Japan Wrestling

Rio Olympic champion Dosho announces retirement

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (March 30) -- Sara DOSHO (JPN), a gold medalist at the 2016 Rio Olympics whose bid for further glory was hampered by a shoulder injury suffered in 2018 from which she never fully recovered, announced her retirement on her Twitter account Thursday.

The 28-year-old Dosho, who now goes by her married name of OKADA, won the women's 69kg gold in Rio, following up on the lone senior world title that she captured in 2017 in Paris. She also won a world silver in 2014 and bronzes in 2013 and 2015.

"Looking back at my life in wrestling, I can say with pride that I gave it my all," wrote Dosho, who next month will start a new life as a civil servant in her hometown of Matsusaka City, Mie Prefecture, in central Japan.

Dosho, who needed to win a domestic playoff at 68kg to make the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, came up well short of an Olympic repeat when she finished fifth. Her loss in a bronze-medal match to Alla CHERKASOVA (UKR) would prove to be the final match of her career.

"It's been 21 years since I started wrestling at age 7," Dosho wrote. "I have devoted everything to wrestling.

"After the Tokyo Olympics ended, I thought I would like to aim to get back to the big stage again. But as the days went on, my physical condition and the effects of the shoulder and all the little injuries that built up kept me from giving all I could to wrestling as I did before, and that led to this decision."

Dosho had seemed well positioned for a run at a second straight Olympic gold when she injured her left shoulder on the opening day of the World Cup in March 2018 in Takasaki, Japan.

Dosho managed to hold on and defeat Danielle LAPPAGE (CAN) 2-1 in the match, but was forced to skip the gold-medal match the following day against China, which Japan won 6-4 for its fourth straight title. The team captain, she could only join the celebration on the mat.

The injury necessitated surgery, forcing her to miss that year's World Championships in Budapest and abdicate her throne. She was able to return in time for the All-Japan

Championships in December that year, where she barely managed to secure her eighth straight but final national title.

As one who relies on a strong tackle attack, Dosho was forced on the defensive in her final years and never regained her previous dominance. She captured a fourth gold at the Asian Championships in Xi'an, China, in April 2019, but five months later had to settle for a disappointing fifth place at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan.

Her loss in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Tamyra MENSAH-STOCK (USA) ended a 41-match winning streak that spanned four years and dated back to the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas.


A post shared by 土性沙羅 (@sara.dosho)

While the fifth place in Nur-Sultan earned Japan a spot at 68kg at the Tokyo Olympics, failing to win a medal meant Dosho did not earn the place for herself outright. She needed to win the All-Japan to clinch the spot, but was instead dealt a one-sided 9-2 loss in the semifinals by Miwa MORIKAWA.

That put the 68kg berth up for grabs in a playoff between the two. Dosho, who was coming off an injured knee suffered two months earlier, scored her only technical points with a counter for a takedown and beat Morikawa 3-1. The one-year delay of the Tokyo Games benefitted her in terms of allowing her time to recover, but it wasn't enough to strike gold again.

She faced Mensah-Stock in the first round, and again the American dominated the encounter. Dosho defeated long-time Asian rival Feng ZHOU (CHN) in the repechage, but lost by fall to Cherkasova in the bronze-medal match. Ironically, it was Cherkasova who won the world title in 2018 that Dosho missed.

Dosho started wrestling at the Ichishi Wrestling Club in Mie Prefecture that produced three-time Olympic champion Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) and many other stars. She won three national titles in the elementary school grades, then won the national high school crown in each of her three years at Shigakukan High School, the feeder to powerhouse Shigakkan University.

In her freshman year at Shigakkan, she won the first of four senior world medals with a third place at the 2013 World Championships in Budapest. The next year she finished second at 69kg to Aline FOCKEN (GER), a loss she would avenge three years later in the final in Paris.

Heading into the next stage of her life, Dosho recently resigned from Toshin Housing Co., the Aichi Prefecture-based housing construction company that sponsors the

wrestling team that she joined in 2017 out of Shigakkan. Among her teammates were fellow Olympic champion Eri TOSAKA and Sae NANJO.

Dosho now enters the world of civil service, working in the Matsusaka municipal office in the sports promotion section of the board of education. According to Japanese media, Dosho was not recruited, instead applying for the job to take advantage of a program that promotes the return of people who have moved to big cities to their local areas.

"When her application came through the internet and I saw the name, I was surprised," the head of the personnel department was quoted as saying by The Tokyo Shimbun, adding that in their interview, "She said she wants to work on promoting sports using the experience she has acquired in the Olympics and elsewhere."

The daily reported that Matsusaka Mayor Masato TAKEGAMI said, "I hope she does work that gives dreams to children."

Japan Wrestling

Shozo Sasahara, 1956 Olympic champion and former Japan federation president, dies at 93

By Ken Marantz

TOKYO (March 6) --- Hall of Famer Shozo SASAHARA, a gold medalist at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics who went on to become president of the Japan Wrestling Federation and an executive of FILA, the predecessor of UWW, has died of natural causes, the Japan federation announced on Monday. He was 93.

