By Ken Marantz
Teen star Yui SUSAKI avenged the most devastating loss of her short but sterling career to win the women’s 50kg gold at the Meiji Cup All-Japan Invitational Championships in Tokyo, keeping her on track to defend her world title in Budapest in October.
Susaki’s victory by fall at 3:37 in the final over Yuki IRIE, who beat her in the semifinals en route to the title at the Emperor’s Cup All-Japan Championships in December, set up a playoff between the two for the ticket to Budapest.
The Waseda University freshman will be looking to join fellow world champions Yuki TAKAHASHI, Haruna OKUNO and Risako KAWAI, who were among 20 wrestlers who clinched berths on the team to Budapest by completing the national double with victories at the four-day tournament at Komazawa Gym.
Susaki’s showdown with Irie will be one of 10 playoffs to be held July 7 at Wako, Saitama Prefecture, in conjunction with the All-Japan Non-Student Championships.
“I lost at the Emperor’s Cup so I thought, I have nothing to lose, just put up a firm challenge and come out with the title,” said Susaki, who won her third straight Meiji Cup gold. “I was the aggressor and controlled the flow of the match, and I think that led to the victory.”
Left out of the running at 50kg was Rio 2016 Olympic champion Eri TOSAKA, whose comeback from a spate of injuries hit another snag when she fell 6-2 to Irie in the semifinals.
“My physical preparation and current condition were not bad,” said Tosaka, who was competing in just her third tournament since her triumph in Rio and underwent foot surgery last year. “My opponent had a stronger desire to win and that was why I lost.”
Susaki’s loss in the Emperor’s Cup semifinals had further ramifications, as it kept her from being selected to Japan’s team for the Asian Championships in February, the Women’s World Cup in March and the upcoming Asian Games in Jakarta.
“This time, I lost at the Emperor’s Cup and that kept me from being able to enter various tournaments,” Susaki said. “Seeing wrestlers other than me competing is very hard to take…So the only road open to me was to win here and get to the world championships. It became an obsession.”
As part of her preparation, Susaki won the 50kg gold medal at the Klippan Lady Open in February, beating Rio 2016 silver medalist Mariya STADNIK (AZE) in the final.
Meanwhile, Takahashi had little trouble in storming to his second straight title and fourth overall, chalking up two 10-0 technical falls before easily handling Toshihiro HASEGAWA 7-2 in the freestyle 57kg final.
“I was able to score points off my attack,” the 24-year-old Takahashi said. “I’ve worked hard with the aim of going to the world championships and defending my title. Anyway, I have to forget this tournament and start preparing for the next.”
For his efforts, Takahashi was awarded the Meiji Cup as the tournament’s most outstanding wrestler, adding to the same honor he received at the Emperor’s Cup.
Kawai, the Rio 2016 gold medalist at women’s 63kg, will be heading to Budapest with younger sister Yukako KAWAI, after the two repeated their victories from the Emperor’s Cup—but after switching weight classes.
Risako Kawai dropped down to 59kg, where she scored five takedowns in a 10-0 technical fall in the final over Yuzuru KUMANO. The previous day, Yukako secured the 62kg gold by beating Yurika ITO 4-1, a victory that otherwise left her in tears for lack of zip in her performance.
“I aimed for the title and I’m glad that I got it, but I couldn’t do anything I had practiced, so it’s very disappointing,” Yukako said. “I had worked on shooting for takedowns in practice, on responding to the opponent and consciously thinking not to get too high in my stance. I didn’t do the very basics.”
The sisters’ duel victories set up an unusual situation in which they technically can face each other in the playoffs for both weight classes. But as things stand, the sisters have agreed to compete in Budapest in the weight classes that they won at the Meiji Cup.
Okuno earned a chance to repeat as world champion when she scored a 4-point takedown and defeated Yu MIYAHARA 6-0 in the women’s 53kg final for her second straight title.
“The 53kg class is said to be Saori Yoshida’s weight class, but I want to show that it’s mine now,” Okuno said. “By continuing to win, I believe it will lead me to the Tokyo Olympics [in 2020].”
