To Our Friends in Wrestling Around the world


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


SOFIA (Bulgaria) - The world championship meet in Sofia was the first since the International Olympic Committee approved women's wrestling for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

    But, it was business as usual for
Seiko Yamamoto, who won her third world championship crown to kick off her bid to win a gold medal in 2004. Indications, however, are that the road to Athens is going to be rough and arduous -- even for one of the world's top female wrestlers. In the second round of her preliminary pool, Yamamoto was taken into overtime by Asian champion Sun Dongmei of China before pulling out a 4-2 victory.  With the rapidly rising level of competitors in women's wrestling, even a two-time champion like Yamamoto cannot relax for even one match in the competition.

    In the championship final,
Yamamoto was faced with Russia's Liubov Volosova, who forced the Japanese ace to overtime at the World Cup meet earlier in the month.  Volosova showed little respect for the defending champion, taking an early 1-0 lead before Yamamoto pulled the victory out in overtime. "I tried to muscle my opponent (in the final)," Yamamoto said later, trying to explain the difficulty of her bout against the physically stronger Volosova.

Yamamoto said she was "Happy" with the championship, it was a victory that brought home the reality -- not only to Yamamoto but also to the rest of the Japanese delegation -- that women's wrestling has improved greatly in a number of other countries.

Yamamoto's quest for the gold cannot focus on potential foreign rivals alone.  At home, the two-time world champion was saddled with a pair of losses earlier this year by wrestlers eager to replace her on the national team roster. Yamamoto was hip-tossed and pinned by high school student Kaori Icho at the Japan Queen's Cup meet in April and then lost by technical fall in an exhibition match at the National Sports Festival in October by Saori Yoshida of Chukyo Women's University.

Yamamoto, however, dismissed concerns over the losses by saying in a matter-of-fact way "When it matters, I absolutely will not lose."  The 21-year-old Nihon University student explained that the two losses were also blessings in disguise since they made her get serious after getting careless in her losses.

    After her victory in Sofia,
Yamamoto watched from the top of the medals podium as the Hinomaru flag was hoisted and the Palace of Sport was filled with the Japanese national anthem "Kimigayo."  The feelings and sensations of the moment filled Yamamoto, who admitted that they also made her aware of the Olympics some three years away.

    "I was thinking that I would like to have these same sensations in Athens,"
Yamamoto said after the awards ceremony. Tomiaki Fukuda, executive director of the Japan Wrestling Federation, reiterated his determination to see a Japanese wrestler win a championship at the next Olympics. "No matter how much the other countries get stronger, (Yamamoto) will win the gold medal in Athens.  That's the feeling I have," Fukuda remarked.

    For the Olympics, however, the categories for women's wrestling will be cut from six to four and this will likely be a disadvantage for the Japanese wrestlers who are lacking in power.  However, if the Japanese athletes and coaches each hold the sensations of this day in their hearts and practice diligently, then it may not be unrealistic to see the Hinomaru hoisted at the wrestling venue in Athens.