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Olympics preview at 76 kg in women’s freestyle: Five-time World champ Gray, Olympic champs Wiebe, Vorobeva among top stars

by Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling

Adeline Gray celebrates a big win at the 2019 World Championships. Photo by Mark Lundy, LutteLens

Draw: July 31
Dates of competition: Sunday, August 1 and Monday, August 2

U.S. representative: Adeline Gray, Denver, Colo. (New York AC/USOPTC)

The story of the women’s wrestling competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games will include five-time World champion Adeline Gray, one of the greatest women wrestlers in history, regardless of nation. Gray will be competing in her second Olympic Games, after placing seventh at the 2016 Rio Games. After taking a year off to heal and renew her spirit in 2017, Gray has been dominant, winning the 2018 and 2019 World Championships with memorable performances. She is one of wrestling’s best closers, and if she gets that world-class ankle lace, the match is pretty much over. Gray secured the No. 1 seed in Tokyo based upon ranking series performance. Whether Gray gets her long-awaited Olympic title in Tokyo, or she does not, she will be central to the story. She is that kind of great champion and leader.

What makes Gray’s dominance so impressive is that her weight class is loaded with talent and experience. Pretty much all of the top stars were able to qualify to compete, with numerous Olympic and World champions and medalists in the draw. Nobody gets an easy draw at this weight class.

Neither of the past Olympic champions are seeded. 2016 Olympic champion Erica Wiebe of Canada qualified for the Olympics by winning the 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier held on her home soil in Ottawa. Wiebe and Gray have had epic battles going back many years, but with such a deep field, they may not meet at all in Tokyo. Wiebe owns a 2018 World bronze medal, a 2014 Commonwealth Games title, and numerous medals in the major international events. She is a major wrestling hero in her nation.

2012 Olympic champion and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Natalia Vorobeva of Russia is another popular sports star in her homeland. Vorobeva owns a pair of World title (2015 and 2019) and has a pair of World silvers in 2013 and 2014. She has often competed at either 68 kg or the non-Olympic 72 kg weight class, but came back to this weight class the last few seasons. At 37, it would be easy to overlook Vorobeva, but with a victory at the 2021 European Olympic Qualifier as well as a silver medal at the 2021 European Championships, she remains an elite athlete capable of the championship run.

We can’t forget the World champions in the field, German’s Aline Rotter Focken and Turkey’s Yasemin Adar. Focken won her World gold medal in 2014 at 69 kg, which is where she competed at the 2016 Olympics but did not medal. She has a 2017 World silver medal, and World bronze medals from 2015 and 2019. She has been up at 76 kg since 2018 and has been one of the world’s best at this weight class. She secured the No. 2 seed, which keeps her on the opposite side of the draw from Gray.

Adar won the 2017 World gold medal, the year that Gray took off from the sport. She added a 2018 World silver medal. After not placing in the 2019 Worlds, and falling short at the 2021 European Olympic Qualifier, Adar took the last available spot in the Olympic field by placing second at the 2021 World Olympic Qualifier in Bulgaria. She was eighth in the 2016 Olympic Games.

Looking to make big news on her home mats is No. 3 seed Hiroe Minagawa Suzuki, a three-time World medalist who Gray defeated in the finals of the 2019 Worlds. She also has two World bronze medals in 2017 and 2018. Her consistency during this Olympic cycle could be a factor in her reaching the podium again.

The No. 4 seed is 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Elmira Syzdykova of Kazakhstan, who earned her Tokyo bid by placing fifth at the 2019 World Championships.

Four-time World medalist Vasilisa Marzaliuk of Belarus most recently won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, and added bronze medals at the 2011, 2012 and 2015 World Championships. Marzaliuk was fifth at the both the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games. In the Rio Olympics, she upset Gray in the quarterfinals. Her ticket to the Olympics came with a silver at the 2021 European Olympic Qualifier.

2015 and 2019 World bronze medalist Epp Mae of Estonia has been very competitive in recent years. Mae also reached World medal matches in 2014 and 2017, when she placed fifth in the World Championships. She earned a win over Wiebe at the 2019 World Championships.

2014 World silver medalist Aline da Silva Ferreira of Brazil can score big throws from her feet on tough opponents. She was ninth in the 2016 Olympic Games. Her road to Tokyo was based upon a silver medal at the 2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier. She has won six Pan American Championships titles, and also a Junior World silver medal.

Two-time World medalist Qian Zhou of China is also capable of a strong effort. Zhou was a 2015 World silver medalist and 2014 World bronze medalist. She was impressive in 2018, winning the Asian Games, the Asian Championships and the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.

Three-time World medalist Burmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia placed second in the 2021 Asian Olympic Qualifier. She is one of the most experienced athletes in the field, with a 2009 World silver medal and a pair of World bronze medals in 2013 and 2014. Ochirbat also competed in the 2004 and 2012 Olympic Games.

Winning their way into the Olympics were African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier champion Samar Hamza of Egypt and World Olympic Games Qualifier Alla Belinska of Ukraine. Hamza was also a 2016 Olympian. Belinska claimed a 2017 World Military title and also won a 2015 Junior World bronze medal.

Also in the field are Asian Olympic Qualifier runner-up Aiperi Medet Kyzy of Kyrgyzstan, who was a 2018 Asian Games bronze medalist, a s well as African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier runner-up Zaineb Sghaier of Tunisia.

