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Olympic preview in women’s freestyle wrestling at 55 kg/121 lbs.

Jason Bryant USA Wrestling

Date of Competition: August 9

Many a wrestler has tried to knock Saori Yoshida from the stop step of the podium in the last 11 years at 55 kg/121 lbs. No one has succeeded.

Save two losses at the dual-based World Cup, Yoshida’s record is one legends are made. You’d have to go back to 2001 to find someone other than Yoshida atop the medal stand at a World Championship or Olympic Games. Well, at least at the senior level. Yoshida did win the 2001 Junior World Championships before taking over the weight from another Japanese champion – Seiko Yamamoto.

Since emerging in 2002, Yoshida has won every single World and Olympic championship in which she has competed. She’s looking to become the first women’s three-time Olympic wrestling champion and she’s a heavy favorite to do so.

Challenging Yoshida will be her opponent in the 2011 World finals and 2004 Olympic Games, Tonya Verbeek of Canada. Yoshida topped Verbeek in a controversial bout in Istanbul last fall, but the crafty Canadian veteran is a gamer. Verbeek won the World Cup this year, despite taking a loss in dual competition. Verbeek is looking to become a three-time Olympic medalist after taking bronze in 2008.

Since 2004, Yoshida has defeated eight different opponents for World and Olympic championships. In London, four of them will be present – Verbeek, Tatyana Lazareva of the Ukraine, Ida-Theres Nerell of Sweden and Yulia Ratkevich of Azerbaijan.

Verbeek will turn 35 two weeks following the competition and in her storied career, she’s picked up five World and Olympic medals.

Lazareva was the 2011 bronze medalist at the weight a year ago and has three total world-level medals, including a silver behind Yoshida in 2008 at the World Championships in Tokyo.

Nerell, formerly known as Karlsson, took time off from wrestling to get married and start a family and returned to competition last year to win a bronze medal. Her presence bumped past World Champion Sofia Mattsson up to a non-Olympic weight, but according to sources in Sweden, Mattsson will be the entry at the Games and not Nerell, which has been the cause of some controversy within the Swedish federation.

As typical with Russia, their entry is still up in the air, as Maria Gurova qualified the weight class by placing fifth at the 2011 World Championships, but when 19-year-old Valeria Zholobova beat Yoshida at the World Cup, that might have created a question on who to send by the Russian Federation.

Zholobova moves down from 59kg and any win over Yoshida is notable, considering it’s only happened one other time, by American Marcie Van Dusen. Gurova has finished fifth in the world the last two years.

Kelsey Campbell of the United States makes her third straight U.S. team after representing the country at the World Championships at 59 kg/138 lbs. in Moscow and Istanbul. Campbell was fifth in the 2010 World Championships, reaching the semifinals. Campbell could be in the mix and with the right draw, could put the U.S. in medal contention.

Asian champion Geeta (yes, just Geeta), is improving and has been in the U.S. training on several occasions. She was eighth in the 2011 championships.

Ratkevich won the European Championships, while North Korea’s Kum Ok Han won the Taiyuan Olympic qualifier. Not surprisingly, little is known about Han. Colombia’s Jackeline Renteria hasn’t won a world medal since the 2008 Olympics where she won bronze, but she did qualify by winning the final Olympic qualifier in Finland. With Renteria, the Pan American countries have one-third of the qualified nations – U.S., Canada, Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil.

Joice Souza da Silva was second to Renteria to qualify her nation.

