Susaki Secures Olympic Spot as Japan, China Fill Missing Women's Berths

By Ken Marantz

AL:MATY, Kazakhstan (April 10) -- After waiting a year for her chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, two-time world champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN) needed just over six minutes over three matches to secure the coveted spot.

Susaki won all three of her round-robin matches by technical fall in the women's 50kg class, assuring a top-two finish going into her final match to be held at the night session of Asian Olympic qualifying tournament on Saturday.

"Getting here was a long, tough road," Susaki said. "Really, it was because of the support and cooperation from a lot of people that I am here now."

Having achieved her primary goal of taking home an Olympic ticket from the Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports in Almaty, Susaki will now aim to add the 50kg title when she faces Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL) in the de facto gold-medal match.

Tsogt Ochir also won all of her three matches inside the distance to set up a showdown for bragging rights with Susaki in the fifth round of matches.

The 50kg class was the only one that Japan did not secure an Olympic spot at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan. With Susaki's performance, the Olympic host will now be sending a full slate of six wrestlers in the women's competition.

China will also have a presence in all six weight classes after filling the two slots it had missed out on in Nursultan, with Jia LONG (CHN) advancing to the semifinals at 62kg  and Feng ZHOU (CHN) doing likewise at 68kg, although the latter had some bumps along the way.

Because the Asian nations secured so many women's Olympic berths at the Nursultan worlds -- a total of 16 -- all weight classes in Almaty had no more than seven entries and were competed using preliminary groups. The 50kg and 76kg have only five entries each, meaning a straight round-robin competition without semifinals or finals.

Mongolia, which gained just one Olympic spot in Nursultan, picked up three more, and could add another depending on how Burmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) fares in her final match at 76kg. India and Uzbekistan could also gain a place.

At this point, India and Kyrgyzstan have both clinched two berths each, while host Kazakhstan gained one through an inspired performance from veteran Tatyana AKHMETOVA AMANZHOL (KAZ), who will be returning to the Olympics after a 13-year absence.

Susaki had missed the 2019 World Championships after losing out on a place on the Japan team to rival Yuki IRIE (JPN), who remains the only wrestler on the planet to have defeated the 21-year-old. But when Irie failed to finish among the top six, it reopened the door to the Tokyo Games for Susaki.

She did not waste the opportunity, and avenged the loss the Irie at the 2019 All-Japan Championships to earn a ticket to the Asian Olympic qualifier. When the coronavirus pandemic hit the world, she along with the rest of the sporting world had to endure delays and postponements.

"I went through hard times when all hope had been lost about going to the Olympics," Susaki said. "It was very difficult. But going through that experience made me stronger."

Susaki started her campaign with a 50-second 10-0 technical fall over Dauletbike YAKHSHIMURATOVA (UZB), then followed that an 11-0 technical fall in 1:55 over Miran CHEON (KOR). In the latter, she mixed things up a bit by adding a gut wrench to her trademark lace lock.

The berth at the Olympics -- where the wrestling competition will be held in her native Chiba Prefecture --became hers with a no-messing-around 10-0 technical fall over Seema SEEMA (IND) in 3:25. The only reason the match lasted so long was that Susaki spent the latter half of the first period trying gain a fall with a leg lock and crossface hold before time ran out.

In the 68kg semifinals, Zhou, a 2018 world bronze medalist, gave up an early takedown to Hyeonyeong PARK (KOR), but stormed back with a pair of 4-point moves to win 12-2 technical fall in 3:32.

In the final, Zhou faces a rematch with Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ), whom she defeated in their group match 7-5. In that match, Zhou trailed 5-1 with a minute left, then having cut the lead to 5-3, used a front headlock roll to score four points in the final 10 seconds.

Zhou was not in much of a mood to talk about her performance, only that she expects to do better in Tokyo. "I don't want to say anything," she said. "I will win the gold in Tokyo. That's it. Nothing else.