76 kg/167.5 lbs. women’s freestyle
NO. 1 SEED - 2019 World champion – United States (Adeline Gray)
NO. 2 SEED - 2019 World bronze medalist – Germany (Aline Rotter Focken)
NO. 3 SEED - 2019 World silver medalist – Japan (Hiroe Minagawa Suzuki)
NO. 4 SEED - 2019 World fifth place – Kazakhstan (Elmira Syzdykova)
2019 World bronze medalist – Estonia (Epp Maee)
2019 World fifth place – China (Qian Zhou)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier champion – Canada (Erica Wiebe)
2020 Pan American Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Brazil (Aline da Silva Ferreira)
2021 European Olympic Qualifier champion – Russia (Natalia Vorobeva)
2021 European Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Belarus (Vasilisa Marzaliuk)
2021 African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier champion – Egypt (Samar Hamza)
2021 African/Oceania Olympic Qualifier runner-up –Tunisia (Zaineb Sghaier)
2021 Asian Olympic Qualifier champion – Kyrgyzstan (Aiperi Medet Kyzy)
2021 Asian Olympic Qualifier runner-up – Mongolia (Burmaa Ochirbat)
2021 World Olympic Games Qualifier champion –Ukraine (Alla Belinska)
2021 World Olympic Games Qualifier runner-up – Turkey (Yasemin Adar)

RECENT WORLD AND OLYMPIC RESULTS

2019 World Championships
76 kg/167.5 lbs. – Gold - Adeline Gray (USA); Silver - Hiroe Minagawa Suzuki (Japan) ; Bronze - Aline Rotter Focken (Germany); Bronze - Epp Maee (Estonia) ; 5th - Qian Zhou (China) ; 5th - Elmira Syzdykova (Kazakhstan); 7th - Hui Tsz Chang (Chinese Taipei); 8th - Alla Belinksa (Ukraine); 9th - Erica Wiebe (Canada) ; 10th - Kamile Gaucaite (Lithuania)

2018 World Championships
76 kg/167.5 lbs. - Gold - Adeline Gray (USA); Silver - Yasemin Adar (Turkey); Bronze - Hiroe Minagawa Suzuki (Japan); Bronze - Erica Wiebe (Canada); 5th - Zsanett Nemeth (Hungary); 5th - Epp Mae (Estonia); 7th - Elmira Syzdykova (Kazakhstan); 8th - Aline Focken (Germany); 9th - Naranchimeg Gelegjamts (Mongolia); 10th - Kiran (India)

2017 World Championships
75 kg/165 lbs. - Gold - Yasemin Adar (Turkey); Silver - Vasilisa Marzaliuk (Belarus); Bronze –Hiroe Suzuki (Japan); Bronze –Justina Di Stasio (Canada); 5th - Epp Mae (Estonia); 5th - Paliha (China); 7th - Andrea Olaya Gutierrez (Colombia); 8th - Pooja (India); 9th - Urtnasan Gan Ochir (Mongolia); 10th - Aiperi Medet Kyzy (Kyrgyzstan)

2016 Olympic Games
75 kg/165 lbs. - Gold – Erica Wiebe (Canada); Silver – Guzel Manyurova (Kazakhstan); Bronze – Fengliu Zhang (China); Bronze – Ekaterina Bukina (Russia); 5th – Vasilisa Marzaliuk (Belarus); 5th – Annabel Laure Ali (Cameroon); 7th – Adeline Gray (United States); 8th – Yasmine Adar (Turkey); 9th- Aline Da Silva Ferrera (Brazil); 10th – Zsanett Nemeth (Hungary)

2015 World Championships
75 kg/165 lbs. - Gold – Adeline Gray (United States); Silver – Qian Zhou (China); Bronze – Epp Mae (Estonia); Bronze – Vasilisa Marzaliuk (Belarus); 5th – Andrea Olaya Gutierrez (Colombia); 5th – Aline Da Silva Ferreira (Brazil); 7th – Ekaterina Bukina (Russia); 8th – Daria Osocka (Poland); 9th – Guzel Manyurova (Kazakhstan); 10th – Yasemin Adar (Turkey)

2014 World Championships
75 kg/165 lbs. - Gold – Adeline Gray (USA); Silva – Aline Da Silva (Brazil); Bronze – Burmaa Ochirbat (Mongolia); Bronze – Zhou Qian (China); 5th – Andrea Olaya (Colombia); 5th – Epp Mae (Estonia); 7th – Hiroe Suzuki (Japan); 8th – Stanka Zlateva (Bulgaria); 9th – Yasemin Adar (Turkey); 10th – Erica Wiebe (Canada)

2013 World Championships
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold – Fengliu Zhang (China); Silver – Natalia Vorobeva (Russia); Bronze – Adeline Gray (USA); Bronze – Burmaa Ochirbat (Mongolia); 5th – Yasemin Adar (Turkey); 5th – Svetlana Saenko (Moldova); 7th – Erica Wiebe (Canada); 8th – Cynthia Vescan (France); 9th – Hiroe Suzuki (Japan); 10th – Epp Mae (Estonia)

2012 Olympic Games
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold – Natalia Vorobieva (Russia); Silver – Stanka Zlateva (Bulgaria); Bronze – Gouzel Manyurova (Kazakhstan); Bronze – Madier Unda Gonzales (Spain); 5th – Jiao Wang (China); 5th – Vasilisa Marzaliuk (Belarus); 7th – Laure Ali Annabel (Cameroon); 8th – Burmaa Ochirbat (Mongolia); 9th – Jenny Fransson (Sweden); 10th – Svetlana Saenco (Moldova)

2012 World Championships
72 kg/158.5 lbs. - Gold – Jenny Fransson (Sweden); Silver – Guzel Manyurova (Kazakhstan); Bronze – Vasilisa Marzaliuk (Belarus); Bronze – Qing Xu (China); 5th - Nataliya Palamarchuk (Azerbaijan); 5th - Yasemin Adar (Turkey); 7th - Ekatina Bukina (Russia); 8th - Maria Selmaier (Germany); 9th - Oksana Vashchuk (Ukraine); 10th - Aline Da Silva (Brazil)
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