Women's Day

Women's Day: 10 moments that shaped women's wrestling


CROSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (March 8) -- Throughout wrestling history, efforts have been made to make the sport more inclusive. Women's wrestling emerged as the top priority for United World Wrestling.

Over the years, the organization has taken various steps to uplift and improve the standard of women's wrestling around the world. Here are ten moments that changed women's wrestling.

1987 – First women’s wrestling World Championships

While Greco-Roman and Freestyle have a long history of World Championships, women got their first shot at world titles in 1987 when the first women's World Championships was held. The inaugural tournament took place in Lorenskog, Norway with nine weights.

A total of 48 female wrestlers participated in this World Championships.

The champions at the inaugural edition were Brigitte WEIGERT (BEL) at 44kg, Anne HOLTEN (NOR) at 47kg, Anne HALVORSEN (NOR) at 50kg, Sylvie VAN GUCHT (FRA) at 53kg, Isabelle DOURTHE (FRA) at 57kg, Ine BARLIE (NOR) at 65kg, Georgette JEAN (FRA) at 70kg and Patricia ROSSIGNOL (FRA) at 75 kg.

1989 – First combined World Championships

Two years after its world debut, women’s wrestling shared the stage with the other two styles. A combined World Championships was held in Martigny, Switzerland.

Apart from most European countries in the participation, wrestlers from Japan, China, Chinese Taipei, Venezuela and the USA were also part of this competition. 

53 wrestlers took part in this competition and the champions included Shoko YOSHIMURA (JPN) and Ming-Hsiu CHEN (TPE).

Since then, women's wrestling World Championships has been held every year barring 2004 -- the year of the Athens Olympics.

2004 – Women’s wrestling makes Olympic debut in Athens

With momentum building around the sport, women’s wrestling was showcased on the world’s biggest stage at the 2004 Athens Olympics. With four weight classes, 11 different countries were represented in the Games, and seven of those won medals, including gold medals for Japan, Ukraine and China.

2013 - Increase from four to six weight classes at Olympics

In 2013, wrestling received devasting news that it was in danger of being dropped from the Olympic program. UWW responded quickly, making necessary changes to the sport, which included gender equity and increasing the women’s weights from four to six. It ultimately helped secure wrestling’s place as an Olympic core sport.

The change was implemented in the 2016 Rio Games, where Greco-Roman, Freestyle and women each had six weight classes. Previously, Greco-Roman and Freestyle each had six weights, while women had four.  

2015 – Yoshida wins 13th World title

At the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas, USA, Saori YOSHIDA (JPN) set a bar that is yet to be broken. She won her 13th straight World title, spanning from 2002 to 2015 with 11 of those coming at 55kg and the last two at 53kg.

In World Championship action, Yoshida was undefeated. In addition to an outstanding number of World titles, Yoshida also has three Olympic golds in four attempts.

2016 -- Icho first woman to win four Olympic golds

At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Kaori ICHO (JPN) earned legendary status, becoming the first female athlete to win four Olympic gold medals. For the historic win, Icho defeated Valeriia KOBLOVA (RWF), 3-2, in the 58kg final.

Icho’s first Olympic gold came over Sara MC MANN (USA) at 63kg at the 2004 Olympics. After winning her second Olympic title at the 2008 Beijing Games over Alena KATACHOVA (RUS) at 63kg, Icho considered retiring but pressed on for two more Olympic Games, which included a 2012 win over Rui Xue JING (CHN), again at 63kg. Overall, Icho went undefeated internationally from 2003 to 2016 with a forfeit in 2007.

2016 -- Amri becomes first African to win Olympic medal

The Rio Olympics witnessed another significant moment when Marwa AMRI (TUN) became the first female wrestler from Africa to win an Olympic medal. She claimed the bronze medal in the 58kg weight class.

In the bronze medal bout, Amri defeated Yuliya Ratkevich (AZE), 6-3, after executing a four-pointer with 10 seconds remaining in the bout.

A year later, Amri became the first African to reach the 2017 World Championships final in Paris. On the same day, Odunayo ADEKUOROYE (NGR) achieved the same feat as she reached the final at 55kg.

2018 - Youth Olympic Games achieve gender balance

In an effort to become more gender equitable, wrestling increased the number of female participants in Buenos Aires to 50, up from 32 participants in Singapore 2010 and Nanjing 2014.  With that number, the participants in women's wrestling was equal to freestyle and Greco-Roman. 

The adjustment was part of a larger effort by the International Olympic Committee to meet its goal to make the 2018 Youth Olympic Games the first-ever gender-equal Games.

2021 -- Mensah Stock becomes first Black female to win Olympic gold

After a 2019 World title run, Tamyra MENSAH STOCK (USA) was a favorite to take the crown at 68kg at the Tokyo Olympic Games. Expectedly, she reached the final in Tokyo against Blessing OBORUDUDU (NGR).