"I don't feel I expressed myself completely in this competition. But I think I can do better."

Zhumanazarova gained her Olympic place and advanced to the final after also spotting her opponent a lead, rebounding from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Nisha NISHA (IND) by 13-3 technical fall in 4:15. After tying the match at the end of the first period, Zhumanazarova gained a takedown then finished the match with four lock-lace rolls.

China's Long, who finished third at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone Tournament, used a slick ankle pick to pick apart 2014 world champion Tserenchimed SUKHEE (MGL) in their 62kg semifinal, scoring a 10-0 technical fall in 4:27.

Long will also have a rematch in the final, but against an opponent who had defeated her earlier in the day. Young Sonam SONAM (IND), who beat Long 5-2, clinched her Olympic ticket by rebounding from a 6-0 deficit to forge out a 9-6 win over plucky Asian silver medalist Ayaulym KASSYMOVA (KAZ).

"The Kazakh girl was a very good wrestler and I was trailing 0-6, but I was confident of winning even after that," said Sonam, the 2019 world cadet champion. "This is incredible."

Sonam said that qualifying along with teammate Anshu ANSHU (IND), who made the final at 57kg, makes it all the more special.

"I train with Anshu, she is my partner and to qualify with her is great," Sonam said. "One of the best feelings."

For Anshu, her biggest battle might have been the one with the scale. She won all three of her matches by technical fall, capped by a 12-2 rout of  Shokhida AKHMEDOVA (UZB).

"I was above weight and we reached Almaty just seven hours before weigh-in," Anshu said. "I was running at the airport in Tashkent to reduce weight. I just wanted to do it, qualify myself for Tokyo."

Her opponent in the final, Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL), was equally dominant, as her 10-0 victory over Jieun UM (KOR) was her third technical fall of the day as well.

The award for gutsiet performance must go to Akhmetova Amanzhol, who endured a painful knee made worse in the semifinal to forge out an 11-1 technical fall over Hyungjoo KIM (KOR).

"When the bout finished, I was only thinking about going to Tokyo," Akhmetova Amanzhol said.

In the final, she will have a rematch of the most exciting bout of the day with Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL), who advanced with a quick fall over Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE).

In their group match, Bat Ochir led 8-1 when Akhmetova Amanzhol pancaked her onto her back for 4 points, and the Mongoila was only saved by the buzzer that ended the first period.

In the second period, the Kazakh went ahead 9-8 with a nifty 4-point back trip with Bat Ochir holding her leg in the air. With :02 left, Bat Ochir received 1 point for a stepout, then lost a challenge to have it revised to a takedown to give Akhmetova Amanzhol a 10-9 victory.

Akhmetova, now 35, will be returning to the Olympics for the first time since appearing at Beijing 2008, where she placed fifth at 48kg.

She showed she was still a force to be reckoned with at last year's Asian Championships, where she stunned two-time world champion Mayu MUKAIDA (JPN) in the final for her third Asian gold and first since 2014.

Women's wrestling results

Group Standings (through 4 rounds)
1. Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL) 3-0 (13 pts); 2. Yui SUSAKI (JPN) 3-0 (12 pts); 3. Dauletbike YAKHSHIMURATOVA (UZB) 2-2 (8 pts); 4. Seema SEEMA (IND) 0-3 (1 pt); 5. Miran CHEON (KOR) 0-3 (1 pt).

Tsogt Ochir and Susaki clinch top two spots.