Expected Participants
55 kg/121 lbs.- Women's Freestyle
1st at 2011 World Championships – Saori Yoshida (Japan)
2nd at 2011 World Championships – Tonya Verbeek (Canada)
3rd at 2011 World Championships – Tatyana Lazareva (Ukraine)
3rd at 2011 World Championships – Sofia Mattsson (Sweden)*
5th at 2011 World Championships – Maria Gurova (Russia)
5th at 2011 World Championships – Kelsey Campbell (United States)*
2012 European Olympic qualifier champion – Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan)
2012 European Olympic qualifier runner-up – Maria Prevolaraki (Greece)
2012 Asian Olympic qualifier champion – Geeta (India)
2012 Asian Olympic qualifier runner-up – Ji-Eun Um (Korea)
2012 Pan American Olympic qualifier champion – Marcia Andrades Mendoza (Venezuela)
2012 Pan American Olympic qualifier runner-up – Lissette Antes Castillo (Ecuador)
2012 Africa/Oceania Olympic qualifier champion – Marwa Amri (Tunisia)
2012 Africa/Oceania Olympic qualifier runner-up – Rabab Eid Sayed Awad (Egypt)
Olympic Qualifier #1 champion – Kum Ok Han (North Korea)
Olympic Qualifier #1 runner-up – Byambatseren Sundev (Mongolia)
Olympic Qualifier #2 champion – Jackeline Renteria (Colombia)
Olympic Qualifier #2 runner-up – Joice Souza da Silva (Brazil)
*- denotes different athlete than wrestler who qualified the weight at 2011 World Championships.

2011 World Championships

55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Tatyana Lazareva (Ukraine); Bronze - Ida-Theres Nerell (Sweden); 5th - Maria Gurova (Russia); 5th - Helen Maroulis (United States); 7th - Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 8th - Geeta (India); 9th - Katarzyna Krawczyk (Poland); 10th - Alma Valencia Escoto (Mexico)

2010 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold – Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver – Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); Bronze –Anna Gomis (France); Bronze – Tatiana Padilla (USA); 5th – Aiym Abdilina (Kazakhstan); 5th – Maria Gurova (Russia); 7th – Byambatseren Sundev (Mongolia); 8th – Jillian Gallays (Canada); 9th - Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 10th – Sylwia Bilenska (Poland)

2009 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Sona Ahmedli (Azerbaijan); Bronze - Alena Filipava (Belarus); Bronze - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); 5th - Tatiana Padilla (USA); 5th - Anna Gomis (France); 7th - Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 8th - Aiyim Abdildina (Kazakhstan); 9th - Yura Gandolgor (Mongolia); 10th - Geeta (India)

2008 Olympic Games
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Xu Li (China); Bronze - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Jackeline Renteria (Colombia); 5th - Ida-Theres Nerell (Sweden); 5th - Ana Paval (Romania); 7th - Olga Smirnova (Kazakhstan); 8th - Natalia Golts (Russia); 9th - Marcie Van Dusen (USA); 10th - Ludmilla Cristea (Moldova)

2008 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tetyana Lazareva (Ukraine); Bronze - Tatiana Padilla (United States); Bronze - Anna Zwirydowska (Poland); 5th – Britanee Laverdure (Canada); 5th – Ana Maria Paval (Romania); 7th – Natalja Smirnova (Russia); 8th – Naidan Otgonjarjal (Mongolia); 9th – Ainur Artikbaeva (Uzbekistan); 10th - Enid Rivera Velasquez (Puerto Rico)

2007 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Ida-Theres Karlsson (Sweden); Bronze - Olga Smirnova (Kazakhstan); Bronze - Natalya Golts (Russia); 5th - Alena Filipova (Belarus); 5th - Tatyana Lazareva (Ukraine); 7th - Jacqueline Renteria (Colombia); 8th - Yulia Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 9th - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); 10th - Marcie Van Dusen (United States)

2006 World Championships
55 kg/121 lbs. – Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Mariyia Yaharova (Belarus); Bronze - Minerva Montero (Spain); Bronze - Ida-Theres Karlsson (Sweden); 5th - Jessica Bechtel (Germany); 5th - Natalia Golts (Russia); 7th - Greeta (India); 8th - Anna Gomis (France); 9th - Naidan Otgonjargal (Mongolia); 10th - Li Song Ni (China)

2005 World Championships
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
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Anna Gomis (France); 4th - Ida-Theres Nerell (Sweden); 5th - Dongmei Sun (China); 6th - Tela O'Donnell (United States); 7th - Na-Lae Lee (Korea); 8th - Tatyana Lazareva (Ukraine); 9th - Olga Smirnova (Russia); 10th - Diletta Giampiccolo (Italy)
Untitled Document
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