qualified for the senior world team for Japan. She impressed with her title-winning run at the Meiji Cup in June and defeated world silver medalist Rin MIYAJI (JPN) in the final.

Returning bronze medalist Nesrin BAS (TUR) won the U20 European Championships and will be hoping to reach the final this year, especially after gaining senior-level experience.

ARJU (IND) lost the bronze medal bout in Budapest but she has since won the U20 Asians and finished with a silver at the U23 level to put her name in the mix.

Silver to Arju in Bishkek, Nurzat NURTAEVA (KGZ) is another wrestler to keep an eye on along with U20 European silver medalist Luciana BEDA (MDA) and '21 U17 world silver Yevheniia SIEDYKH (UKR)

Sophia SCHAEFLE (GER), who has managed to reach the medal bouts of all her five international competitions, will be the dark horse of the weight class.

Women's wrestling begins on August 17 and the 10 champions will be crowned by August 17. All the action will be live on uww.org.


Iran crowns trio of U20 world champs, wins team title

By Vinay Siwach

SOFIA, Bulgaria (August 21) -- When Alireza MOHMADIPIANI (IRI) was in Bulgaria last time, he was wrestling at his first senior tournament at the Dan Kolov in Sofia. Mohmadipiani finished with a bronze medal after losing the semifinal to European silver medalist Gela BOLKVADZE (GEO) in the semifinal.

Despite the loss, Mohmadipiani took home a lesson from the loss of being on the attack from the word go in a bout.

He used a similar strategy in the 82kg final against '21 U17 world champion Achiko BOLKVADZE (GEO) to win the gold medal at the U20 World Championships in Sofia.

Mohmadipiani was one of the three gold medalists for Iran on Sunday as the latest edition of the U20 World Championships came to an end with Iran winning the Greco-Roman title with 174 points. Azerbaijan finished second with 119 points while Ukraine managed to jump to third with 93 points.

The two other gold medals on Sunday were captured by wrestlers from Azerbaijan. A historic bronze medal was also won by Richard KARELSON (EST), becoming the first-ever medalist from the country at U20 Worlds.

For Iran, Mohmadipiani had the most convincing victory even though he faced one of the most accomplished wrestlers entered in the competition.

18-year-old Bolkvadze began aggressively against Mohmadipiani but lost some steam as the bout went on. He was called passive and Mohmadipiani failed to get a turn. But 20 seconds later, Mohmadipiani got him into a body lock and pushed him to the mat to get four points.

In the second period, Bolkvadze got the opportunity to level scores but he failed to get any points from par terre.

Bolkvadze struggled to keep up with the pace of the bout and the referee warned him for blocking. On the second warning, he was cautioned with two points. Mohmadipiani got the win when Bolkvadze received his second caution and two points.

"Bolkvadze is a good wrestler and he won a gold medal last year [at U17," Mohmadipiani said. "I won the Asian Championships. So great bout but I won against him at the end."

With the U20 title in the bag, the Iran youngster is hoping to quickly move to seniors from next year onwards. But he knows the challenge that comes with it.

"The weight class has many good wrestlers," he said. "We have Azerbaijan [Rafig HUSEYNOV] and Turkey [Burhan AKBUDAK] but I'm well trained and I think I can win.”

Saeid ESMAEILI (IRI)Saeid ESMAEILI (IRI) defeated Suren AGHAJANYAN (ARM) in the 60kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

At 60kg, Saeid ESMAEILI (IRI) had all but lost the gold to Suren AGHAJANYAN (ARM) as he trailed 6-2 with 22 seconds left in the final. But Esmaeili got his hands around Aghajanyan’s waist before moving into a bearhug and he secured a four-point throw to win 6-6.

Aghajanyan scored exposure from par terre to lead 3-2 before Esmaeili scored a takedown on the edge just before the break.

In the second period, Esmaeili worked more but there was no passivity call as Aghajanyan scored two stepouts to lead 5-2.

Esmaeili tried going for a takedown but his hands moved below the Aghajanyan’s waist and the move was illegal. Iran challenged the call but lost. It seemed that the final was all locked up when the U20 Asian champion stunned Aghajanyan, and the crowd with the throw to take the criteria lead.