Tatyana AKHMETOVA AMANZHOL (KAZ) df. Hyungjoo KIM (KOR) by TF, 11-1, 6:00
Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) df. Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) by Fall, 1:16 (2-0)

Anshu ANSHU (IND) df. Shokhida AKHMEDOVA (UZB) by TF, 12-2, 3:20
Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) df. Jieun UM (KOR) by TF, 10-0, 1:52

Jia LONG (CHN) df. Tserenchimed SUKHEE (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 4:27
Sonam SONAM (IND) df. Ayaulym KASSYMOVA (KAZ), 9-6

Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ) df. Nisha NISHA (IND) by TF, 13-3, 4:15
Feng ZHOU (CHN) df. Hyeonyeong PARK (KOR) by TF, 12-2, 3:32

Group Standings (through 4 rounds)
1. Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) 4-0 (16 pts); 2. Burmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) 2-1 (6 pts); 3. Pooja POOJA (IND) 1-2 (6 pts); 4. Shakhribonu ELLIEVA (UZB) 1-2 (5 pts); 5. Seoyeon JEONG (KOR) 0-3 (2 pts).

Medet Kyzy clinches first place.


Yazdani Triumphs as Iran, Kazakhstan Score Double Golds at Asian C’Ships

By Ken Marantz

For superstar Hassan YAZDANI (IRI), the Asian Championships are just a stepping stone in preparing for his ultimate goal of winning a second straight Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. He rocked it anyway.

Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) proved once again he is in a class by himself, schooling Deepak PUNIA (IND) in their long-delayed first encounter to take the 86kg gold medal as the six-day tournament in Almaty concluded Sunday night with the last five finals in freestyle.

Yazdani, who won the gold in his only other Asian Championships appearance in 2018, was never in danger as he outclassed Punia with a 10-0 technical fall -- nearly two years after an inaugural meeting between them in the final at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan was aborted when the Indian defaulted due to injury.

Prior to Almaty, Yazdani had not competed in an individual tournament since the 2019 worlds, and wanted to get in some mat time prior to the Tokyo Olympics, where he will defend the title he won at Rio 2016.

"After the pandemic started, it was hard to compete," Yazdani said. "I thought I would compete in the World Cup for preparation, but I did not," he said, referring to the Individual World Cup held in December last year in lieu of a World Championships.

"The Asian Championships was a good event and I wanted to see my preparations and now I will continue to prepare for the Olympics as a wrestler who will win the gold medal. Only the gold."

After Punia defaulted at the Nursultan Worlds due to an ankle injury suffered earlier in the tournament, many speculated on what might have been, given Punia's impressive run to the final just a year after winning a silver medal at the World Junior Championships.

But Yazdani is not called "The Greatest" for no reason, and it would take raising to another level to catch him off his game. For Punia, who looked sluggish at times en route to the final in Almaty, this was not the day.

Yazdani basically put on a takedown clinic, scoring four as Punia was able to resist all but one gut wrench, after the third takedown. That gave Yazdani an 8-0 lead, and he ended the match with a great second effort on a takedown attempt.

Punia had wiggled out of a single-leg attempt, but Yazdani pursued him to the edge and gained control to make it 10-0 at 2:53 for his third technical fall in three matches.

Yazdani said he plans to compete again before Tokyo, although he did not specify what events.

"I will participate in some more competitions until the Olympics so that I can keep working on myself and my flaws," Yazdani said. "This is my preparation for the Olympics and to win the gold medal in Tokyo. That is what matters in the end."

Looking at the competition in Tokyo, Yazdani said he is not focusing on any certain opponent.

"All of the competitors are important because all of them are good and everybody comes to win," Yazdani said. "All of them are doing their best to win because it's a dream for all."But my American and Russian competitors are much more difficult, but I take all my competitors serious. I have to make a good program together with my coach and team to beat them."

Not surprisingly, Iran added the team freestyle title to its victory in Greco-Roman earlier in the tournament at the spectator-less Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports, amassing 179 points after winning three golds and eight medals overall.

India edged Kazakhstan for second place by just two points, 151 to 149, despite having just one gold to the host nation's three. With two silvers each, the main difference came down to four bronzes won by India, against none for Kazakhstan.

In the lone final pitting Iranian and Kazakh wrestlers, Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) kept the 74kg title in Kazakh hands and earned a second career Asian gold for himself by rallying to a 6-2 victory over Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI).

