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2007 World Championships preview at 72 kg/158.5 lbs. in women’s freestyle wrestling

The reigning World champion is Bulgaria's Stanka Zlateva, a veteran who has seemed to come into her own in the last few years. Zlateva has won the European title for the last two years, and will come into Baku with tremendous confidence. Many remember last year's gold-medal bout, when she defeated five-time World champion Kyoko Hamaguchi. Japanese media made a big issue about an apparent headbutt by Zlateva early in that match, and it will be an interesting rematch if the two wrestlers meet again this year.

Hamaguchi has been the dominant athlete at this weight class in the last decade, and is a national hero in her nation. The last few seasons have been a bit disappointing for her. She won a bronze at the 2004 Olympic Games, then lost in the finals at the last two World Championships. She won the Asian Championships again this year. At 30 years old, it is possible that her best days have passed, yet she remains the top favorite to win this division every year.

Kristie Marano of the United States, a two-time World champion, returns after winning a bronze medal last year. Marano has been to eight World Championships and has won a medal all eight times, an amazing streak of excellence and consistency. To make the U.S. team, she must beat athletes such as 2005 World champion Iris Smith and past University World champion Stephany Lee. Marano's last World title was in 2003, and she is dedicated to climbing to the top of the podium again this year.

The 2004 Olympic champion Wang Xu of China will be her nation's entry this year and is another top star who is very capable of winning it all. Last year, China entered Wang Jiao, who finished 10th in the standings. Xu won bronze medals at both the World Cup and the Asian Championships this year, not the kind of performances that she is capable of. She seems to have a rivalry with Hamaguchi developing, since she was the person that beat her at the Olympic Games.

Russia is loaded at this weight class, and lists 2004 Olympic silver medalist Gouzel Manyurova as its entry this year. Manyurova was third at the European Championships this year, and won a gold medal at the World Cup. Last year Elena Perepelkina won a World bronze for Russia at this weight, but she is listed as an alternate behind Manyurova.

In addition to the many past champions and medalists in the field, many of the others expected in Baku have considerable international experience and talent. Canada' Ohenewa Akuffo has yet to win a World medal, but has won numerous international medals, including a victory at the 2006 World Cup over Hamaguchi. Two European stars, Svetlana Sayenko of Ukraine and Anita Schaetzle of Germany, won World bronze medals in 2005 and have also a long list of international achievements.

2006 Junior World champion Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Belarus placed fifth in the World last year, and is a strong contender. Jenny Fransson of Sweden, a Junior World bronze medalist this year, is capable of breaking into the medal rounds. Bumaa Orchirbat of Mongolia, a past World University champion, returns this year, after a different athlete competed for her nation at last year's World meet. Olga Zhanibekova of Kazakhstan and Yana Panova of Kyrgyzstan are top contenders who won medals at this year's Asian Championships.

This weight class is loaded with talent and experience. As in other years, beating Japan's Kyoko Hamaguchi is a major focus for all the competitors. However, Hamaguchi's last gold medal came in 2003. It will be interesting to see if returning champion Stanka Zlateva has continued to improve and is capable of winning this title two seasons in a row. Kristie Marano of the USA is capable of winning any tournament she enters, and the Olympic champion, Wang Xu of China, is also in the mix. This will be an exciting division to watch.


2006 World Championships results
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold - Stanka Zlateva (Bulgaria); Silver - Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan); Bronze - Elena Perepelkina (Russia); Bronze - Kristie Marano (United States); 5th - Vasilisa Marzaliuk (Belarus); 5th - Ohenewa Akuffo (Canada); 7th - Svitlana Saenko (Ukraine); 8th - Jenny Fransson (Sweden); 9th - Maria-Louisa Vrioni (Greece); 10th - Wang Jiao (China)

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)

2001 World Championships results
75 kg/165.25 - Gold - Edyta Witkowska (Poland) dec. Ma Bailing (China), 6-0; Bronze - Nina Englisch (Germany) pin Kyoko Hamaguchi (Japan); 5th - Jenna Pavlik (USA); 6th - Kang Min-Jeong (Korea); 7th - Tetyana Komarnitska (Ukraine); 8th - Yasmili Ramos (Venezuela); 9th - Zumrud Kurbangadzieva (Russia); 10th - Akuffo Ohenewa (Canada)
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