In other action, world silver medalist Mayu MUKAIDA won the women’s 55kg title with a solid 9-0 victory in the final over Saki IGARASHI, her third straight Meiji Cup triumph.
That puts Mukaida, the 2016 world champion at 55kg, in position to redeem herself for her stunning last-second loss at 53kg at the Paris 2017 world championships, in which she gave up a 4-point move at the buzzer and lost 8-6 to Vanesa KALADZINSKAYA (BLR).
The two male silver medalists from Rio 2016 had contrasting results, in line with their disparate situations, with only one earning a ticket to Budapest.
Shinobu OTA, with rival and reigning world champion Kenichiro FUMITA sidelined with a knee injury, captured the Greco-Roman 60kg gold to follow up on his triumph at the Emperor’s Cup, where he defeated Fumita.
Ota eked out a 2-1 victory in the final over Hayanobu SHIMIZU, with both of his points coming from passivity, while he gave up one for fleeing. But a win is a win, and his first Meiji Cup title also earned him a place at his first senior world championships.
“It’s very disappointing that I didn’t score any technical points,” Ota said. “At the end, I had no intention of fleeing, but I gave that impression and it gave him a point. That’s a sign of my immaturity and a lack of practice. I’ll work harder so I can always aim for a technical fall.”
Rei HIGUCHI, the Rio 2016 silver medalist in freestyle 57kg, has moved up two divisions to the Olympic weight class of 65kg, but his bid for a shot at a world title came up short when he fell 9-0 in the final to Yamanashi Gakuin University freshman Takuto OTOGURO.
“There’s no big difference between second place and losing in the first round,” said Higuchi, who knocked off Emperor’s Cup champion Daichi TAKATANI in the second round. “Stamina was not a problem, but I’m still inferior in terms of physical strength at 65kg.”
Otoguro, the 2015 world cadet champion at 54kg, will now face Takatani in the playoff for the world team spot. His older brother, Keisuke OTOGURO, will also be in a playoff, where he will face Jintaro MOTOYAMA at freestyle 70kg.
The inspirational story of the tournament came at women’s 68kg, where Rio WATARI posted an emotional victory to cap a comeback from a two-year absence as she battled Hodgekin lymphoma, a form of cancer.
Watari, a Meiji Cup winner in 2014, added drama to already intense moment by scoring a decisive step-out point with :06 left in the final against Chiaki SEKI for a 3-2 victory.
Watari made nationwide news two years ago when, in a crusade to make the Rio Olympic team at all costs, she went up two weight classes to 75kg and earned the berth in qualifying. However, there would be no further miracle in Rio as she lost her opening match, a defeat that she has every intention of redeeming.
“It’s not yet the Olympics, so this doesn’t erase what happened in Rio,” she said.
Because the Emperor’s Cup winner at 68kg, world and Olympic champion Sara DOSHO, is sidelined with a shoulder injury suffered at the Women’s World Cup, Watari automatically earned the spot on the team to Budapest.
Another performance worth noting was turned in by Atsushi MATSUMOTO, who returned to freestyle after a year-long stint in Greco-Roman and remarkably captured the 92kg title, the sixth of his career.
Matsumoto set up a playoff by scoring a solid 7-1 victory in the final over Emperor’s Cup champion Takashi ISHIGURO.
“I still have the playoff to go, so I can’t get complacent,” said Matsumoto, whose return to freestyle was spurred by the rule changes in Greco-Roman that added more ground wrestling, the weakest part of his game. He originally switched to Greco after failing to make it to Rio 2016 in freestyle.
Among the wrestlers making the world team for the first time, Asian champion Shota TANOKURA has established himself as a legitimate medal hope at Greco-Roman 55kg. In the final, Tanokura gained the bulk of his points with a front headlock throw in beating Shota OGAWA 7-0.
Tanokura had retired after the lightest weight class was raised to 59 then 60kg, taking a job as a physical education teacher at a Tokyo high school. When the 55kg division was reinstated, he kept his job but returned to the mat.
