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2005 World Championships preview at 63 kg/138.75 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling
Japan's Kaori Icho has won this weight class at the level for three straight years, with two World titles and the first Olympic gold medal in the history of the division. She remains active, winning gold medals at the World Cup and the Asian Championships this year. If Icho were to ever take a break, Japan has a tremendous talent to take her place, 2005 World University Games champion and 1999 World champion Ayoko Shoda. Clearly, Japan is favored to win this division.
The last two years, Icho defeated American Sara McMann in the gold-medal finals. Both matches were very close, and McMann had opportunities to win them both times. In June, McMann made a comeback at the U.S. World Team Trials after sitting out the year, and will be back for another shot at Icho. When McMann is in top form, she can beat anybody with her tremendous skill and experience. However, it is yet to be seen how far she has come back from her time away from the sport.
The Olympic bronze medal went to Lise LeGrand-Golliot of France, a two-time World champion who often competed at 67 kg in recent seasons. LeGrand has been wrestling up this year, so it is possible that France will replace her at this division with Myriam Selloum, who was third at the World Cup this year.
At the Athens Olympics, Stavroula Zygouri of Greece was fourth, Viola Yanik of Canada was fifth and Olga Khilko of Belarus was sixth. All three have the ability to challenge for medals again.
Yanik was a 2003 World bronze medalist, and scored a win over McMann during the Olympic pool competition. However, Canada is reportedly sending former Junior World champion Tara Hedican to compete in the Worlds this year. Khilko was second at the 2005 European Championships and also placed second behind
China's Lili Meng, a 2001 World Champion, did not place in Athens, but is still competing. Meng was third at the Asian Championships this year. China has many options at this division, including Xu Haiyan, who was fourth in the 2003 World Championships.
The 2005 European champion was Monika Mihalik-Rogien of Poland, and claiming bronze medals were Mihaela Sadoveanu of Romania and Nikola Hartmann-Dunser of Austria.
Hartmann-Dunser is a five-time World champion who did not qualify for Athens, but remains a strong competitor. She was third at the European Championships in 2005. Another outstanding past World champion who should be right in the mix is Sara Erikson of Sweden, who was second behind Icho at the 2002 World Championships.
Lene Aanes of Norway placed third in the 2001 and 2002 World Championships, and has beaten many of the top stars in this weight class. Alana Kartashova of Russia, a 2002 World Champion at 59 kg, has been competing at this weight in recent seasons. She was eighth at the 2004 Olympics and fifth at the 2003 World Championships at this division.
Second behind Icho at the Asian Championships was Geetika Jakhar of India, who was also a Junior World silver medalist this year. Among the other athletes to watch with tremendous experience are Lyudmila Golovchenko of Ukraine, Stephanie Gross of Germany and Magorzata Bassa of Poland.
Icho has dominated this weight class for four seasons now, and will be the heavy favorite going into the tournament. Many would love to see another Icho vs. McMann showdown in the championship finals. There are many other talented athletes capable of earning a spot in the gold-medal round in what is considered one of the deepest fields in all of women's wrestling.
RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS
2004 Olympic Games results
63 kg/138.75 lbs. - Gold - Kaori Icho (Japan); Silver - Sara McMann (USA); Bronze - Lise Legrand (France); 4th - Stavroula Zygouri (Greece); 5th - Viola Yanik (Canada); 6th - Volha Khilko (Belarus); 7th - Stephanie Gross (Germany); 8th - Alena Kartashova (Russia); 9th - Lili Meng (China); 10th - Sara Eriksson (Sweden)
2003 World Championships results
63 kg/138.75 lbs. - Gold - Kaori Icho (Japan) dec. Sara McMann (United States), 4-3, ot, 8:20; Bronze - Viola Yanik (Canada) pin Lyudmila Golovchenko (Ukraine), 2:44; 5th - Alena Kartacheva (Russia); 6th - Lene Aanes (Norway); 7th - Sabrina Esposito (Italy); 8th - Volha Khilko (Belarus); 9th - Stephanie Gross (Germany); 10th - Geetika Jakhar (India)
2002 World Championships results
63 kg/138.75 lbs. - 1st - Kaori Icho (Japan) pin Sara Eriksson (Sweden), 4:38; 3rd - Lene Aanes (Norway) pin Haivan Xu (China), 2:35; 5th - Malgorzata Bassa (Poland); 6th - Nikola Hartmann-Dunser (Austria); 7th - Stephanie Gross (Germany); 8th - Geetika Jakhar (India); 9th - Tara Hedican (Canada); 10th - Myagmarsuren (Mongolia)
2001 World Championships results
62 kg/136.5 lbs. - Gold - Lili Meng (China) dec. Diletta Giampiccola (Italy), 4-0; Bronze - Lene Aanes (Norway) dec. Stephanie Gross (Germany), 3-0; 5th - Volha Khilko (Belarus); 6th - Bassa Malgorzata (Poland); 7th - Lyudmila Golovchenko (Ukraine); 8th - Patricia Leibel (Canada); 9th - Lotta Andersson (Sweden); 10th - Michala Krizkova (Czech. Republic)