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Olympic Games preview at 57 kg in women’s wrestling: Olympic champions Maroulis and Kawai headline field

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Draw: August 3
Dates of competition: Wednesday, August 4 and Thursday, August 5

U.S. representative: Helen Maroulis, Rockville, Md. (Sunkist Kids)

It is rare to have two Olympic champions in the same weight at an Olympic Games. It is even rarer when both of the Olympic champions won at the same Olympic Games. It is even stranger when neither of the Olympic champions competed at their new weight at those Olympics. Welcome to 57 kg in the women’s competition at the Tokyo Games.

2016 Olympic champions Helen Maroulis of the United States and Risako Kawai of Japan are in the field. Maroulis won her gold medal in the 2016 Rio Games at 53 kg, while Kawai won her Olympic gold medal in Rio at 63 kg. They are meeting in the middle in Tokyo at 57 kg.

Let’s start with Maroulis, who shocked the world in 2016 when she defeated three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida in the Olympic finals. It was not such a shocker if you consider Maroulis was herself a 2015 World champion coming in and was reaching her wrestling peak. She became the first American woman to win an Olympic wrestling gold, and the next year, she won her second World title in arguably one of the most impressive performances ever in 2017 in Paris. Since then, Maroulis has battled injuries and concussions, but was able to come back in 2020 and qualify the weight class for the USA at the Pan American Olympic Qualifier. She needed all three bouts to beat Jenna Burkert for the U.S. team berth but showed the kind of explosive skill in her third match pin that means she will once again be a force. Maroulis is unseeded and could bust up the bracket based upon her draw.

Kawai also had to beat a legend, but this time from her own country. To make the 2019 Japanese World team, Kawai stopped four-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho in their trials at 57 kg, then won the 2019 World gold medal to secure her spot on the Japanese Olympic team. It was her third World title, to go with 2017 World gold at 59 kg and 2018 World gold at 59 kg. Her last major international win was at the 2020 Asian Championships.

One of the most exciting athletes in the field is No. 2 seed Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria, a 2019 World bronze medalist and three-time World medalist. She burst onto the international scene at the 2015 World Championships, joyfully dancing after winning her first World medal in Las Vegas. Dominant in African continental competition, she also boasts gold medals at the 2014 and 2018 Commonwealth Games.

The No. 3 seed is Russia’s Iryna Kurachkina, the other 2019 World bronze medalist. Kurachkina won the 2019 European Games and also has a 2017 U23 World silver medal in her trophy case. She has wrestled three major international events in 2021, with a gold at the European Championships, a silver at the Poland Open and a bronze at the Ukrainian Memorial International.

2019 World silver medalist Ningning Rong of China has snagged the No. 4 seed. She lost 9-6 to Kawai in the 2019 World finals, a year after making a big name for herself with a 2018 World title at 57 kg. She was very active in 2019, which included a gold at the Asian Championships. We have not seen Rong at a major international event since the 2019 World Cup, so there is no way to handicap how sharp she will be heading into Tokyo.

The weight class features a 2016 Olympic silver medalist, Valerie Koblova, who gave four-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho a close battle in the 57 kg finals that many thought Koblova was going to win. She was also a 2012 Olympian for Russia. She has also won a 2014 World silver and 2013 World bronze. Koblova did not qualify Russia for the Olympics, as Veronika Chumikova won the 2021 European Olympic Qualifier, but Russia chose Koblova to compete in Tokyo.

The rest of the field is a bit unheralded. 2017 World bronze medalist Roksana Zasina of Poland actually qualified her nation for the Olympic Games by placing fifth at the 2019 World Championships down at 53 kg. She actually switched weight with her 57 kg teammate from Poland, Jowita Maria Wrzesien, who was fifth in 2019 at 57 kg. Wrzesien went down and Zasina went up in weight. One of the most experienced in the draw here, it will be interesting to see how she handles the new weight class.

The only continental Olympic Qualifier champion to have a World medal on her resume is European Olympic Qualifier champion Evelina Nikolova of Bulgaria, who won a bronze medal at the 2015 World Championships in Las Vegas. After taking third at the 2021 European Championships, Nikolova came back with a gold medal at the 2021 Yasar Dogu in Turkey.

The other continental Olympic Qualifiers to punch their ticket to Tokyo were Pan American Olympic Qualifier champion Alma Valencia Escoto of Mexico, Asian Olympic Qualifier champion Khongorzul Boldsaikhan of Mongolia and African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier champion Siwar Bouseta of Tunisia. None of these athletes have ever won a Senior World or Olympic medal in the past.

U.S. fans have seen Valencia compete a number of times since the pandemic, because she trains at Penn State and has wrestled in a bunch of competition cards. She was a 2015 Pan American Games silver medalist and has earned three Pan American Championships medals. Boldsaikhan has a thin resume, including a 2017 Cadet World bronze and a 2019 U23 Asian Championships title. Bouseta has won two Mediterranean Senior titles and three African continental medals.

Anastasia Nichita of Moldava, who punched her ticket to Tokyo with a fifth-place finish at the 2019 Worlds, has a great age-group World career, with a 2018 Junior World title and four total age-group World medals. She raised some eyebrows by winning the 2020 European Senior Championships. Asian Olympic Qualifier runner-up Anshu of India also has a strong age-group resume, with a 2017 Cadet World title and four age-group World medals of her own.

