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2007 World Championships preview at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling

One of the Olympic weight classes, the field at the 2007 World Championships at 48 kg is expected to be loaded with athletes who will challenge for medals next year.

The reigning World Champion is Japan's veteran Chiharu Icho of Japan, who was also a 2004 Olympic silver medalist. She has a sister who is also a top star, Olympic champion Kaori Icho at 63 kg. In the finals of last year's World Championships, Icho defeated 2005 World champion Xueceng Ren of China. Icho did not medal at the 2007 Asian Championships, but she is still expected to make a run for the World title again. Another option for Japan is 2005 World bronze medalist Makiko Sakamoto.

Ren is expected to be right in the battle for another title, if she is China's representative on the World Team. China also features Li Xiomei at 48 kg, who was third at the Asian Championships this year. O Yan was third at the Junior World Championships for China this summer as well.

This year marks the return of 2004 Olympic champion Irini Merleni of Ukraine, who took the 2006 season off. Merlini was second at the 2005 World Championships, losing to China's Ren in the finals. She is also a three-time World champion, perhaps the most talented wrestlers in the field at this division. Merlini won a gold medal at the Warsaw Cup, one of the preparation events prior to the World Championships this summer. Ukraine has a number of other athletes at this division, including Alexandra Kohut and Mariya Stadnyk, the 2005 Junior World champion. You can expect Merlini to wrestle if she is prepared.

The 2006 World bronze medalists at this weight class are Iwona Sadowska of Poland and Francine DePaola of Italy. DePaola was second at the 2007 European Championships, and Sadkowka placed fifth. Sadowska has won two World University medals, as well. Both will be expected to be in the mix again this year.

Canada's Carol Huhyn, the 2007 Pan American Games champion, is always a threat to win a medal at this division. Huyhn has won a number of World medals in the past, most recently a World bronze in 2005. She has yet to capture a World title, and is capable of winning the division with a good performance.

The U.S. entry, past World silver medalist Stephanie Murata, is also a major medal hopeful. Murata was defeated in the Pan American Games by Huyhn, ending up with a bronze. She was also beaten by Merlini in the finals at the Warsaw Cup. Murata has as much international experience as anybody in this tournament, and has beaten most of the top competitors at least once during her career. This could be Murata's final chance to win a World title, so she is expected to be in top form in Baku.

The two-time Junior World champion Sofia Mattsson of Sweden will be a top contender. Mattson won a bronze at the European Championships this year, and looked very impressive in Beijing, China at this summer's Junior World meet.

Another 2007 European bronze medalist is Brigitte Wagner of Germany, a 2002 World champion who has been competing up at 51 kg in recent seasons. Wagner has proven that she can win at this level, and will make another run at a medal in the year prior to the Olympic Games.

Russia is loaded at this weight class. Perhaps the top performer is Lorissa Oorzak, the 2007 European champion and a past World medalist. Oorzak was a 2004 Olympian and a past Junior World champion. Other Russians to watch include Lilya Kaskarova of Russia, who was fifth in the 2005 World Championships, and Inga Karamtchakova, who has won three World medals.

Other World placewinners last year include Marina Markevich of Belarus, Nataliya Pulkovska of Ukraine, Hajar Ashtiani of Finland and Sunisa Klahan of Thailand. Klahan is a relative newcomer from a nation not known for women's wrestling. Her second place at the 2007 Asian Championships makes her an intriguing new addition to this division.

Enkjargal Tsogbazar of Mongolia was the 2007 Asian Champion and a top challenger. She was the 2006 University World Champion and also eighth at the 2004 Olympic Games.

Some veterans from the European circuit are Fani Psatha of Greece, Cristina Croituru of Romania, Sigrun Dobner of Germany and Anne Catherine Deluntsch of France.

There are some competitive wrestlers among the Pan American nations, led by Mayelis Caripa of Venezuela, who was fifth in the 2005 World Championships and third at the 2007 Pan American Games.

This weight class has a number of veteran stars, including past World champions in Icho, Ren, Merlini and Wagner. Over time, Merlini has been the top athlete, but has not been on the top of the podium since the 2004 Olympics. With numerous past medalists seeking their first World title, and a constant influx of young talent, this division is always among the most interesting on the women's scene.


2006 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Gold - Chiharu Icho (Japan); Silver - Ren Zue Cen (China); Bronze - Iwona Sadowska (Poland); Bronze - Francine DePaola (Italy); 5th - Marina Markevich (Belarus); 5th - Carol Huyhn (Canada); 7th - Nataliya Pulkovska (Ukraine); 8th - Hajar Ashtiani (Finland); 9th - Mary Kelly (USA); 10th - Sunisa Klahan (Thailand)

2005 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Gold - Xueceng Ren (China); Silver - Irini Merleni (Ukraine); Bronze - Carol Huynh (Canada); Bronze - Makiko Sakamoto (Japan); 5th - Mayelis Caripa (Venezuela); 5th - Liliya Kaskarakova (Russia); 7th - Jenny Wong (USA); 8th - Francine DePaola (France); 9th - Sigrun Dobner (Germany); 10th - Zhyldyz Eshimova (Kyrgyzstan)

2004 Olympic Games results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Gold - Irini Merlini (Ukraine); Silver - Chiharu Icho (Japan); Bronze - Patricia Miranda (USA); 4th- Angelique Berthenet (France); 5th - Lorisa Oorzhak (Russia); 6th- Brigitte Wagner (Germany); 7th - Lidiya Karamchakova (Tajikistan); 8th - Enkhjargal Tsogbazar (Mongolia); 9th - Li Hui (China); 10th - Fani Psatha (Greece)

2003 World Championships results
105.5 - Gold - Irini Merleni (Ukraine) dec. Patricia Miranda (United States), 5-4; Bronze - Li Hui (China) pin Fani Psatha (Greece), 5:56; 5th - Makiko Sakamoto (Japan); 6th - Angelique Berthenet (France); 7th - Alfia Zaynulina (Kyrgyzstan); 8th - Inga Karamchakova (Russia); 9th - Kamelia Tzekova (Bulgaria); 10th - Mayerli Karipa (Venezuela)

2002 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - 1st - Brigitte Wagner (Germany) dec. Inga Karamtshakova (Russia), 4-3; 3rd - Ida Hellstrom (Sweden) pin Nicoleta Badea (Romania), 2:50; 5th - Carol Huyhn (Canada); 6th - Laurianne Mary (France); 7th - Angeles Barazza Sanchez (Mexico); 8th - Mayelis Caripa (Venezuela); 9th - Flor Quispe (Peru); 10th - Myrsini Koloni (Greece)

2001 World Championships results
46 kg/101.25 lbs. - Gold - Irini Merlini (Ukraine) dec. Carol Huyhn (Canada), 3-0; Bronze - Brigitte Wagner (Germany) dec. Farah Touchi (France), 4-2; 5th - Misato Shimizu (Japan); 6th - Agoro Papavassiliou (Greece); 7th - Volha Prydanikava (Belarus); 8th - Kamelia Tzekova (Bulgaria); 9th - Ayse Guneri (Turkey); 10th - Inga Karamthakova (Russia)

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