To Our Friends in Wrestling Around the world

By William May

(Japan Amateur Wrestling Federation, Public Information Committee
Kyodo World Services, senior sports


TOKYO - The Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland on September 19, approved the addition of women's wrestling to the program of the 2004 Athens Olympics. The board approved the addition of four weight categories in women's wrestling on the condition that two categories be cut from men's wrestling -- making a total of 18 gold medals available in wrestling.  Women's wrestling is currently contested in six weight categories.  The final number of weight categories and number of participants in wrestling in the Olympics will be determined in talks between the IOC and FILA, the International Federation of Associated Wrestling Styles.

    Learning of the IOC's decision on women's wrestling,
Tomiaki Fukuda, executive director for the Japan Wrestling Federation and chairman of the board of directors for the Japan Women's Wrestling Federation, held a press conference on September 20.

Mr. Fukuda said that, with the approval of women's wrestling for the Olympics, the wrestling federation would first ask the Japanese Olympic Committee (JOC) to increase its funding to strengthen wrestling in Japan. Wrestling is currently ranked a "B-level" sport for the funds dispersed by the JOC to improve the international competitiveness of Japanese sports Wrestling receives 15 million yen annually in support from the JOC. "A-level" sports receive 20-30 million yen a year, while those designated "Special A-level" receive 60-80 million yen.

    If the JOC recognizes that Japan has won seven gold medals in the women's world championships the last three years, it may well award a "Special A-level" ranking to wrestling as a sport with the best prospects of winning an Olympic gold medal. 
Mr. Fukuda added that the results at this year's world championships would be important reference for the JOC and the women's team would be aiming to bring home some more gold medals.

    At the same time,
Mr. Fukuda noted that a number of other countries are expected to strengthen their own women's wrestling programs in light of the Olympic developments.  He expressed concern over whether Japan will be able to maintain its position in women's wrestling three years from now and stressed the need for continued improvement.

    Meanwhile, members of the women's national team were also excited about the prospects of competing in the Olympics and offered their comments.

Kyoko Hamaguchi, three-time world champion at 75 kg: "Great!  I was depressed the world championships in New York has been called off.  I haven't felt like doing anything and wanted to take a break away from practice.  Is it really true?  If I work hard, I think something good will happen.  I will do my best to win the the gold medal in Athens.  I will do my best to win the gold medal no matter how many weight categories they cut, no matter which strong wrestlers show up and not matter what the other countries do to strengthen their programs."

Seiko Yamamoto, two-time world champion at 56 kg: "I still can't believe it.  I still thought that it was not possible and had halfway given up hope (of wrestling in the Olympics).  At any rate, I'm happy.  Three years is a long time, but I hope to continue to be No. 1 in the world.  I'm a little worried about how they will change the weight classes, but I will do my best with all of my heart."

Hitomi Sakamoto, world champion at 51 kg: "I was very disappointed the world championships were called off.  I'm worried about the change in weights.  But there's three years until the Olympics and I can only try my best and aim for the gold medal."

TOKYO - The 2001 wrestling world championships at Madison Square Garden in New York City, expected to be the largest championships ever with nearly 700 athletes from 82 countries, were called off in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on September 11.

    The Japanese men's national team was in the middle of its final training camp at the Self Defense Forces facilities in Saitama Prefecture and held its practice sessions according to schedule. With FILA left to decide whether to cancel or postpone the championships or to move them to another location, we spoke to national team head coach
Hideaki Tomiyama on September 15 and asked him his impressions of the situation.

Q: What are your thoughts with the cancellation or postponement of the world championships?

Tomiyama: "The situation in New York was shown on television here and just from seeing that, I thought holding the world championships would be difficult.  At a time when thousands of people are feared dead and when saving lives is of the utmost importance, holding the championships at a venue nearby would be absurd in humanitarian terms.  I fully expected that the championships would be canceled.  I think the athletes felt the same way.  It's truly regrettable since I think everyone wanted to see the championships held at such a prestigious venue.  It's really too bad."

Q: How did you feel when you heard news of the cancellation?

T: I thought 'Well, that's the way things are.'  At this morning's practice (September 15), Nagata (Olympic silver medalist Katsuhiko Nagata, GR 69 kg) did not even get on the mat.  Everyone is in shock."

Q: I know this situation is different, but you also have the experience of having your goals taken away with the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980.

