Susaki and Higuchi Poised to Returned to Japan's Starting Lineup

By Eric Olanowski

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (March 31) -- Japanese stars Yui SUSAKI (JPN) and Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) are poised to make their return to the starting lineup at next week's Asian Olympic Qualifier (April 9-11).

Susaki will represent Japan at 50kg for the first time since the '19 Women’s Wrestling World Cup, where she went 2-0 and scored wins over Yanan SUN (CHN) and Whitney CONDER (USA). Higuchi, on the other hand, will make his 57kg debut in Japan's lineup for the first time since winning a silver medal at the '16 Olympic Games. 

Susaki, the two-time world champion, fell to Yuki IRIE (JPN) in a ’19 playoff and lost her starting spot on Japan’s ’19 world championship team. But, in surprising fashion, Irie dropped a barn-burning quarterfinal-match in Nur-Sultan to Rio Olympic bronze medalist Sun and squandered the opportunity to qualify the Tokyo Games host nation at 50kg. This left the door open for Susaki to make a last-ditch effort to reclaim her starting spot, and hopefully, compete at the Olympic Games in her home country.

Susaki regained her starting spot and the right to represent Japan at the Asian Olympic Qualifier by winning gold at the ’19 December All-Japan Championships.

Meanwhile, Higuchi will return to international competition at 57kg for the first time since the '16 Rio Olympic Games. The energetic fan-favorite is best known for his unbelievable showing in Rio where he put on an absolute show en route to a surprising run to the finals. Higuchi won four matches in Brazil before ultimately falling to Vladimer KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO) in the gold medal match.

Since that magical run in Rio, Higuchi has competed at 61kg and 65kg. But after falling to Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) in a Japan wrestle-off, Higuchi was forced to move back down to 57kg to keep a dream alive of improving his silver to Olympic gold. He defeated ’17 world champion Yuki TAKAHASHI at the All Japan Championships and earned his right to represent Japan at 57kg.

The Asian Olympic Qualifiers kicks off on April 9-11 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Greco-Roman action starts on Friday, followed by women's wrestling on Saturday, and freestyle closes out the competition on Sunday. 

50kg Women's Wrestling Entries
YeoJin KIM (KOR)
Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL)

57kg Freestyle Entries
Minghu LIU (CHN)
Ahmed Jawad Kadhim AL ZAIDAWI (IRQ)
Sunggwon KIM (KOR)
Hyeonsik SONG (KOR)
Tuvshintulga TUMENBILEG (MGL)
Muhammad BILAL (PAK)
Allen Mitch ARCILLA (PHI)
Rozgeldi SEYIDOV (TKM)


Payback Adds to Gold Medal's Luster for 2 New Asian Champions as Ryu Completes Almaty Double

By Ken Marantz

First-time champions Aidos SULTANGALI (KAZ) and Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA (JPN) added
a sheen of payback to their gold-medals at the Asian Championships, while Hansu RYU (KOR) completed an amazing double in Almaty in grabbing his third straight continental title.

Sultangali rallied from a three-point deficit to defeat Mehdi MOHSEN NEJAD (IRI) 8-4 in a tempestuous 60kg final as the Greco-Roman competition concluded Wednesday on the second day of the six-day tournament in the spectator-less Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports.

Sultangali's victory avenged a 5-3 loss to the Iranian in a bronze-medal match at last year's Asian Championships in New Delhi, and adds the senior gold to his collection of Asian junior
and cadet titles.

"I have wrestled him before but lost to him, but it was a lesson for me," said Sultangali, a 2018 world bronze medalist. "Today, I felt that he was tired after the first period and I started attacking and worked in par terre. It was a serious win for me."

Mohsen Nejad, a 2019 world U-23 and junior bronze medalist, jumped out to a 3-0 lead with a gut wrench out of the par terre position. In the second period, Sultangali matched that with a throw from par terre, then added a big 4-point hip throw. An unsuccessful challenge gave the Kazakh an 8-3 lead.

