To Our Friends in Wrestling Around the world


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


  Profiles of Japan’s entries at the freestyle wrestling world championships at Madison Square Garden in New York, September 12-14:

Men’s freestyle

55 kg - TANABE, Chikara (Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department)
  Born: 1975 April 20, Hokkaido. Ht: 160 cm. Education: Iwamisawa high school (Hokkaido), Nippon Sport Science University. Was high school national champion two years in a row. Wrestled in his first senior national championships in 1996 and won the 54-kg title. Finished 10th at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Slowed by injures in 2001, lost the national championship crown but came back in 2002 to finish sixth in the world championships and take the silver medal at the Pusan Asian Games. Reclaimed the national title in December. World championships and Olympics: 1998 (11th), 1999 (12th), 2000 (10th), 2002 (6th)
60 kg - OTA, Ryosuke (Tokyo MPD)
  Born: 1978 April 12, Shizuoka Prefecture. Ht: 163 cm. Education: Tsuchiura Nichidai high school (Ibaraki), Nihon University. Won the junior high school national championship twice and in 1996 won the four major freestyle national titles for high school students. Entered Nihon University in 1998 and won the junior national championship crown. Ota finished fourth at 1996 junior world championships and 11th in 1998. Progress was slowed by injuries, however, and did not become a senior national team member until 2002 representing Japan at the world championships (23rd) and Asian Games (9th).
66 kg - IKEMATSU, Kazuhiko (NSSU instructor)
  Born: 1979 December 26, Fukuoka Prefecture. Ht: 171 cm. Education: Mii high school (Fukuoka Prefecture), Nippon Sport Science University. Largely unheralded in high school, came to NSSU with only a second-place finish in the high school division of the national sports festival. As a second-year student at NSSU in 1999, won the East Japan freshman-sophomore meet and finished second in the collegiate open. Won the collegiate open in 2000 and finished third in the senior nationals. Won the national team trials the following year (2001) and competed in the world championships (23rd). Second in the national championships in 2001, but earned a national team spot in 2002 to compete in the world championships (15th) and Asian Games (12th). Third in the 2002 senior nationals, but reclaimed his place on the national team at the national invitational meet in May. Took second at the 2003 Asia championships in New Delhi in early June.
74 kg - OBATA, Kunihiko (Security company employee)
  Born: 1980 October 17, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Ht: 177 cm. Education: Kasumigaura high school (Ibaraki), Yamanashi Gakuin University. Won all four high school freestyle titles in 1997 and repeated in 1998 while adding the high school greco-roman national championship crown. As a first-year student at Yamanashi Gakuin, won the bronze medal at the junior world championships in 1999 and capped the year with his first senior national crown. Repeating as national champion in 2000, took third at the 2001 East Asian Games and 3rd in the Asian championships. Finished 7th in the 2002 Asian Games. World championships: 2001 (29th), 2002 (24th).
84 kg - YOKOYAMA, Hidekazu (Akita Shogyo high school, teacher)
  Born: 1971 April 7, Akita. Ht: 178 cm. Education: Akita Keihodai high school, NSSU. Won two national titles in high school and became the first wrestler to win four collegiate titles in one year in 1993. Also won the senior nationals the same year and wrestled in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Switching over to greco-roman in 1997 and 1998, and won the national championships but came up short in his bid for a berth in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Returned to freestyle in 2002 and reclaimed the national title. World championships and Olympics: 1994 (11th), 1995 (11th), 1996 (11th), 1997 (GR, 14th), 1998 (GR, 22nd), 1999 (GR, 23rd).
96 kg - NAKAO, Yoshihiro (Company employee)
  Born: 1972 June 25, Tokyo. Ht. 180 cm. Education: Tokyo Kogyo high school, Toyo University. Unheralded in high school, went through his collegiate career always just short of a national championship. After joining the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, won the 1996 national sports festival crown at 82 kg, but could not do the same at the senior nationals. Finally in 2001 -- at 29 years, 5 months and 28 days, became the fourth oldest wrestler in Japanese history to win his first senior national championship crown. Represented Japan at the 2002 world championships (22nd) and Pusan Asian Games (7th). Repeated as national champion in December.
120 kg - SUWAMA, Kohei (Company employee)
  Born: 1976 November 23, Kanagawa Prefecture. Ht: 185 cm. Education: Fujimine Gakuen Fujisawa high school (Kanagawa), Chuo University. Did not win any national titles in high school. Finished third at the 1998 national collegiate championships and was fourth in the senior nationals. Began to challenge the leading heavyweights in Japan after graduating from Chuo. Won the 2002 nationals for non-student senior wrestlers and the national sports festival, but had to settle for second in the national championships last December.