"It was a hard final and that is why I am very happy," Kaipanov said. "I was ill during my training. But thanks to my coaches, I could have great preparation for the Asian Championships. Coaches do many things that we athletes do not see."

Kaipanov, the 2019 world silver medalist and Asian champion at 70kg before moving up to the Olympic weight, trailed 2-0 going into the second period, but gained a takedown and an ankle roll to go ahead. He then added a takedown to clinch the victory.

"I did not like how I wrestled today," he said. "Fortunately, I was able to win the gold medal."

Kaipanov's victory followed the gold-medal run at 74kg last year in New Delhi by compatriot Daniar KAISANOV (KAZ), who finished third at the 2019 Nursultan worlds to earn an Olympic spot.

"Kaisanov is my rival and I have never wrestled him before, but in the future we will," Kaipanov said.

Hosseinkhani had to settle for a second straight bronze medal and third in four years, as the the 2016 world bronze medalist still seeks to add to the Asian titles he won in 2014 and 2016.

Iran's other gold came at 92kg, where Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) showed that while he might not be as well-known as Yazdani, he could be just as dominant by winning the gold with a third consecutive technical fall.

Ghasempour, the 2019 world U-23 and Asian champion at 86kg, stormed to a 10-0 victory in 2:09 over 2020 bronze medalist Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL), whose bid to become Mongolia's first Asian gold medalist in freestyle since 2015 never got off the ground.

Ghasempour overwhelmed Munkhbaatar with four aggressive takedowns, including a driving tackle for 4 points and powerful lift-and-dump with a single leg that ended the match.

"I feel good to win the medal," Ghasempour said. "In the future, I think I will go down a weight category. The final was very good for me because it is a weight category above my original."

Ghasempour said that dropping down a division will not create a national team clash. "Yazdani goes to the Olympics and I go to world championships," he said.

Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) capped the tournament by winning the final gold on tap for the host country with a dramatic 4-3 victory over Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ) in the 125kg final.

With the clock ticking down and Boltin trailing 3-2, he missed a golden opportunity to score went he arm-dragged Lazarev by, but couldn't finish it off and get behind.

But with Lazarev still on his knees, Boltin pressed him down to the mat as the Kyrgyzstani reached out and grabbed a leg. From there, Boltin secured a cradle and twisted him over for 2 points with :15 left.

"The final was not easy because my opponent was good and experienced," Boltin said. "I needed to wrestle till the end to win. I wanted to make everyone happy with this medal."

As at 74kg, Boltin kept the 125kg title in Kazakhstan's possession, as it followed the victory last year in New Delhi by Yusup BATIRMURZAEV (KAZ), who clinched an Olympic spot by winning the Asian qualifier held last week in the same venue.

"The 125kg category at the Olympics is very competitive as the level of competitors is very high," Boltin said. "There are a lot of strong wrestlers.

"Yusup won [the Asian gold] last year and I won this year. He is a good wrestler."

Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) picked up the first gold of the night when he roared back from four points down to defeat Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ) 14-9 in the 61kg final.

"I had good preparation and I was ready to wrestle anyone," Turobov said. "I always believed that I would be the champion even before coming here. The opponent in the final was stronger than me, but I had really good preparation and I am actually the champion and go back as one."

Turobov, a 2017 Asian junior champion, erased a 6-2 deficit in the second period when he scored a takedown and a pair of 2-point tilts to take a lead that he never surrendered against Askarov, a world U-23 silver medalist and junior bronze medalist in 2019.

Even without a crowd in the stands, Turobov said he felt pressure facing a Kazakh wrestler in Almaty as he won what he called the biggest medal of his career. Now he is aiming higher.

"I want to be the world champion and go to the next Olympics and take a gold medal," he said.

Iraq ends three-decade medal drought

In the bronze-medal matches, Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) became the first Iraqi since 1987 to win an Asian medal and the fourth overall when he notched a stunning and creative victory by fall at 86kg over Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN).

