To Our Friends in Wrestling Around the world


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


  CRETEIL, France (October 2) - It was a day of mixed emotions for Japanese wrestlers and their faithful on the opening day of the greco-roman world championships. Three of Japan's four entries at Robert Oubron Sports Hall posted impressive wins, but left the arena in suburban Paris short of the championship bracket and a chance to earn a berth in next year's Olympic Games in Athens.

One of Japan's best hopes for a place in the Olympics, Shingo Matsumoto unwittingly foreshadowed Japan's emotions the previous day at the weigh-in and draw for the competition. Matsumoto drew two-time Olympic champion Hamza Yerlikaya of Turkey for his opening bout at 84 kg -- a wrestler he had yet to defeat in three previous meetings.

"When I drew Yerlikaya, half of me was thinking 'Alright!' while the other half was thinking 'Oh no!'" Matsumoto said later. For the Japanese team, the first day was a mixed day of "Alright" along with a solid dose of "Oh no!"

For Matsumoto, who spent two months touring Europe this summer to improve his greco-roman technique, it appeared that he was ready to take his next step in his development. Matsumoto successfully prevented Yerlikaya from scoring his first time in the par terre position and then blocked the two-time Olympic champion from scoring with his trademark reverse waistlock and lift.

But, just as he had stopped the lift, both wrestlers toppled to the mat and the officiating team awarded Yerlikaya two points for exposure. Matsumoto attempted to turn the match around, but could not get anything going over the remainder of the match as he went down to a 4-1 loss. "I came here with the idea that I wanted to prevent (Yerlikaya) from scoring with the reverse waistlock, but the most important thing is to win, so basically I'm rather disappointed," Matsumoto said.

The transport company employee came back in the evening session for a technical win over Vitaly Ogulev of Australia, only to remark after "I'm really not satisfied. I wanted to wrestle more than just two matches."

Meanwhile, Masatoshi Toyota opened with a win at 55 kg, but could not break through the tight defense of Korean rival Im Dae-Won. Im, the bronze medalist at the Asian championships in June, converted on a par terre chance with a chest-high gut wrench and then went on the defensive as Toyota tried unsuccessfully to reverse a 4-0.

"I've known Im since we were both junior wrestlers, so we know each other's wrestling pretty well. But, not to score any points is pretty pitiful," said Toyota, adding that he would be back in the practice room the next day.

At 66 kg, Masaki Imuro came out firing in his first match and promptly took the first point against Jannis Zamanouridis of Germany with a body tackle. The muscular German, however, turned the match around with a straddle-lift and throw for four points and the win. In the evening session, Imuro appeared headed for his sixth straight loss in three trips to the world championships when Ion Panait of Romania scored five points with gut wrenches in the first period.

Imuro, however, executed a perfect single-arm throw that led to a pin and his first win ever at the world championships. "It hurts that I wasn't able to win a berth in the Olympics, but it would have been more painful to return home again without a win," the Self-Defense Forces member said.

This year's world championships are also serving as the first phase of qualifying for next year's Olympic Games in Athens. The top 10 place-winners in each weight category earn tickets to Athens. Japan's fourth entry on the first day of competition, Katsuaki Suzuki at 120 kg, could not defend against his opponents' gut wrenches and went down to a pair of one-sided losses.

"If you don't move underneath, you can't defend against the foreign wrestlers," said Suzuki. "I thought I had done enough to be able to defend against my opponents, but I learned that I still have a long way to go,"