The match held a lot of significance as it was the first Olympic final in wrestling’s history to feature two Black women and ensured that for the first time, a Black woman would stand atop the Olympic podium. Ultimately, it was Mensah Stock who emerged with a 4-1 win, an Olympic title and a groundbreaking moment for the sport.

CWGFor the first time in wrestling's history, the 2022 Commonwealth Games were officiated by majority women. The 16 female referees who participated in Birmingham post for a photo after the competition. (Photo: Helena Curtis)

2022 -- CWG becomes the first major tournament to be officiated by a majority of females

In an initiative to achieve gender parity, UWW launched a program to help educate, train and bring up more female referees within the sport. As a part of its strategic plan, UWW, along with the Commonwealth Games Federation, agreed to include a majority of women officials at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.  

Of the 21 referees assigned to the event, 15 were women for a total of 70 percent female representation. Additionally, one of the Referee Delegate positions and other official positions were held by women.

Women's Day

Eight Years After Olympic Struggle, Women Look to Become Wrestling's Next Generation of Leaders

By United World Wrestling Press

CORSIER-SUR-VEVEY, Switzerland (March 8) — When Nenad Lalovic was appointed interim president of the international federation for wrestling in 2013 the sport faced an uphill battle for Olympic reinstatement and lacked wide-reaching respect among those in the global sports community.  

Behind the scenes, the federation was suffering from a number of issues, primary among them an ineffective outreach to female athletes and leaders. Few opportunities existed for women interested in taking the mats and even fewer were available for those interested in positions of leadership.  

On the mats women only had four Olympic weight categories while their male counterparts in freestyle enjoyed seven. There were few female bureau members, no commissions aimed at increasing diversity, and an overall dearth of experienced women in place to change the future.

“We knew that we needed to change,” said Lalovic. “Re-branding and changing the rules were important, but as a federation it was vital we make efforts to diversify and include more women. We wanted to find a way to promote their activities and give them opportunities to succeed and gain experience.”

The 2016 Games in Rio saw male and female freestyle wrestlers compete in the same number of weight categories for the first time ever.

The first change was increasing the number of competed Olympic opportunities to ensure that men’s and women’s freestyle were equal with six categories a piece. Having an equal playing field, meant having more gold medal opportunities. The media splash from that move was well-documented, but behind the scenes a larger – and arguably more important mission -- was made clear: equalize the opportunities for women to participate in the organization and to take leadership positions within their own NF’s.

Eight years later Lalovic and the worldwide wrestling family are witnessing an era of unparalleled opportunity for women. With an eye on total gender equality, wrestling implemented a vision where wrestling would be 50-50 male/female participation at the 2022 Youth Olympic Games in Dakar (now postponed to 2026). The sport of women’s wrestling has also garnered an incredible online following with the top social media moments in four of the last five years belonging to women.  

The most-watched match on the United World Wrestling YouTube page features female wrestlers Vinesh Phogat (IND) and Victoria Anthony (USA).

“I’m very pleased with the performance of our women,” said Lalovic. “When I look around an arena and see the crowds growing, I’m grateful but also not that surprised. We have the toughest women in the world, and they train as hard as anyone else. I’m happy for their continued success.”

But the triumph of wrestling’s eight years promoting women’s wrestling isn’t contained to the mats. Scroll past the action posts and you’ll find that women are also being provided opportunities to take leadership opportunities off-the-mat – a powerful option to create a sport that is stronger and more diverse than previous to 2013.  

“We aren’t reinventing the wheel,” said United World Wrestling development director Deqa Niamkey. “We have fantastic existing programs with room to accommodate our gender and diversity goals. Our national federations have responded well and have been using quotas for men and women.”  

The programming works, and with more attention to quotas and educating the national federations on the benefits of sending female leaders on educational and professional development programs, the opportunities for women have flourished. Niamkey herself was named as a member of ASOIF’s Gender Equality and Diversity Committee. 

Participants at one of the very succesful Women's Global Wrestling Forums.

“Professional opportunities equal to that of men are important because it allows the women to be promoted on merit throughout their national federations and to take leaderships positions within our commissions and committees,” said Niamkey. “They now can attain the same qualifications and that’s the key.” 

In addition to the existing programming, there has been an effort to create conversation and collaboration via initiatives like the Women's Global Wrestling Forum, which began three years ago in Mexico. The second conference included female wrestling leaders from each continent and more than 20 nations across five days of unique programming, networking, and educational seminars in Istanbul. The forum was last hosted in 2019 and will be held again this November at a location to be determined. 

Aline Silva was the 2018 winner of the Women's Prize Award.

Since 2015 wrestling has also recognize powerful leaders in the women’s wrestling community through the “Women’s Prize Award” a certificate noting the individual's unique work in the space and a generous $10,000 award to support their initiatives to promote women's wrestling from the grassroots level to the elite.  

The development department has also added women referee’s educational courses, coaching courses, and created women’s wrestling training camps to respond to the needs of the national federations. 

“We are on a path to long term success,” said Niamkey. “These opportunities will help create a new, diverse class of leaders which will be the backbone for the next generation of wrestling.”