T: Everyone has goals and that's why we run and endure the pain.  That was the purpose of our final training camp here.  It's painful to lose our goals.  FILA said they plan to make a decision in the next two weeks regarding the championships (now expected October 10) -- whether to give it to another country or hold it in New York at a later date.  But, if there is a retaliation to the terrorism, it may be difficult for any country to host the championships.  Still, without a doubt, the Olympics will be held three years from now, so it's important to maintain a long-term perspective about this matter.  I hope we can learn something from this."

Q: What kind of advice are you giving the athletes?

T: "I tell them to relax and avoid injury.  We had planned our training camp to end on the 17th, but we will finish up tomorrow (September 16).  To continue under these conditions would be unreasonable.  We'll wait to hear from FILA and will then reschedule our training camps accordingly."

Q: With such a young team, if the championships are postponed, there are certainly some team members who will get stronger over the additional time.

T: "Yes, I think so.  If we try to think of this in positive terms, this terrorist attack might have also occurred during the championships.  We may have to think that we were fortunate in this unfortunate incident not to have encountered terrorism.

Q: If the championships are held at a later date, you would still like to see them at Madison Square Garden, wouldn't you?

T: We were all thrilled.  Wrestling at Madison Square Garden would be like wrestling at the Tokyo Dome in Japan.  We also thought that the Japanese women were going to win a number of gold medals, so this makes the cancellation all the more excrutiating.

Q: Looking at your preparations up to this point, to what degree have you accomplished what you had wanted to do?

T: We've got a young team following the turnover after the Sydney Olympics and I think they have been coming along nicely.  Obata (Kunihiko, FS 76) has been unbelievable in his development.  He did well in the East Asian Games and won the Budaev International.  He's also scored on Saitiev (four-time world champion Buvaisa), so he understands where he stands against the rest of the world, but he I think he'll still get stronger. Nagata has gotten stronger steadily and has gained a lot of confidence.

Q: While you can't say 100 percent, would you say that you achieved about 95 percent?

T: We wanted to test ourselves (at the championships).  But, this shouldn't be just about Japan.  I think (these developments) have been hardest on the United States, which has worked so feverishly to get ready for the championships.


TOKYO - Members of the Japanese women's delegation also offered comments in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Saburo Sugiyama, Japanese national team head coach: "There's little that can be said or done about something that no one could have predicted. America is a strong country that absolutely will not yield to terrorism. The championships will be held without fail in the near future, so I hope the athletes will practice all the more, remain keyed up, hold onto their motivation and do their best."

Gohei "Animal" Hamaguchi, Japanese national team special coach: "For all of the victims of the terrorist attack on the United States, we put our hands together and offer our prayers and condolences.  I dare say that all of the athletes entered in the world championships must be terribly disappointed.  But, when you can't go forward and can't retreat, life is for living and you have to live through these things.  You can't give in.  At this time, in particular, you must fight on.  To the victims of this terrible incident I want to make my sincerest apologies, but we need to overcome this trial put to us from above and do our very best at the world championships."

Kyoko Hamaguchi, captain of the Japanese women's national team: "For the victims, I pray that they will be able to rest in peace and find happiness in the next world.  We have all gone to great lengths to prepare for the championships, but this incident has occurred, so we are all depressed.  We were all excited about competing in the United States, but it looks like it's not going to happen.  My family and supporters have encouraged me and this has given me a new attitude.  All I can do now is put all of my heart into practice and wait for the next report from the wrestling association. Since I have more and more time to practice, I believe that I have a chance to become stronger and stronger."


TOKYO - Two-time Olympic team member and an assistant professor at Morioka University Junior College Seiichi Osanai was found dead on September 26 at a retreat house in the village of Takizawa, Iwate Prefecture.  He was 47. A charcoal stove had apparently been used in the room where Osanai's body was found.  Prefectural police believe that he may have died about September 24 and an investigating whether the death might have been carbon monoxide poisoning.

Osanai developed into the national champion at 62 kg in greco-roman as a student at Nippon College of Physical Education (today known as Nippon Sports Science University) and was a member of the Japanese Olympic team that boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He came back for an eighth place in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and won the gold medal at the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul.  He joined the faculty of Morioka University in 1990 and began coaching wrestling at the school in northeastern Japan.