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2007 World Championships preview at 55 kg/121 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling

The biggest superstar in wrestling is Saori Yoshida of Japan at 55 kg, a 2004 Olympic champion and four-time World Champion. She has won every international event that she ever entered, going back to the 1998 Cadet World Champiponships. Most recently, Yoshida won a gold medal at the 2007 Asian Championships. Yoshida looks to continue her winning streak with another World title in Azerbaijan. The biggest news of this World Championships, if it occurs, would be if anybody can beat Yoshida.

Last year, the athlete who earned the right to lose to Yoshida in the World gold-medal finals was Mariyia Yaharova of Belarus, her top career achievement. Yaharova was second at the 2007 World Cup, but did not compete at the 2007 European Championships. She is listed as the entry in Baku for Belarus on the FILA website.

Capturing World bronze medals last year were Mineva Montero of Spain and Ida Theres Karlsson of Sweden. Montero did not medal at the European Championships this year, and Karlsson did not enter, but both are expected to compete at the World Championships this year. Karlsson was also a World bronze medalist back in 2002 and is one of the most experienced competitors in the field here.

Canada's Tonya Verbeek won the 2004 Olympic silver medal, losing to Yoshida in the finals. Yoshida also defeated Verbeek in the finals of the World University Games in 2005. Last year, Verbeek did not place in the top 10 at the World Championships and was beaten at the 2007 Pan American Games by America's new entry, Marcie Van Dusen. Verbeek seeks to return to top form this year.

Van Dusen has battled injuries in recent years and made her first World Team with a strong effort this season. She is a past University World Champion, and has competed overseas many times on international tours. After defeating Verbeek, Van Dusen was upset in the Pan American Games finals by Jackeline Renteria of Colombia.

Russia's Natalia Golts has won three World bronze medals and was the European champion for the last three years. Golts was second behind Yoshida at the 2005 World Cup. Golts was fifth at the World Championships last year, and seeks a return to medal status this year.

Another veteran to watch out for is Anna Gomis of France, who has won four World titles and a bronze medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. Gomis continues to compete at a high level winning a European bronze medal this year.

Nataliya Sinishin of Ukraine placed second at the 2006 European Championships at 55 kg, but was a World bronze medalist in 2006 at 59 kg. Ukraine's roster lists Sinishin at 59 kg again this year, with Tetyana Lazareva, a two-time World medalist listed at 55 kg. Either way, Ukraine's entry is expected to challenge for a medal.

One of the 2007 European bronze medalists was Sofia Poumbouridou of Greece, a 2002 World champion at 51 kg. Poumbouridou has not won a World medal since she jumped in weight to 55 kg in 2003. Placing fifth at the European Championships was Ludmila Cristea of Moldova, who was also fifth in the World Championships in 2005.

China's entry at 55 kg is Li Xu, the 2007 World Cup champion. China's last World medalist in this division was Su Lihui, a World silver medalist in 2005 and the Asian Championships runner-up at 55 kg this year. China's roster has Su Lihui at 59 kg for the World Championships in Baku. China also has 2007 Junior World champion Qui Hongmei available at 55 kg. China will be in the medal hunt if any of these athletes are the 55 kg entry at the Worlds this year.

Olga Smirnova, who was ninth in the 2004 Olympic Games for Russia, now competes for Kazakhstan and was third at the Asian Championships this year.

Among the other World placewinners at this division last year were Jessica Bechtel of Germany, Greeta of India and Naidan Otgonjargal of Mongolia. Otgonjargal was a 2006 University World champion, but did not medal at the Asian Championships this year. The African champion this year was Rokhiaton Souk of Senegal.

As in all recent seasons at this division, Japan's Saori Yoshida is a heavy favorite to win the World title. A number of past medalists are in the field, looking to make history by beating her and stopping her streak of international titles that spans a full decade.


2006 World Championships results
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 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)
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