Zagreb Open: five women’s wrestling storylines
Wednesday, January 25, 2023 - 08:58 By Taylor GREGORIO
ZAGREB, Croatia (January 25) — The 2023 season is officially here as next week Zagreb, Croatia, will play host to the first Ranking Series event — Zagreb Open set for February 1-5.
With close to 600 wrestlers registered for the event, it throws a number of storylines, especially in women’s wrestling.
1. Japan returns to Ranking Series events after 5 year hiatus
The women’s team of Japan will be returning to a Ranking Series event after an absence of five years; the last competition being the 2018 Klippan Lady Open in Sweden. But this is the first time that all of Japan’s three styles will be competing at a Ranking Series event.
Headlining the Japanese squad is three-time world champion and Tokyo Olympic champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN), registered at 50kg. At just 23 years old, Susaki also has three U17 World titles, two U20 golds and a 2022 U23 World championship. She is joined by 2021 World champion Akari FUJINAMI (JPN) at 53kg and world bronze medalists Sae NANJO (JPN) at 57kg and Sakura MOTOKI (JPN) at 62kg.
Four of the other six Japanese women expected to compete own age-group World titles, including Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) at 55kg, Yui SAKANO (JPN) at 59kg, Mahiro YOSHITAKE (JPN) at 65kg and Ayano MORO (JPN) at 76kg.
2. World champs Parrish, Fujinami in loaded 53kg bracket
A highly anticipated clash of world champions can occur at this weight as reigning gold medalist Dominique PARRISH (USA) and 2021 champ Akari FUJINAMI (JPN) are registered to compete. Parrish rolled to a world title in her senior world debut last September.
Fujinami was noticeably missing from the bracket as she pulled out due to an injury just days before the World Championships.
There are seven other past world medalists scattered throughout the field, including 2022 bronze winner Karla GODINEZ (CAN). She won her medal at 55kg in Belgrade, but moving down to 53kg in preparation for the Olympic year. Tokyo Olympic silver medalist and two-time world bronze medalist Qianyu PANG (CHN).
In addition to Fujinami, the other three medal winners from 2021 are registered for this weekend — silver medalist Iulia LEORDA (MDA) and bronze medalists Samantha STEWART (CAN) and Katarzyna KRAWCZYK (POL).
A third Canadian world medalist in the mix at this weight is 2018 bronze winner Diana WEICKER (CAN). Poland is also bringing 2017 bronze medalist Roksana ZASINA (POL).
3. Six world champs registered at 57kg
There are three past senior world champions and three past U23 world champions set to compete in Zagreb at 57kg. Leading the group is 2016 Olympic champion and three-time world champion MAROULIS (USA). Also a Tokyo Olympic bronze medalist, Maroulis is the USA’s first women’s wrestling Olympic champion as well as its first two-time Olympic medalist in the women’s division. She earned silver in the 2022 World Championships, falling to Tsugumi SAKURAI (JPN) in the finals.
The reigning world champ at 59 kg, Anastasia NICHITA (MDA), is moving down a weight class to 57kg. The two-time European champion is sure to bring some power to the bracket.
Also competing is Ningning RONG (CHN), who won the senior world title in 2018. That same year, she captured silver at the U23 World Championships. Her last major international event was the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
U23 world champions Sae NANJO (JPN), Anhelina LYSAK (POL) and Alexandria TOWN (CAN) will be in Zagreb.
Nanjo is a two-time U23 World champ and two-time U20 World champ, and Lysak owns a 2015 U17 world gold. Both are senior world medalists with Nanjo winning bronze in 2021 and Lysak winning bronze in 2022.
4. Notable weight class changes
As noted earlier, 2022 world champion at 59kg Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) is moving down to 57kg for this tournament.
Also changing weight classes is last year’s World runner-up at 59kg Grace BULLEN (NOR), who is bumping up to 62kg. Bullen, who lost a heartbreaker in the 2022 World finals, claimed gold at the 2018 U23 World Championships at 59kg.
Koumba LARROQUE (FRA), who has bounced between 65kg and 68 kg over the last couple of years is registered at 68kg. She has been successful at both weight classes. Most recently at 65kg, Larroque took third at the 2022 senior world championships. At 68kg, she was a 2018 world silver medalist and 2021 U23 world champion.
5. Women’s field full of returning world medalists
There will be no shortage of superstars in the women’s brackets at the Zagreb Open. There are 16 returning senior world medalists across the field, including four 2022 world champions — Yui SUSAKI (JPN), Dominique PARRISH (USA), Anastasia NICHITA (MDA) and Amit ELOR (USA).
After producing one of the most impressive performances of the 2022 season, 20-year-old Elor, who won U20, U23 and Senior World titles in a span of eight weeks, returns to the international stage at 72 kg.
Silver medalists expected to compete are Helen MAROULIS (USA), Kayla MIRACLE (USA) and Samar HAMZA (EGY).
Rounding out the returning medalists are ten bronze winners, counting Anna LUKASIAK (POL), Vinesh VINESH (IND), Mengyu XIE (CHN), Anhelina LYSAK (POL), Jowita Maria WRZESIEN (POL), Xiaojuan LUO (CHN), Sakura MOTOKI (JPN), Mallory VELTE (USA), Irina RINGACI (MDA) and Koumba LARROQUE (FRA).
Fans can watch all the action live on uww.org or on UWW's app and follow along on Twitter @wrestling and Instagram @unitedworldwrestling.