Sultangali nearly paid for a premature celebration in the final seconds, but Mohsen Nejad could only force him out for a single point.

"For any wrestler, it means a lot to win in his home country," Sultangali said. "Even though there are no spectators, you can feel the hometown tribute. I love wrestling so that I get the opportunity to raise the Kazakh national flag."

Mohsen Nejad was less than satisfied with the bout and the silver medal.

"I am not satisfied with the referees, I think he committed a leg foul," the Iranian said. "I defeated Uzbek and Japan to reach [the final] and then lose to Kazakh. Not possible. I only came here to win gold. I had beaten him easily in New Delhi last year in the bronze-medal bout."

Shimoyamada also settled a old score by digging himself out of a big hole, fighting back from the brink of a technical fall loss in the 67kg final to defeat Almat KEBISPAYEV (KAZ) with a dramatic fall after building a 12-7 lead.

It was three years ago in the final in Bishkek that Kebispayev denied Shimoyamada with a 5-1 victory.

"It's a great feeling," Shimoyamada said. "At the 2018 Asian Championships, I fought him and lost, and now I got revenge, so I'm very happy."

Kebispayev used a reverse headlock roll from the par terre position to take a 5-0 lead, which he then padded with a stepout and an unsuccessful challenge point. But in the second period, Shimoyamada went on the offensive.

After getting back into the match with a takedown, the Japanese went ahead on criteria with a four-point throw from par terre. In the final minute, he sent Kebispayev to his back with a driving bear hug, and secured the fall with :38 left.

"I wasn't thinking anything, just to do my wrestling," Shimoyamada said of his comeback. Asked about how he will celebrate, the member of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police force replied with a smile, "I want to eat Japanese food and drink too much."

Two-in-two for Hansu Ryu

Ryu can be popping some corks after adding another chapter to his legendary story, when the two-time former world champion held off 2020 Asian bronze medalist Ruslan TSAREV (KGZ) to win the 72kg title with a 6-5 victory.

The title came five days after he secured a 67kg berth in the Tokyo Olympics at the Asian Qualifying tournament, held at the same venue April 9-11. With the pandemic curtailing tournaments around the world, he said he stayed for the Asian Championships just for the thrill of competition.

His natural ability made up for the size disadvantage at 72kg, where he more than held his own.

Against Tsarev, Ryu jumped out to a 5-0 lead with a 4-point spinning throw from a high-chest
hold in the par terre position.

In the second period, Tsarev chipped away at the lead with a passivity point, a 2-point leg
blocking penalty and an unsuccessful challenge point. He had a chance to go ahead when he lifted Ryu into the air, but the nimble Korean managed to land on his feet on Tsarev's throw attempt.

Tsarev gained a point for the stepout, which tied the score but left him trailing on criteria. He
understandably challenged the call, and understandably lost it to make the final score 6-5 and
give Ryu his fourth career Asian gold.

"My main target is the Olympic Games and all of these competition are stages to achieve the
target," said Ryu, who finished fifth in his only Olympic appearance at Rio 2016.

"I can win a medal [in Tokyo], but there is also a chance that I may not win the medal. So it's 50-50. My last aim in wrestling is to win an Olympic gold. I may be the coach for the national
team [in the future]."

Iran, which medaled in all but one weight class, easily captured the team title with 194 points, as former Asian junior champion Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI) provided the last of its four
golds by taking the 97kg title.

Aidos SULTANGALI (KAZ), Asian Championships 2021
Aidos Sultangali won the gold medal at the 60kg Greco-Roman weight category. (Photo: UWW/Sachiko HOTAKA)

Kazakhstan, lifted by Sultangali's gold, finished second with 156 points, edging third-place
Kyrgyzstan by three points.

In the 97kg final, Balihamzehdeh built up a 7-2 lead in the first period, then held off a late surge by Seungjun KIM (KOR) for a 9-7 victory.

"I was able to win the gold medal because of my training and the coaches," Balihamzehdeh said.

