ISTANBUL (September 15) – Saori Yoshida won her ninth straight title at the senior wrestling world championships, surviving a scare from world and Olympic multi-medalist Tonya Verbeek (CAN) to pull even with the legendary Alexandre Kareline (URS) for the most career world wrestling crowns.
Meanwhile, Kaori Icho snared her seventh world title and Takako Saito bagged a bronze medal in her first appearance for Japan at the world championships as the meet turned the corner and headed into the home stretch.
On the fourth day of the championships, the eyes of Japanese wrestling fans and officials were focused on Yoshida who was seeking her ninth trip to the top of the awards stand at the end of the day.
Yoshida notched a pair of falls and a one-sided win in the quarterfinals at 55kg before taking apart Ida-Theres Nerell (SWE) with a series of leg attacks that had the 2007 world runner-up going out of bounds or on her back.
But, in the final, Yoshida struggled to find the range and rhythm against Tonya Verbeek (CAN), an opponent she has defeated four times before at the world and Olympic level.
After taking the first period, Yoshida makes an unnecessary attack which Verbeek counters late in the second to level the match.
In the third period, Yoshida takes the lead on a penalty point for stalling but then appears to give up the lead with another unnecessary takedown attempt that Verbeek counters. With the score tied 2-2, Yoshida holds the tie-breaker with the penalty point, but she blasts Verbeek out of bounds in the closing seconds to ensure her victory.
With her ninth world title in hand, Yoshida now looks ahead to next year's Olympics in London where she will have a chance to win a third Olympic gold medal and join an elite group of five wrestlers, including Kareline.
Also on the fourth day of the world meet, Kaori Icho defeated six opponents, including three from championship finals in previous years, to win her seventh world title at 63kg.
At 59kg, Saito lost in the semifinals to 2009 world champ at 51kg Sofia Mattsson (SWE) but rebounded for a decisive win against Narmandakh Dorj (MGL) for the bronze medal.
55kg – YOSHIDA, Saori (Gold, 41 entries)
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Emriye Musta (TUR) by fall, 1P=1:17 (F5-0)
Yoshida makes short work of the 2008 junior world champ with a pair of takedowns and then takes an arm bar for a turn and fall.
R3 – df. Helen Maroulis (USA) by fall, 1P=1:09 (F4-0)
Yoshida converts a double-leg for exposure and fall against the junior world silver medalist.
R4 – df. Alma Valencia Escoto (MEX), 2-0 (5-0, 7-0=0:57)
Yoshida rolls over the 2010 Pan American bronze medal winner in the first period and secures a technical in the second with the help of a pair of three-point takedowns.
SF – df. Ida-Theres Nerell (SWE) by TF, 2-0 (6-0=1:57, 6-0=1:38)
Yoshida keeps her distance from the bigger and stronger Nerell and picks at the openings for leg attacks, scoring from three double-legs to the back for extra points.
F1 – df. Tonya Verbeek (CAN), 2-1 (1-0, 2-2x=big, 3-2)
Yoshida takes the first period with a single-leg attack that ends out of bounds and is cruising in the second with two similar attacks. Verbeek, however, counters an unwise attack by Yoshida in the closing seconds for two points and the second period.
Yoshida cautiously presses the attack in the third period, saddling Verbeek with a caution for passivity for a point at 1:26. But, she makes another unwise attack at 1:50 and Verbeek counters. The officiating crew waves the counter off, but after a video review, two points are awarded to Verbeek. With three seconds left, Yoshida blasts Verbeek out of bounds for the win.
59kg – SAITO, Takako (Bronze, 21 entries)
R1 – bye
R2 – df. Yuliana Alzate (COL) by fall, 2P=1:02 (4-0, F3-0)
Saito, making her senior worlds debut, trips her opponent to her back in the first period but cannot hold for the fall in the first period. She follows with a lateral drop in the second and presses for the fall.
R3 – df. Adeline Vescan (FRA), 2-0 (4-1, 3-0)
After a slow start against the European junior runner-up, Saito seals the win in the second period with a clean double-leg takedown and a chest-high gut wrench.
SF – lost to Sofia Mattsson (SWE), 0-2 (0-1=2:05, 0-2)
Saito drops the first period from the clinch to the former 51kg world champion, gives up a pair of go-behind takedowns in the second.
F3 – df. Narmandakh Dorj (MGL) by fall, 3P=0:52 (4-4x=big, 5-0, F3-0)
Saito wrestles tentatively and Narmandakh takes advantage for the first period. Saito comes back with three unanswered takedowns in the second to even the match at a period apiece.
Saito scrambles out of Narmandakh's trip attempt and then cranks the 2007 world bronze medal winner over with a bar arm for the fall.
63kg – ICHO, Kaori (Gold, 45 entries)
R1 – df. Elena Shalygina (KAZ) by fall, 1P-1:52 (1-0, F5-0)
In a rematch of their 2007 world championship final, Icho opens up in the second period against the Asian Games champ with a single-leg which she takes to the back for the fall.
R2 – df. Yuliya Ostapchuk (UKR), 2-0 (2-0, 2-0)
Icho is patient against the young European champion, taking one-point takedowns and go-behinds for the win.
R3 – df. Michala Spoustova (CZE) by fall, 1P=1:47 (F7-0)
Icho builds up an early lead with takedowns and a gut wrench, then works a nelson for exposure and the fall.
R4 – df. Jing Ruixue (CHN), 2-0 (1-0, 1-0)
After taking a finger in the eye early in the bout, Icho wrestles patiently, scoring in the final five seconds of both periods against the two-time former world champion at 67kg.
SF – df. Elena Pirozhkova (USA), 2-0 (3-0, 3-0)
In a repeat of last year's final, Icho scored late but earned exposure points with each takedown for the win.
F1 – df. Marianna Sastin (HUN), 2-0 (4-0, 2-0)
Icho scores a go-behind point and single-leg before capping the first period with a pair of cross-ankle turns. In the second, Icho is content with a pair of go-behinds for points and the win against the former world runner-up at 59kg.