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2006 World Championships preview at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling

Five-time World champion Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan is the dominant athlete at this weight class in the last decade. She returns, seeking another gold medal, after falling short at the World level the last two years. She won a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games, and was a silver medalist at the 2005 World Championships. A national hero in Japan, Hamaguchi will be motivated to return and prove she can still win it all at this level.

The 2005 World champion at this weight class will not be competing this year, as Iris Smith of the United States was injured in the winter, returned to the mats and did not make the U.S. team. The United States will be represented by two-time World champion Kristie Marano who has moved up to this weight class from 67 kg. Marano wrestled at the highest weight class early in her career, and actually lost in the World gold-medal match to Hamaguchi three straight years (1997-99). Marano is at her best at the World Championships, winning seven medals in seven appearances. Her last World tournament was in 2003, when she won the gold medal at 67 kg in New York City.

The 2004 Olympic champion, Wang Xu of China, did not wrestle at the World meet last year, when Jiao Wang placed fifth for China in Budapest. Xu is competing again this year, placing second at the Canada Cup, with Wang taking third in the weight class there. Xu boasts World silver and bronze medals, as well, so if she is back in top form, the division becomes that much stronger.

Canada's Ohenewa Akuffo defeated Hamaguchi at the 2006 World Cup and has had a very successful season. She seeks her first World medal, having competed at the World Championships four times, with her best finish being seventh last year. Akuffo was also a 2005 World University Games champion. She won a gold medal at a very loaded weight class at the Canada Cup, placing ahead of Xu, Wang, Marano and two-time Junior World champion Ali Bernard of the USA.

Three veteran stars from Europe, Anita Schaetzle of Germany , Svetlana Sayenko of Ukraine and Stanka Zlateva of Bulgaria, have been winning many medals in recent years. Schaetzle and Sayenko were World bronze medalists last year, and Zlateva was fifth. Zlateva won the European title, with Sayenko second and Schaetzle third. At the FILA Golden Grand Priz finals, Schaetzle won the title, with Zlateva taking second. Going back a few years, Sayenko was fourth at the 2004 Olympics and Schaetzle was sixth. All three of these athletes are medal hopefuls this year, and will be a difficult draw for any opponent.

Russia has a number of options at this weight class, including 2004 Olympic silver medalist Gouzel Maniorova, who did not place in the top 10 at the World meet last year. Placing 10th at the European Championships for Russia this year was Daria Nazarova. Also among the options is Alena Stardubtseva, the 2005 Junior World silver medalist and 2005 European bronze medalist. Even Elena Perepelkina, a World bronze medalist at 67 kg last year, has wrestled up at 72 kg in recent years.

The 2006 Junior World champion is Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Belarus, who was fifth at the FILA Golden Grand Prix finals and eighth at the European Championships this year. Bumaa Orchirbat of Mongolia, who was eighth in the World meet last year, has had a strong season, winning a silver medal at the Asian Championships and a gold at the World University Championships.

Marina Gastl of Austria and Oleg Zahnibekova of Kazakhstan placed in the top 10 at the World last year. Jenny Frantzen of Sweden was third at the FILA Golden Grand Prix finals this year, and was the European Junior champion this year.

With the defending World champion not even in the field, it should be an interesting year at this division at the World meet in China. Multiple World champions Kyoko Hamaguchi of Japan and Kristie Marano of the USA are among the top favorites, but the return of Olympic champion Wang Xu of China adds more intrigue if she enters. Canada's Ohenewa Akuffo is coming off her best year, with some big wins over top stars. There are numerous veteran wrestlers who are also capable of medal performances.


2005 World Championships results
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold - Iris Smith (USA); Silver - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan); Bronze - Anita Schaetzle (Germany); Bronze - Svetlana Sayenko (Ukraine); 5th - Stanka Zlateva (Bulgaria); 5th - Jiao Wang (China); 7th - Ohenewa Akuffo (Canada); 8th - Bumaa Orchirbat (Mongolia); 9th - Marina Gastl (Austria); 10th - Olga Zhanibekova (Kazakhstan)

2004 Olympic Games results
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold - Wang Xu (China); Silver - Gouzel Maniorova (Russia); Bronze - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan); 4th - Svitlana Sayenko (Ukraine); 5th - Christine Nordhagen (Canada); 6th - Anita Schaetzle (Germany); 7th - Toccara Montgomery (USA); 8th - Maria Louiza Vryoni (Greece); 9th - Marina Gastl (Austria); 10th - Burmaa Ochirbat (Mongolia)

2003 World Championships results
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan) dec. Toccara Montgomery (United States), 4-1; Bronze - Wang Xu (China) pin Stanka Zlateva Hristova (Bulgaria), 2:39; 5th - Anita Schaetzle (Germany); 6th - Marina Gastl (Austria); 7th - Edyta Witkowska (Poland); 8th - Svetlana Yaroshevich (Kazakhstan); 9th - Gouzel Maniourova (Russia); 10th - Min-Jeong Kang (Korea)

2002 World Championships results
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - 1st - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan) dec. Wang Xu (China), 5-1; 3rd - Edyte Witkowska (Poland) won by ref. dec. over Zarife Yilidrim (Turkey), 2-0, ot, 9:00; 5th - Katerina Halova (Czech Rep.); 6th - Galina Ivanova (Bulgaria); 7th - Svitlana Sayenko (Ukraine); 8th - Katarzyna Juszczak (Italy); 9th - Anita Schatzle (Germany); 10th - Toccara Montgomery (USA)
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