To Our Friends in Wrestling Around the world


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


  TOKYO (December 21-22) - World bronze medalist Kazuhiko Ikematsu won his first championship crown at the national wrestling championships and nailed down a berth on the Japanese Olympic team for Athens next summer.Ikematsu turned back determined collegiate challenger Takayuki Suzuki 3-1 in the 66-kg freestyle finals at Yoyogi National Gymnasium for his first all-Japan title even though he has won the national team trials the last
three years.

  Ikematsu, who won the bronze medal at the world championships in September, was also awarded the Emperor’s Cup as Japan’s top wrestler for 2003. The Japan Wrestling Federation indicated before the national championships that Ikematsu, who turns 24 on December 26, would be their likely choice for the Olympic team.

  The victory by the Nippon Sports Science University instructor, Japan’s first world medalist since 1995, justified the early JWF selection. Chikara Tanabe (55 kg) and Kunihiko Obata (74) also won their respective weights in freestyle to secure spots on next year’s Japanese Olympic team.

  In greco-roman, however, Katsuhiko Nagata, a silver medalist at the Sydney Games in 2000, was upset in the finals at 74 kg by former national team member Taichi Suga. Nagata, who finished 10th at the world championships in October, will now look ahead to the national invitational tourney and team trials in April for another chance to book his ticket to Athens.

  Meanwhile, in women’s wrestling, Saori Yoshida prevailed in a battle of world champions at 55 kg to grab the inside track from Seiko Yamamoto in their duel for an Olympic team berth. Yoshida was named the outstanding wrestler of the women’s tourney, while Tanabe was selected the outstanding freestyle wrestler. Shingo Matsumoto (84) was the tournament’s outstanding greco-roman wrestler.

  Also, Kyoko Hamaguchi (72) won her eighth consecutive national championship title to surpass the previous record of seven straight in women’s wrestling held by Yayoi Urano and Ryoko Sakamoto. The overall record for consecutive national titles in Japanese wrestling is 14, held by greco-roman ironman Yasutoshi Moriyama.

  Mariko Shimizu also equaled the record for appearances in the championships with an unprecedented 17th consecutive trip to the nationals. Shimizu tied Toshio Asakura’s overall record for appearances in the championships and moved ahead of Asakura’s mark of 16 straight trips to the all-Japan meet.