Women’s freestyle

48 kg - SAKAMOTO, Makiko (Chukyo Women’s University high school)
  Born: 1985 November 20, Aomori Prefecture. Began wrestling with the Hachinohe Kids club and after a number of achievements including the junior high school national championship in 2000, followed her older sister, Hitomi, to the high school affiliate of Chukyo Women’s University near Nagoya. At the senior national championships in 2001, took fifth place at 46 kg. She won the cadet national title in 2002 at 49 kg and the high school national crown at 50 kg. Capped 2002 by winning the senior national championship and secured her position on the Japanese team for world championships with a triumph in the Japan Queens Cup meet in April.
51 kg - ICHO, Chiharu (Chukyo Women's University)
  Born: 1981 October 9, Aomori Prefecture. Education: Amino high school (Kyoto). Started wrestling at the schoolboy/schoolgirl level and won the high school national championship in 1998. The following year she won the senior nationals at 51 kg and the wrapped up the junior national crown at 50 kg in 2000. She won the junior world championship in 2000 and 2001. The older sister of world champion Kaori Icho, won the 2002 world university title at 51 kg and took the silver medal in the senior world meet in Halkida, Greece.
55 kg - YOSHIDA, Saori (Chukyu Women's University)
  Born: 1982 October 5, Mie Prefecture. Ht: 156 cm. Education: Hisai high school (Mie). Quickly built a reputation throughout Japan as an unrivaled schoolgirl wrestler. Won the world cadet crown at 56 kg in 1999, added the junior world title at 58 kg in 2000 and 2001. In 2002, cruised to the senior world title at 55 kg, being named FILA’s female wrestler of the year, and won the gold medal at the Pusan Asian Games. Has yet to lose a match to a non-Japanese wrestler.
59 kg - YAMAMOTO, Seiko (Japan Beverage employee)
  Born: 1980 August 22, Kanagawa Prefecture. Ht: 150 cm. Education: Tokiwamatsu Gakuen high school (Kanagawa), Nihon University. Won the Japan Women's Open at 51 kg in 1998 and followed the next year by winning the junior world championship at 54 kg and the senior world title at 51 kg. She repeated in both the junior world meet (54) and senior world tourney (56) in 2000. Won her third world championship in 2001 and received the Emperor's Cup at the national championships as the most valuable wrestler for the year in Japan -- male or female. Was bumped off the national team in 2002 by Saori Yoshida, but won titles at the world university tourney and World Cup meet. Father is Ikuei Yamamoto, former Japanese national team member who wrestled in the 1972 Olympics and older sister is Miyu Yamamoto (“Ikeda” in the FILA Database), also a three-time world champion for Japan.
63 kg - ICHO, Kaori (Chukyo Women's University)
  Born: 1984 June 13, Aomori Prefecture. Ht: 165 cm. Education: Chukyo Women's University high school (Aichi). Won the schoolgirls championship in 1996 and won the junior high school girls crown at 52 kg in 1998. In 2001, won the Japan Queen's Cup crown at 56 kg with a pin over reigning world champion Seiko Yamamoto and finished fourth in the national championships that year. Making her international debut at the Pusan Asian Games last October, won the silver medal at 63 kg and then stormed to the world championship crown in Greece.
67 kg - SAITO, Norie (Japan Beverage)
  Born: 1978 October 24, Ibaraki Prefecture. Education: Tsuchiura Nichidai high school (Ibaraki), Teikyo University. Practiced judo in high school, but also entered wrestling competitions, winning the national championship title at 70 kg in 1995. Devoted herself to judo as a student at Teikyo, but switched her attention to wrestling after graduation. Represented Japan in the 2001 world championships (12th) and again in 2002 (7th). Won the Asia championship at 67 kg in 2003 for her first international title.
72 kg - HAMAGUCHI, Kyoko (Japan Beverage)
  Born: 1978 January 11, Tokyo. The daughter of former pro wrestler, Heigo "Animal" Hamaguchi, began her sports career in bodybuilding and switched to wrestling. Won the Asian championship at 70 kg in 1996 and claimed her first world championship crown in 1997 at 75 kg. Added world titles in 1998 and 1999 and was named FILA's female wrestler of the year in 1998. Fell to third in the 2000 world championships and fourth a year later. Found herself again in 2002 to win the gold medal at 72 kg in the debut of women’s wrestling at the Asian Games and to claim her fourth world championship crown.