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2006 World Championships preview at 55 kg/121 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling
If there is there is an athlete who is considered a superstar in women's wrestling, it has to be Saori Yoshida of Japan at 55 kg. Yosida was the 2004 Olympic champion who has also won three World titles. Yoshida has won gold in every major international event she has entered, going all the way back to 1998 when she became a Cadet World champion.
Yoshida does not hide from anybody. She has won Asian Championships, World University Games, World Cups and other events, and she has taken on most of the top women in the world at some point. If Yoshida is able to continue this streak of consistent excellence, she has a chance to be one of the all-time greats, regardless of style.
She defeated Su Lihui of China in the World Championships gold-medal match last year as well as in the World Cup this year. Su has also been wrestling up at 59 kg this year, taking a silver at the Asian Championships and a gold at the Canada Cup at the higher weight. China won a silver medal at the 2006 Asian Championships at this division with Liu Haixin. China also has Sun Dongmei who was fifth in the 2004 Olympics as an option. As with the other lighter weights, China is expected to have a strong entry, regardless of who gets chosen to compete.
Canada's Tonya Verbeek and Russia's Natalia Golts were World bronze medalists last year, and both are gold-medal hopefuls.
Verbeek won the 2004 Olympic silver medal, losing to Yoshida in the finals. Yoshida also defeated her in the finals of the World University Games in 2005. She has not had the strongest season, placing third at the World Cup and fourth at the FILA Golden Grand Prix. Among the athletes in the division, she is among the most talented and experienced.
Golts has won three World bronze medals and was the European champion in both 2005 and 2006. Golts was second behind Yoshida at the 2005 World Cup. Many expected Golts to be among the top Olympic medal hopefuls, but Russia brought Olga Smirnova instead to the Athens Games, and she placed a disappointing ninth.
Another star to watch is two-time World silver medalist Tina George of the United States, who did not place in the World meet last year. George lost to Yoshida in the World Championship finals in both 2002 and 2003. George has proven the ability to win her division within the USA, taking the team trials every year except 2004, when she was beaten out for the Olympic team by Tela O'Donnell. George has not been consistent, but when she wrestles well, she is very hard to beat.
Never count out Anna Gomis of France, who has won four World titles and a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. Gomis was second at the FILA Golden Grand Prix finals, losing to Japan's Chikako Matsukawa in the finals. Gomis had a tremendous performance at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, some of her best wrestling in many years. She was third at the European Championships this year, and 10th in the World last year, and perhaps past her prime at the age of 32.
Ludmila Cristea of Moldova, the 2006 European silver medalist, was fifth in the World in 2005, her only two medals at major international events. Also fifth last year at the World Championships was Minerva Montero of Spain, in her best performance at the World level. Montero dropped to ninth at the European Championships this year.
2005 Junior World champion Johanna Mattsson of Sweden is among the top young athletes. Mattson was third at the European Championships and third at the FILA Golden Grand Prix, both top Senior level accomplishements. She dropped to third at the 2006 Junior World meet, which was won by unheralded Sandra Roa of Colombia.
The University World Champion this year was Naidan Otgonjarjal of Mongolia, who beat Japan's Matsukawa in the finals. Her top previous performance was a silver medal at the 2005 Asian Championships.
Placing fifth at the European Championships this year were Jessica Bechtel of Germany and Mariya Egorova of Belarus. Egorova's top effort was a bronze medal at the 2005 European Championsihps. Bechtel was eighth at the World Championships last year. Ana Maria Paval of Romania and Sylvia Bilenska of Poland were among the top 10 at the World Championships last year, and are capable of challenging again this year.
If there is one weight class in the women's freestyle division that has an overwhelming favorite, it is at 55 kg with Saori Yoshida of Japan. She has proven time and time again that she is ready every time she enters a tournament. There are a number of talented challengers looking to be the one who knocks off Yoshida and breaks her gold-medal streak. It will be quite interesting to see if this is the year that somebody pulls off the upset.
RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS
2005 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. -Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Su Lihui (China); Bronze - Natalia Golts (Russia); Bronze - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); 5th - Minerva Montero (Spain); 5th - Ludmila Cristea (Moldova); 7th - Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 8th - Jessica Bechtel (Germany); 9th - Sylvia Bilenska (Poland); 10th - Anna Gomis (France)
2004 Olympic Games results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Anna Gomis (France); 4th - Ida-Theres Karlsson (Sweden); 5th - Sun Dongmei (China); 6th - Tela O'Donnell (USA); 7th - Lee Na Lae (Korea); 8th - Tetyana Lazareva (Ukraine); 9th - Olga Smirnova (Russia); 10th - Diletta Giampiccolo (Italy)
2003 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs.- Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan) dec. Tina George (United States), 5-2; Bronze - Natalia Golts (Russia) dec. Sun Dongmei (China), 4-0; 5th - Mabel Fonseca (Puerto Rico); 6th - Jennifer Ryz (Canada); 7th - Anna Gomis (France); 8th - Marzi Andrade (Venezuela); 9th - Monika Michalik (Poland); 10th - Tatyana Lazareya (Ukraine)
2002 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. - 1st - Saori Yoshida (Japan) dec. Tina George (USA), 10-4; 3rd - Ida Theres Karlsson (Sweden) dec. Konstantina Tsibanakou (Greece), 7-1; 5th - Jen Ryz (Canada); 6th - Kitti Godo (Hungary); 7th - Monika Michalik (Poland); 8th - Viktoria Zagainova (Russia); 9th - Nadine Tokar (Switzerland); 10th - Isabelle Sambou (Senegal)
2001 World Championships results
56 kg/123.25 lbs. - Gold - Seiko Yamamoto (Japan) dec. Liubov Volosova (Russia), 4-1; Bronze - Tetiana Lazarova (Ukraine) dec. Lee Na Lae (Korea), 5-2; 5th - Sara Eriksson (Sweden); 6th - Yildirim Zeynep (Turkey); 7th - Sun Dongmei (China); 8th - Gudrun Hoie (Norway); 9th - Anna Gomis (France); 10th - Yoselin Rojas (Venezuela)