"The wrestlers I fought today were very strong and the pace of the bouts was very high. So I am feeling very good now."

Another Tokyo-bound wrestler who captured a gold medal -- also in a different weight class --
was Jalgasbay BERDIMURATOV (UZB), who won the 82kg title with a victory by fall over
Kalidin ASYKEEV (KGZ).

"In the future I have a big hopes to become Olympic champion," Berdimuratov said. "I qualified for the Olympics already. We have a lot of training to do until [Tokyo]. Now here, I truly competed for the gold medal."

Berdimuratov, who won a bronze medal at 77kg at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan to gain a ticket to Tokyo, was put on the bottom of the par terre, but stepped over Asykeev's attempted roll and clamped down for the fall in 1:46.

Berdimuratov, a bronze medalist at 82kg a year ago, had defeated Asykeev 3-0 earlier in the day in their round-robin group match. For Asykeev, the loss in the rematch meant having to add a senior Asian silver to his one at U-23 and two at the junior level.

"I wrestled against the Kyrgyz wrestler last time and I lost 3-0," Berdimuratov said. "But today we were competing again and I won the gold medal. I’d like to share this medal with my whole team, and my coaches, because we worked hard to achieve this result."

It was a good day overall for Japan, which also came away with three bronze medals from Ayata SUZUKI (JPN) at 60kg, Taishi HORIE (JPN) at 72kg and Satoki MUKAI (JPN) at 82kg. A chance for a fourth failed to come to fruition when Beksultan MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) handed
Masayuki AMANO (JPN) a 5-3 loss at 82kg, earning a bronze for himself after consecutive fifth places at the last two Asian Championships.

At 67kg, one of the third-place matches was a clash of the two bronze medalists from 2020, with Hossein ASSADI KOLMATI (IRI) taking home the hardware again after using a devastating front headlock to wipe out Ashu ASHU (IND) by 9-0 technical fall in 26 seconds.

The other 67kg match for the bronze produced a startling comeback, as Amantur ISMAILOV (KGZ) rallied from a seven-point deficit to defeat Mirzobek RAKHMATOV (UZB) by fall after building up a 15-7 lead.

Amin KAVIYANINEJAD (IRI), last year's 72kg champion, came away with a bronze this time
after edging Makhmud BAKHSHILLOEV (UZB) 2-1. Bakhshilloev was the silver medalist at
67kg behind Ryu last year.

Day 2 Finals


60kg (10 entries)
BRONZE - Seunghak KIM (KOR) df. Karrar Abbas ALBEEDHAN (IRQ) by TF, 9-0, :56
BRONZE - Ayata SUZUKI (JPN) df. Merdan ALLAYAROV (TKM) by TF, 8-0, 2:18

67kg (10 entries)
GOLD - Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA (JPN) df. Almat KEBISPAYEV (KAZ) by Fall, 5:22 (12-7)
BRONZE - Hossein ASSADI KOLMATI (IRI) df. Ashu ASHU (IND) by TF, 9-0, :26
BRONZE - Amantur ISMAILOV (KGZ) df. Mirzobek RAKHMATOV (UZB) by Fall, 4:51 (15-7)

72kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Hansu RYU (KOR) df. Ruslan TSAREV (KGZ), 6-5
BRONZE - Taishi HORIE (JPN) df. Muslihiddin UROQOV (TJK) by TF, 9-0, 3:16

82kg (7 entries)
GOLD - Jalgasbay BERDIMURATOV (UZB) df. Kalidin ASYKEEV (KGZ) by Fall, 1:46 (2-1)
BRONZE - Satoki MUKAI (JPN) df. Yevgeniy POLIVADOV (KAZ), 3-1

97kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Mehdi BALIHAMZEHDEH (IRI) df. Seungjun KIM (KOR), 9-5
BRONZE - Yerulan ISKAKOV (KAZ) df. Al Majeed AL KAABI (IRQ) by Default
BRONZE - Beksultan MAKHMUDOV (KGZ) df. Masayuki AMANO (JPN), 5-3