Among the others in the field include World Olympic Qualifier runner-up Mathilde Riviere of France, who was a 2017 European bronze medalist; European Olympic Qualifier runner-up Alina Hrushyna Akobiia of Ukraine, a two-time European Championships medalist and African/Oceania Qualifier runner-up Fatoumata Camara, a 2019 All-Africa Games bronze medalist.

57 kg/125.5 lbs.
NO. 1 SEED - 2019 World champion – Japan (Risako Kawai)
NO. 2 SEED - 2019 World bronze medalist – Nigeria (Odunayo Adekuoroye)
NO. 3 SEED - 2019 World bronze medalist – Belarus (Iryna Kurachkina)
NO. 4 SEED - 2019 World silver medalist – China (Ningning Rong)
2019 World fifth place – Poland (Roksana Zasina)**
2019 World fifth place – Moldova (Anastasia Nichita)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier champion – Mexico (Alma Valencia Escoto)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier runner-up – United States (Helen Maroulis)
2021 European Olympic Qualifier champion – Bulgaria (Evelina Nikolova)
2021 European Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Ukraine (Alina Hrushyna Akobiia)
2021 African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier champion – Tunisia (Siwar Bouseta)
2021 African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Guinea (Fatoumata Camara)
2021 Asian Olympic Qualifier champion – Mongolia (Khongorzul Boldsaikhan)
2021 Asian Olympic Qualifier runner-up – India (Anshu Anshu)
2021 World Olympic Games Qualifier champion –Russia (Valerie Koblova)**
2021 World Olympic Games Qualifier runner-up – France (Mathilde Riviere)


2019 World Championships
57 kg/125.5 lbs.
Gold - Risako Kawai (Japan) , Silver - Ningning Rong (China) , Bronze - Odunayo Adekuoroye (Nigeria) , Bronze - Iryna Kurachkina (Belarus), 5th - Jowita Maria Wrzesien (Poland) , 5th - Anastasia Nichita (Moldova) , 7th - Simonyan (Russia) , 8th - Giullia Rodriguez Penalber de Oliveira (Brazil), 9th - In Sun Jong (North Korea), 10th - Grace Bullen (Norway)

2018 World Championships
57 kg/128 lbs. -Gold - Ningning Rong (China); Silver - Bilyana Dudova (Bulgaria); Bronze - Emese Barka (Hungary); Bronze - Pooja Dhanda (India); 5th - Kateryna Zhydachevska (Romania); 5th - Grace Bullen (Norway); 7th - Jieun Um (Korea); 8th - In Sun Jong (North Korea); 9th - Odunayo Adekuoroye (Nigeria); 10th - Alyona Kolesnik (Azerbaijan)

2017 World Championships
58 kg/128 lbs. - Gold - Helen Maroulis (United States); Silver - Marwa Amri (Tunisia); Bronze – Michelle Fazzari (Canada) ; Bronze –Aisuluu Tynybekova (Kyrgyzstan); 5th - Ningning Rong (China); 5th - Elin Nilsson (Sweden); 7th - Yessica Oviedo Perez (Dominican Republic); 8th - Iryna Khariv (Ukraine); 9th - Aminat Adeniyi (Nigeria); 10th - Giedre Blekaityte (Lithuania)

2016 Olympic Games
58 kg/128 lbs. - Gold – Kaori Icho (Japan); Silver – Valeria Koblova (Russia); Bronze – Marwa Amri (Tunisia); Bronze – Sakshi Malik (India); 5th – Yuliya Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 5th – Aisuluu Tynybekova (Kyrgyzstan); 7th – Orkhon Purevdorj (Mongolia); 8th – Jackeline Renteria Castillo (Colombia); 9th – Elif Jale Yesilirmak (Turkey); 10th – Petra Olli (Finland)

2015 World Championships
58 kg/128 lbs. - Gold – Kaori Icho (Japan); Silver – Petra Olli (Finland); Bronze – Elif Yesilirmak (Turkey); Bronze – Yuliya Ratkevich (Azerbaijan); 5th – Jackeline Renteria Castillo (Colombia); 5th – Johanna Mattsson (Sweden); 7th – Aiym Abdildina (Kazakhstan); 8th – Marianna Sastin (Hungary); 9th – Michelle Fazzari (Canada); 10th – Roksana Zasina (Poland)

2014 World Championships
58 kg/128 lbs. - Gold – Kaori Icho (Japan); Silver – Valeria Kolblova (Russia); Bronze – Anastasiya Huchok (Belarus); Bronze – Elif Jale Ysilirmak (Turkey); 5th – Alli Ragan (USA); 5th – Lisset Antes (Ecuador); 7th – Mimi Hristova (Bulgaria); 8th – Munkhtuya Tungalag (Mongolia); 9th – Zhou Zhangting (China); 10th – Irina Netreba (Azerbaijan)

Current UWW Ranking Series standings (for seeding)
1 - Ningning Rong (China), 96
2 - Grace Jacob Bullen (Norway), 74
3 - Bilyana Zhivkova Dudova (Bulgaria), 62
4 - Odunayo Folasade Adekuoroye (Nigeria), 62
5 - Emese Barka (Hungary), 55
6 - Pooja Dhanda (India), 51
7 - Lissette Alexandra Antes Castillo (Ecuador), 42
8 - Olga Khoroshavtseva (Russia), 34
9 - Tetyana Kit (Ukraine), 32
10 - Alyona Kolesnik (Azerbaijan), 28