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) - A day after Seiko Yamamoto gave Japan the gold medal at 56 kg, Hitomi Sakamoto repeated her championship at 51 kg.  And even though Japan came out second best to China in the team standings, winning two individual championships preserved Japan's position as a leading country in women's wrestling.

    In contrast to the struggles that
Yamamoto had in nailing down her gold medal, Sakamoto virtually cruised to her championship. Sakamoto's head coach at Chukyo Women's University Kazuhito Sakae, believing firmly in the pending victory of his wrestler, told Japanese reporters before the 51-kg championship final "If she wins, I might put on a little show for you."

    In actuality,
Sakamoto breezed through the preliminaries and into the finals without any cause for concern over her wrestling. "I really happy with this year's championship over last year's victory," Sakamoto said after registering a technical win over Stephanie Murata of the United States in the 51-kg final. It marked the first time that Sakamoto was 100 percent physically in the past year.

    One year ago,
Sakamoto was wrestling on some strained ligaments in her left knee.  She thought about pulling out of the East Asian Games in Osaka in May (which she eventually won with three pins) and even considered retiring from wrestling. Overcoming these trials made the championship in Sofia all the more meaningful.

    With an eye on winning the Olympic gold medal in Athens in 2004,
Sakamoto is planning to have surgery done on her left knee in January and will take a year off from competition. "I'm a little concerned about not competing for so long, but I don't want to continue overdoing things and then have everything fall apart in Athens," Sakamoto said about her plans to "move forward by retreating."

    Japan will lose its powerful ace for a while, but looking ahead to a victory in Athens, Sakamoto may only be as strong as her two knees will allow her to be.