“I competed once in Europe,” he said, referring to a second-place finish at the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov Tournament in Sofia in March, “and my impression is that Asian wrestlers are stronger than the Europeans in the lighter weights. All that remains is to aim for the gold at the world championships.”
Other wrestlers who clinched spots on the team to Budapest are: in freestyle, Kazuya KOYANAGI (61kg), Sosuke TAKATANI (79kg), and Shota SHIRAI (86kg); in Greco-Roman, Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA (67kg), Takahiro INOUE (72kg), Shohei YABIKU (77kg), Masato SUMI (87kg), Yuta NARA (97kg), and Arata SONODA (130kg); and in women’s wrestling, Katsuki SAKAGAMI (57kg), Naruha MATSUYUKI (72kg), and Hiroe MINAGAWA (76kg).
Paris 2017 world bronze medalist Yuhi FUJINAMI withdrew from the Meiji Cup due to a fractured cheek bone suffered in practice in May, and will have to earn a place in freestyle 74kg in a playoff with Ken HOSAKA.
Outstanding Wrestler Awards
Meiji Cup (MVP): Yuki TAKAHASHI, 57kg freestyle
Freestyle: Takuto OTOGURO, 65kg
Greco-Roman: Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA, 67kg
Women: Yui SUSAKI, 50 kg
57kg (15 entries)
Gold – Yuki TAKAHASHI df. Toshihiro HASEGAWA, 7-2
(Takahashi wins 2nd straight title; 4th overall)
Bronze – Kanta OKADA and Rikuto ARAI
Semifinal – Takahashi df. Okada by TF, 10-0, 1:02
Semifinal – Hasegawa df. Arai by Def.
61kg (12 entries)
Gold – Kazuya KOYANAGI df. Shingo ARIMOTO, 12-8
(Koyanagi wins 1st title)
Bronze – Yudai FUJITA and Takuya FUNAKI
Semifinal — Koyanagi df. Fujita, 8-0
Semifinal — Arimoto df. Funaki, 5-4
65kg (15 entries)
Gold – Takuto OTOGURO df. Rei HIGUCHI, 6-0
(Otoguro wins 1st title)
Bronze – Hirotaka ABE and Koki SHIMIZU
Semifinal – Higuchi df. Abe, 10-6
Semifinal – Otoguro df. Shimizu by TF, 10-0, :41
70kg (12 entries)
Gold – Jintaro MOTOYAMA df. Keisuke OTOGURO by DEF, 2:11 (6-0)
(Motoyama wins 1st title)
Bronze – Yuta NAKAMURA and Kirin KINOSHITA
Semifinal – Otoguro df. Nakamura by TF, 10-0, 1:19
Semifinal – Motoyama df. Kinoshita, 9-4
74kg (12 entries)
Gold – Ken HOSAKA df. Yuto MIWA, 11-3
(Hosaka wins 1st title)
Bronze – Hayato OGATA and Ryuki YOSHIDA
Semifinal – Miwa df. Ogata, 5-0
Semifinal – Hosaka df. Yoshida, 4x-4
79kg (9 entries)
Gold – Sosuke TAKATANI df. Yajuro YAMASAKI, 8-3
(Takatani wins 2nd straight title, 5th overall)
Bronze – Hayato ISHIGURO and Yuta ABE
Semifinal – Takatani df. Ishiguro, 4x-4
Semifinal – Yamasaki df. Abe by TF, 12-1, 5:21
86kg (9 entries)
Gold – Shota SHIRAI df. Masao MATSUSAKA, 5-2
(Shirai wins 1st title)
Bronze – Taisei MATSUYUKI and Takahiro MURAYAMA
Semifinal – Shirai df. Matsuyuki by Def.
