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|OLYMPIC NEWS SERVICE: Women’s freestyle preview for 48 kg, 63 kg|
By Olympic News Service
Women's freestyle 48kg: OBARA (JPN), STADNYK (AZE) top hopes as women's wrestling begins
LONDON, 7 August - Gold medal hopeful Hitomi OBARA (JPN) drew the upper half of the 48kg bracket while rival Mariya STADNYK (AZE) is in the lower half for the first day of women's wrestling at ExCeL on Wednesday.
OBARA and STADNYK battled for three periods in the final of last year's world championships in Istanbul and wrestling fans can hope for a rematch Wednesday evening at ExCeL.
OBARA, 31, came out of retirement for a chance to win a gold medal at this, her first Olympic Games. OBARA was a six-time world champion at the non-Olympic 51kg weight category and retired in 2008. She came back to win the 2010 and 2011 world championship titles at 48kg but was beaten in the 2010 Asian Games where she finished with a bronze medal.
STADNYK, 23, won a bronze medal at Beijing 2008 and the world title in 2009 before taking a year off to start a family. The Ukraine-born STADNYK returned to the mats in 2011 and has dominated since, except for a loss to OBARA in the 2011 world championship final. STADNYK has had a quiet year of preparation for London 2012, but won the Ukraine International event where she defeated Irina MERLENI (UKR).
MERLENI won the first Olympic gold medal in women's freestyle at Athens 2004 and then took bronze at Beijing 2008. MERLENI is a three-time world champion and two-time runner-up, but did not qualify for London 2012 until the final qualification tournament in May this year. She is opposite STADNYK in the lower half of the bracket.
Carol HUYNH (CAN) won the gold medal at Beijing 2008 as well as being the world championship runner-up in 2001 and a three-time bronze medallist, most recently in 2010. She was 2011 Pan American Games champion but only managed seventh at the Ukraine International event. HUYNH is in the top half of the bracket with OBARA.
ZHAO Shasha (CHN) won bronze medals at the 2010 and 2011 world championships and is a three-time champion of Asia, but could only finish 11th at the 2010 Asian Games.
Clarissa CHUN (USA) won the 2008 world championship title after finishing in fifth in Beijing, but has been plagued with a number of niggling injuries since then.
Patricia BERMUDEZ (ARG) is Argentina's first entry in women's wrestling at the Olympic Games. Despite finishing 40th in the 2011 world championships, she grabbed a bronze medal at the 2011 Pan American Games and won the 2012 Pan American championship title.
Just 1.40m tall, Mayelis CARIPA CASTILLO (VEN) will be wrestling in her third Olympic Games.
Women's freestyle 63kg: ICHO (JPN) opens bid for third Olympic Gold against DUGRENIER (CAN)
LONDON, 7 August - Two-time Olympic champion Kaori ICHO (JPN) opens her bid for a third gold medal against Martine DUGRENIER (CAN) as the women's freestyle wrestling competition gets under way at ExCeL on Wednesday at the London 2012 Olympic Games.
ICHO and DUGRENIER have only met once, but it was a battle royale at Beijing 2008 for ICHO, who had to come from behind in the closing seconds of their semifinal match-up at 63kg. DUGRENIER evertually finished in fifth place in Beijing and went on to claim three world titles at the non-Olympic weight category of 67kg.
Elena PIROZHKOV (USA) is in the same part of the draw and could be the semifinal opponent for the winner of the ICHO-DUGRENIER battle.
In the lower half of the draw, JING Ruixue (CHN), a two-time world champion at 67kg, appears to have a good chance of making the semifinals, where she will meet the survivor of an eight-wrestler grouping that includes previous world championship finalists Lubov VOLOSOVA (RUS), Yelena SHALYGINA (KAZ) and Marianna SASTIN (HUN).
Kaori ICHO (JPN) took a break after Beijing 2008 for some travelling and personal improvement. She returned to the national team renewed and refreshed and won her sixth and seventh world titles. Her winning streak stands at 68 since she forfeited a match at the 2007 Asian championships. In matches in which she has actually stepped onto the mat, ICHO has won her last 149 bouts since falling to Sara McMANN (USA) in the Klippan international in 2003.
JING Ruixue (CHN) is a two-time world champion at 67kg but has lost four times to ICHO in low-scoring matches. JING, a bronze medallist at last year's world championships, finished second at the world cup meet behind ICHO after dropping a 2-0 (1-0, 1-1) decision on last-point criteria.
Elena PIROZHOKOV (USA) was runner-up to ICHO in the 2010 world championships and took a rare point off the world champ. PIROZHKOV scored another two points and took a period off ICHO in the world cup meet in Tokyo.
Martine DUGRENIER (CAN) is a three-time world champion and three-time runner-up at 67kg, but has only squared off with ICHO once previously - in a 2-1 loss at Beijing 2008 where ICHO had to come from behind for the win.
Yulia OSTAPCHUK (UKR) has won the 2011 and 2012 European championships, but has yet to win a medal at world level. She was 11th at Beijing 2008.
Lyubov VOLOSOVA (RUS) has been world silver medallist three times, most recently in 2008 and 2009, while ICHO was taking her break from the mat.
Battsetseg SORONZONBOLD (MGL) became Mongolia's first world champion in women's wrestling when she won the 59kg crown in 2010. She was third at the Ukraine international behind VOLOSOVA and OSTAPCHUK in February.
Elif YESIRLIMAK (TUR), a bronze medallist at this year's European championships, is Turkey's first entry in women's wrestling at an Olympic Games.
Pan American Games champion Katerina VIDIAUX LOPEZ (CUB) will be Cuba's first entry in women's wrestling at an Olympic Game.