Ishiguro, a 2018 world junior champion, opened the scoring with a stepout, and seemed to be in no danger when he stopped a tackle attempt by Al Obaidi. But the Iraqi locked onto Ishiguro's arms, twisted him over and, with his back to the Japanese's chest, pressed him down for a fall in 1:06.

Just as odd was what happened moments later as Al Obaidi celebrated his historic victory. After raising a fist, he suddenly went from ecstasy to agony and dropped to the mat, clutching his left hamstring in pain. He had to be carried off the mat, but was able to walk on his own for the medal ceremony.

Rio 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB) earned his fifth career Asian medal dating back to 2010 with a workmanlike 5-0 victory over Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM) at 74kg.

Navruzov, the Asian champion at 70kg in 2018, had lost a close 5-2 decision to Hosseinkhani in his opening match. He said he is aiming at getting back to the Olympics, after compatriot Bekzod ABDURAKHMONOV (UZB) secured a Tokyo spot for Uzbekistan at last week's Asian Olympic qualifier.

"I have been off the mat for some time because of COVID," Navruzov said. "But I have been training now and will wrestle at 74kg. I will also have a trial with Bekzod to decide who goes to the Olympics."

Sanjeet KUNDU (IND), who placed third at the 2019 world U-23 in Greco-Roman, earned his first senior freestyle medal by holding on for an 11-8 win over Rustam SHODIEV (UZB) at 92kg. Kundu had led 11-2 with just over two minutes left.

A silver medalist last year, Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) had to settle for bronze this time after rolling to a 10-0 technical fall over Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB) at 125kg. It is the sixth career Asian medal for Dorjkhand, who won his lone title in 2014.

Korea won two bronze medals through Gwanuk KIM (KOR) at 86kg and Hyeokbeom GWON (KOR) at 92kg. The other bronzes were won by: Shoya SHIMAE (JPN) and Ikromzhon KHADZHIMURODOV (KGZ) at 61kg, Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) at 74kg, and Amin TAHERI (IRI) at 125kg.

Day 6 Results Freestyle


61kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Jahongirmirza TUROBOV (UZB) df. Adlan ASKAROV (KAZ), 14-9
BRONZE - Shoya SHIMAE (JPN) df. Sunggwon KIM (KOR), 5-1
BRONZE - Ikromzhon KHADZHIMURODOV (KGZ) df. Ravinder DAHIYA (IND) by TF, 14-4,

74kg (13 entries)
GOLD - Nurkozha KAIPANOV (KAZ) df. Mostafa HOSSEINKHANI (IRI), 6-2
BRONZE - Sumiyabazar ZANDANBUD (MGL) df. Mansur SYRGAK UULU (KGZ), 4-1
BRONZE - Ikhtiyor NAVRUZOV (UZB) df. Atamyrat CHARLYYEV (TKM), 5-0

86kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Hassan YAZDANI (IRI) df. Deepak PUNIA (IND) by TF, 10-0, 2:53
BRONZE - Mustafa AL OBAIDI (IRQ) df. Hayato ISHIGURO (JPN) by Fall, 1:07 (2-1)
BRONZE - Gwanuk KIM (KOR) df. Bakhodur KODIROV (TJK) by TF, 10-0, 2:09

92kg (9 entries)
GOLD - Kamran GHASEMPOUR (IRI) df. Tsogtgerel MUNKHBAATAR (MGL) by TF, 10-0,
BRONZE - Hyeokbeom GWON (KOR) df. Elkhan ASSADOV (KAZ), 1-1
BRONZE - Sanjeet KUNDU (IND) df. Rustam SHODIEV (UZB), 11-8

125kg (11 entries)
GOLD - Oleg BOLTIN (KAZ) df. Aiaal LAZAREV (KGZ), 4-3
BRONZE - Amin TAHERI (IRI) df. Donghwan KIM (KOR) by Fall, 2:28 (10-0)
BRONZE - Khuderbulga DORJKHAND (MGL) df. Amirjon NUTFULLAEV (UZB) by TF, 10-0,