Semifinal – Matsusaka df. Murayama, 5-4
92kg (8 entries)
Gold – Atsushi MATSUMOTO df. Takashi ISHIGURO, 7-1
(Matsumoto wins 6th title, first in two years)
Bronze – Keiwan YOSHIDA and Yura NAITO
Semifinal – Ishiguro df. Yoshida by TF, 11-0, 5:21
Semifinal – Matsumoto df. Naito by TF, 10-0, 3:36
97kg (12 entries)
Gold – Naoya AKAGUMA df. Taira SONODA, 9-0
(Akaguma wins 2nd title, first in two years)
Bronze – Takeshi YAMAGUCHI and Hiroto NINOMIYA
Semifinal – Akaguma df. Yamaguchi, 3x-3
Semifinal – Sonoda df. Ninomiya by Def.
125kg (10 entries)
Gold – Taiki YAMAMOTO df. Nobuyoshi ARAKIDA, 13-6
(Yamamoto wins 2nd title, first in two years)
Bronze – Katsutoshi NAKAZAWA and Tetsuya TANAKA
Semifinal – Arakida df. Nakazawa, 3-2
Semifinal – Yamamoto df. Tanaka by TF, 12-2, 4:38
55kg (10 entries)
Gold – Shota TANOKURA df. Shota OGAWA, 7-0
(Tanokura wins 3rd title, first in three years)
Bronze – Tomoya MARUYAMA and Hiromu KATAGIRI
Semifinal – Tanokura df. Maruyama by TF, 8-0, 1:50
Semifinal – Ogawa df. Katagiri by TF, 10-2, 2:20
60kg (10 entries)
Gold – Shinobu OTA df. Hayanobu SHIMIZU, 2-1
(Ota wins 1st title)
Bronze – Kiyoshi KAWAGUCHI and Ryotaro FUJINAMI
Semifinal – Ota df. Kawaguchi by TF, 9-0, :31
Semifinal – Shimizu df. Fujinami, 7-0
63kg (10 entries)
Gold – Katsuaki ENDO df. Ryo MATSUI, 6-1
(Endo wins 1st title)
Bronze – Yusuke KITAOKA and Yoshiki YAMADA
Semifinal – Endo df. Kitaoka, 7-3
Semifinal – Matsui df. Yamada by TF, 10-2, 3:41
67kg (10 entries)
Gold – Tsuchika SHIMOYAMADA df. Shogo TAKAHASHI by TF, 9-1, 4:17
(Shimoyamada wins 1st title)
Bronze – Daiki KOBAYASHI and Katsuyoshi KAWASE
Semifinal – Shimoyamada df. Kobayashi by TF, 10-1, 2:07
Semifinal – Takahashi df. Kawase, 5-3
72kg (12 entries)
Gold – Takahiro INOUE df. Muuto SAWADA, 8-1
(Inoue wins 2nd title, first in three years)
Bronze – Takahiro YAMAMOTO and Kazuhiro HANAYAMA
Semifinal – Inoue df. Yamamoto, 12-5
Semifinal – Sawada df. Hanayama by TF, 11-0, 4:43
77kg (12 entries)
Gold – Shohei YABIKU df. So SAKABE, 2x-2
(Yabiku wins 2nd straight title, 2nd overall)
Bronze – Kenryu KUZUYA and Takeshi IZUMI
Semifinal – Yabiku df. Kuzuya by TF, 8-0, 1:27
Semifinal – Sakabe df. Izumi by Fall, 3:30 (5-3)
82kg (12 entries)
Gold – Takahiro TSURUDA df. Tatsuya FUJII, 4-1
(Tsuruda wins 1st title)
Bronze – Yoji KAWAMURA and Kohei KITAMURA
Semifinal – Tsuruda df. Kawamura, 5-4
Semifinal – Fujii df. Kitamura by TF, 8-0, 1:48
87kg (11 entries)
Gold – Masato SUMI df. Taichi OKA, 2-1
(Sumi wins 1st title)
Bronze – Tatsuki SHIMADA and Kanta SHIOKAWA
Semifinal – Sumi df. Shimada by TF, 9-0, 1:41
Semifinal – Oka df. Shiokawa, 5-3
97kg (11 entries)