Ali ABEDIDARZI (IRI)Ali ABEDIDARZI (IRI) scored six stepout points against Iussuf MATSIYEV (KAZ) in the 97kg final. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

The third gold medal for Iran came in emphatic fashion as Ali ABEDIDARZI (IRI) won the 97kg weight class over Iussuf MATSIYEV (KAZ).

Matsiyev took a 4-0 lead with a stepout and turn from par terre and Abedidarzi was struggling to get going with his attacks. But just before the break, he scored two stepouts and Matsiyev was hit with caution for fleeing.

Abedidarzi scored three more stepouts in the second period to claim the lead 5-4. When Matsiyev was called passive, Abedidarzi continued the bout from standing and scored three points to win 9-4.

Kanan ABDULLAZADE (AZE)Kanan ABDULLAZADE (AZE) won the gold at 67kg after beating Nika BROLADZE (GEO). (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Azerbaijan won the remaining two gold medals as Kanan ABDULLAZADE (AZE) won the 67kg weight class while Gurban GURBANOV (AZE) won at 72kg.

Abdullazade wrestled Nika BROLADZE (GEO) in the final and fell when the latter took the 1-1 criteria lead. Broladze planned to keep the lead until the end of the six minutes but Abdullazade scored a stepout with a minute and 13 seconds left.

Broladze, with time running out, tried to throw Abdullazade but both wrestlers fell with no control. But in the same sequence, Abdulladze managed to run around and score a go-behind to extend his lead to 4-1 for the win.

Gurban GURBANOV (AZE)Gurban GURBANOV (AZE) celebrates after emerging as the champion at 72kg. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Gurbanov had a similar script for his final as he defeated Alexandru SOLOVEI (MDA), 4-0, in the 72kg final. Perhaps he did not plan to get the first passivity point but Solovei was called passive and forced into par terre.

The former U17 world champion got the turn using a gut wrench to lead 3-0 at the break. He then continued to wrestle aggressively in the second period and Solovei was again called passive. This time Gurbanov did not get the turn but the score read 4-0.

Solovei got his chance to score when the third passivity was called against Gurbanov but Solovei had nothing left in him to turn the Azerbaijan wrestler.

Richard KARELSON (EST)Richard KARELSON (EST), blue, won Estonia's first-ever medal at U20 World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)

Estonia’s historic medal

No Estonia Greco-Roman wrestler even won a medal at the U20 Worlds but Richard KARELSON (EST) changed that on Sunday as he won a bronze medal in the 97kg weight class after beating Roman BALCHIVSCHII (MDA), 8-0, in the bronze medal bout.

In June, Karelson had become the first U20 European champion from Estonia in Greco-Roman. He was the second ever Estonian Greco-Roman wrestler to enter the final.

Incidentally, his father is also named Richard.

“It’s a great feeling,” Karelson said. “I hope I can work on this and win at the U23 Worlds as well. I know that the competition will be harder than this.

Karelson's father was the one who forced his son into wrestling after he was growing too fast.

In the previous two U20 Worlds, Karelson had finished 15th in Ufa and 12th in Tallin, his hometown. But with the bronze medal in Sofia, Karelson hopes he can lift his performance moving forward.

"The U20 European gold and this bronze medal will help me get some funds," he said. "Now I hope to continue this performance and train more."

With the U17 and U20 behind, the action now moves on to the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia in two weeks. 

IranIran won the Greco-Roman team title at the U20 World Championships. (Photo: UWW / Kostadin Andonov)



BRONZE: Nihat MAMMADLI (AZE) df. Koto GOMI (JPN), 3-3 


BRONZE: Seyed SOHRABI (IRI) df. Nestori MANNILA (FIN), 11-2

GOLD: Gurban GURBANOV (AZE) df. Alexandru SOLOVEI (MDA), 4-0

BRONZE: Irfan MIRZOIEV (UKR) df. Igor BOTEZ (ROU), 7-6




BRONZE: Rohit DAHIYA (IND) df. Ruslan ABDIIEV (UKR), 8-7 (via cautions)
BRONZE: Alperen BERBER (TUR) df. Fares GHALY (EGY), 9-1


BRONZE: Nurmanbet RAIMALY UULU (KGZ) df. Luka KATIC (SRB), 9-0