Sasahara, who had suffered a stroke in 2014, won the gold medal in the featherweight class (62kg) of freestyle at the Melbourne Games, where he  served as flag-bearer for Japan in the opening ceremony. Two years earlier, he had won the gold at the World Championships held in Tokyo.

Sasahara became renowned for his pioneering use of legs in what is today referred to as a grapevine, but was reverently termed by the English-speaking press in his prime as "Sasahara's Leg Scissors."

Those would be his lone international triumphs, as he was a late bloomer who only started wrestling after entering Chuo University in Tokyo, having previously competed in judo. He retired after the Melbourne Olympics and would have a long career in business and sports governing.

"He was always a leader in the sports world with ideas and actions that were ahead of the times," current JWF President Hideaki TOMIYAMA said in a statement. "As a wrestler, he was adored by many people from around the world as a pioneer of techniques. It is sad not only for wrestling, but the sports world. I would like to express my sincere condolences."

Sasahara was the national team performance enchancement director when Japan won five gold medals at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and four at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. He served as JWF president from 1989 to 2003, and was a director at FILA from 1972 to 1993, during which time he also served as a vice-president.

Sasahara also held the post of vice-president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, and was awarded the Olympic Silver Order by the International Olympic Committee in 1995.

Sasahara was born on July 28, 1929, in Yamagata, the capital city of Yamagata Prefecture in the cold-weather Tohoku region of northern Japan.

According to an account he penned himself in 2005 for a Japan Olympic Committee website series titled "Japanese Olympian Spirits," he said he was in the sixth year of elementary school when World War II broke out, and that inspired him to want a career in international trade, so he enrolled in Yamagata Commercial School for his junior and high school years.

His home was in the north part of the city and the school was four kilometers away in the south. In his third year, he started working at an aircraft factory, which was also four kilometers from his home, so every day for five years until graduation, he had an eight-kilometer round-trip walk. As he needed to learn English, he would carry flash cards and study them as he walked.

At school, judo, kendo (Japanese fencing), and swordsmanship were regular parts of the curriculum, and there was also military training, such as throwing grenades. After the war ended, he would visit a nearby U.S. military base, where he was able to practice his English on a native speaker for the first time, and eventually got a part-time job there.

While at school, Sasahara joined the town's judo club. There, an older teammate said that the university he went to did not have a judo club, so he had switched to wrestling. The friend said Sasahara was perfect for the sport and urged him to try it. Using money he saved from the job on the U.S. base -- and without telling his parents -- he went down to Tokyo to take the entrance exam for Chuo.

As a freshman in the spring of 1950, he started his wrestling career. His first impression of wrestling at Chuo was not good. Blood was splattered on the canvas mat and it smelled of sweat. The mat was hard and wrestlers would sometimes be knocked out. Anyone who skipped practice would be found and beaten. As he had not yet learned the techniques and wasn't physically strong, he thought many times of quitting.

But he didn't give up, and instead drove himself to become better and better. In his second year, he made the finals of several collegiate tournaments, which further encouraged him to  put his full energy into the sport. He would sneak into the other powerhouses of the day, Waseda and Meiji universities, to observe the practices and techniques, and read books written by U.S. coaches. Wrestling became a 24-hour-a-day obsession.

In 1953, he won his first title at the All-Japan Championships, as well as the national collegiate title. After graduating, he captured the world title in May 1954, beating 1952 Helsinki Olympic champion Bayram SIT (TUR), then successfully defended his All-Japan crown.

Sasahara went to Melbourne confident of victory. Japan had only been let back into the Olympics four years earlier in Helsinki, but FILA had been among the first of the individual sports organizations to readmit the nation, in 1949.

International exchanges resumed in 1951. Japanese wrestling was still in the developmental stage, but federation chief Ichiro HATTA saw the exchanges as the optimal path to getting stronger.  Among those who went on a wrestling tour to the United States was Shohachi ISHII, who became Japan's first-ever Olympic wrestling gold medalist in Helsinki. His success, and the speedy moves he brought back from America, served to inspire Sasahara and the others. "If he could do it, we can, too," Sasahara thought.

The team also did tours of the other wrestling powers -- Russia, Iran, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania -- and Sasahara absorbed it all, which would pay off in gold in Melbourne.

After his triumph, Sasahara, then 27, decided to retire, as he felt he had reached his limit. He noted that it was also a clean way to go out -- from his first All-Japan title to that point, he had won exactly 200 straight matches. He pursued his career in international trade, spending time in America and later importing sporting goods. He was the first to import sports drinks into Japan.

He also got involved in sports organization. He put Japan wrestling's flop at the 1960 Rome Olympics down to poor training and nutrition, which would lead to him to help establish a government-back organization in 1976 to improve the general health and conditioning of athletes.

In one of his last public appearances, Sasahara donated his Olympic gold medal to his high school alma mater in October 2018.