Gold – Yuta NARA df. Masaaki SHIKIYA, 3-1
(Nara wins 3rd straight title, 3rd overall)
Bronze – Naoki MATSUMOTO and Masayuki AMANO
Semifinal – Nara df. Matsumoto by Fall, :28 (4-0)
Semifinal – Shikiya df. Amano, 11-5
130kg (9 entries)
Gold – Arata SONODA df. Masahiro TANITA by TF, 9-0, 1:38
(Sonoda wins 5th straight title, 5th overall)
Bronze – Hirotake TSUDA and Tsuyoki HISAKA
Semifinal – Sonoda df. Tsuda by fall, 2:54 (5-0)
Semifinal – Tanita df. Hisaka, 3-0
50kg (9 entries)
Gold – Yui SUSAKI df. Yuki IRIE by Fall, 3:37 (4-1)
(Susaki wins 3rd straight title, 3rd overall)
Bronze – Eri TOSAKA and Miho IGARASHI
Semifinal – Irie df. Tosaka, 6-2
Semifinal – Susaki df. Igarashi by TF, 10-0, 1:20
53kg (8 entries)
Gold – Haruna OKUNO df. Yu MIYAHARA, 6-0
(Okuno wins 2nd straight title, 2nd overall)
Bronze – Yuka YAGO and Momoka KADOYA
Semifinal – Okuno df. Yago by Fall, 5:56 (8-2)
Semifinal – Miyahara df. Kadoya, 6-2
55kg (11 entries)
Gold – Mayu MUKAIDA df. Saki IGARASHI, 9-0
(Mukaida wins 3rd straight title, 3rd overall)
Bronze – Sena NAGAMOTO and Umi IMAI
Semifinal – Mukaida df . Nagamoto by TF, 10-0, 2:11
Semifinal – Igarashi df. Imai, 5-3
57kg (6 entries)
Gold – Katsuki SAKAGAMI df. Akie HANAI, 4-1
(Sakagami wins 2nd straight title, 3rd overall)
Bronze – Sae NANJO and Chiho HAMADA
Semifinal – Sakagami df. Nanjo, 8x-8
Semifinal – Hanai df. Hamada, 2-0
59kg (6 entries)
Gold – Risako KAWAI df. Yuzuru KUMANO by TF, 10-0, 5:28
(Kawai wins 2nd straight title, 4th overall)
Bronze – Kiwa IWASAWA and Yumeka TANABE
Semifinal – Kawai df. Iwasawa by TF, 11-0, 1:44
Semifinal – Kumano def. Tanabe by TF, 12-1, 3:35
62kg (7 entries)
Gold – Yukako KAWAI df. Yurika ITO, 4-1
(Kawai wins 1st title)
Bronze – Atena KODAMA and Honoka IMAGAWA
Semifinal – Ito df. Kodama by TF, 11-0, 4:09
Semifinal – Kawai df. Imagawa, 4-0
65kg (7 entries)
Gold – Ayaka ITO df. Kiwa SAKAE, 8-4
(Ito wins 2nd straight title, 3rd overall)
Bronze – Ayana GEMPEI and Misuzu ENOMOTO
Semifinal – Ito df. Gempei, 3-1
Semifinal – Sakae df. Enomoto, 4-0
68kg (5 entries)
Gold – Rio WATARI df. Chiaki SEKI, 3-2
(Watari wins 2nd title, first in four years)
Bronze – Miwa MORIKAWA and Mai HAYAKAWA
Semifinal – Seki df. Morikawa, 7-2
Semifinal – Watari df. Hayakawa, 7-0
72kg (3 entries)
Gold – Naruha MATSUYUKI df. Mei ENDO, 7-2
(Matsuyuki wins 1st title)
Bronze – Masako FURUICHI
Semifinal – Endo df. Masako Furuichi by Fall, 1:22 (2-4)
76kg (6 entries)
Gold – Hiroe MINAGAWA df. Yasuha MATSUYUKI, 3-2
(Minagawa wins 7th straight title, 7th overall)
Bronze – Rino ABE and Miku SAITO
Semifinal – Minagawa df. Abe, 6-2
Semifinal – Matsuyuki df. Saito by TF, 10-0, 3:18