Yui SUSAKI (JPN) and history will always have Paris.
But before that, the Japanese wonder decided she would get herself all the world titles wrestling could offer.
She entered the U23 World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain, a month after winning her third senior world title. And wrestling for just four minutes and 47 seconds in four bouts, Susaki completed wrestling ‘Grand Slam’ – winning all world titles and the Olympics, the first wrestler to achieve the feat.
“I wanted to take the U23 title and become the first to achieve the ‘grand slam’,” Susaki said. “I’m so happy I was able to achieve it.”
Having won the U17 world titles from 2014 to 2016, Susaki won her first senior and U20 titles in 2017 and the Olympics in 2021. Well aware that this year is the last chance for her to compete at the U23 level, Olympic champion Susaki entered the competition with no concerns and came out with another record to her name.
“I always knew about [the Grand Slam]. There were two of my predecessors who won four [age-group] titles,” Susaki said referring to Haruna OKUNO (JPN) and Masako FURUICHI (JPN) “but no one in the wrestling world had added the fifth title of the Olympics [which Susaki won in 2021]. I wanted to make history, so I was definitely going to enter this year. I knew this would be the first and last time [at U23].”
In the 50kg final, Susaki wrestled Ankush PANGHAL (IND) and went for the double-leg. Panghal put up a fight for a brief time and even tried getting exposure to score points on Susaki, something which has not happened for three years.
Susaki improvised quickly and locked Panghal’s leg in Figure 4 and secured the fall in a minute and 52 seconds to create history.
“I wanted to create history, a new thing in history, and it’s a feat that I could accomplish,” she said. “I wanted to leave my name in wrestling history.”
Wrestling will remember her as one of the most dominant wrestlers of all time if not the most. For some, she is strong while for others she is technically sound. A lot of fellow wrestlers credit Susaki for her mat awareness.
Like the leg lace she launches or the armbar she uses to pin her opponent. She will combine that with the front chest wrap to get the big points. Susaki doesn’t wait for her opponent’s mistake. She punishes them at the first opportunity she gets.
“Regardless of where the opponent is from, I mainly want to do my wrestling and before the match, I keep in mind to give everything I have,” she said after winning the gold Thursday.
That’s only on the mat. Off it, she never lets the smile off her face, greeting her teammates, fans and even fellow wrestlers with the same energy. Nothing bothers her or so she makes it seem.
But there is a photo of her from the World Championships in Belgrade as she is walking out for the gold medal bout, Susaki is happily waving at her teammates in the stands while her opponent waited on the mat with a stern look.
Susaki finished the bout in a minute and 24 seconds with a pin.
But it was not always like that. She used to be a little more human early in her career, feeling the nerves before a big bout of showing emotions after a tense win. She even made mistakes on the mat. Till 2018, Susaki was guilty of going into the defensive late in the second period or getting countered on her double-leg attacks.
It all changed after that famous 2-2 win at the 2018 Klippan Lady Open over four-time Olympic medalist Mariya STADNIK (AZE). Susaki has never celebrated as she did after winning that unimportant, yet the most iconic, bout of her career.
Susaki, then 17 years old, entered that tournament as the world champion. But the epitome of 50kg wrestling was Stadnik who did not take part in the 2017 World Championships. Susaki needed to beat her to be undisputed.
Stadnik led 2-1 with 50 seconds left. Susaki launched an attack using a front headlock with just 13 seconds left on the clock. Stadnik defended a takedown but Susaki pushed her out to lead 2-2 on criteria. She won and breached a new territory. She was the new star.
That loss broke Stadnik. She never scored a single point on Susaki in their future meetings.
Apart from Stadnik, SUN Yanan (CHN) is another wrestler who troubled Susaki. In their first meeting at the 2017 Asian Championships, Sun stunned her with a front headlock, and then at the 2017 World Cup, she almost won before Susaki held on for a 4-2 victory.
The 2019 bout at the World Cup was even closer. Susaki won 3-2 but it was the last time she allowed any of her opponents to trouble her. She humbled Sun 11-0 inside two minutes in the Olympic final in Tokyo to claim the gold, a medal which landed in Susaki’s lap after drama and help from rivals, namely Sun and Stadnik.
After beating 2016 Rio Olympic champion Eri TOSAKA (JPN), Susaki was the favorite to be at the Tokyo Olympics. But Yuki IRIE (JPN) had other ideas.
Since high school, Susaki has only lost thrice – all three losses to Irie. One of those losses came in the playoff for the 2019 World Championships which was the first qualification step for the Tokyo Olympics. Susaki’s hopes were dashed as all Irie needed was to win a medal at 50kg in Nursultan, Kazakhstan. Given the domination of Japan at 50kg, it was a no-brainer that Irie will win one.
But as fate would have it, Irie suffered a 13-12 loss to Sun in the quarterfinals before Stadnik defeated Sun in the semifinals, thus eliminating Irie. That was Susaki’s lifeline. She qualified for the Olympics at the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Almaty, Kazakhstan and the rest is history.
She made her debut at the U17 World Championships in 2014, and since then Susaki has a 72-0 international record with only 10 of those bouts going the full six minutes. Overall, out of the total 406 minutes [72 bouts], Susaki has spent approximately 190 minutes on the mat, less than half of the full time.
Her first six-minute bout came at the prestigious Ivan Yarigiun Grand Prix in 2017 which was her senior international debut. Former European champion Valeria CHEPSARAKOVA (RWF) managed to keep her at bay but failed to stop her from winning 6-0.
The then 16-year-old Susaki had already won three U17 world gold medals and was yet to concede a point in 17 bouts. She would extend that record to 21 bouts before Anna LUKASIAK (POL) scored four points on her at the Klippan Lady Open in 2017.
But in her 72 bouts, Susaki has scored 663 points [including 10 falls] and given up only 27 points. The last time it happened was at the World Cup in Narita, Japan when Sun had a takedown that ended a 125-0 run for Susaki.
As of Friday, Susaki is on a 158-0 run with a chance to extend it further next year.
While for most wrestlers the season is all but over, for most Japanese wrestlers, December brings the Emperor’s Cup. This year’s tournament will serve as the first qualification for the 2023 World Championships which offers quotas for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
And the story of Susaki and her struggles to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics are well documented, she does not want to repeat the same for Paris.
“To me, the Paris Olympics is a special tournament,” she said. “I want to see what the scenery looks like when you win a second Olympic gold. I want to know what is the spectacular view. I am looking forward to that. And when I became a senior world champion for the first time, it was in Paris. I feel I have a destiny with the Paris Olympics.”
Colombia wins first U23 gold
More history was created in Pontevedra as Tatiana RENTERIA (COL) became Colombia’s first-ever U23 world champion after she defeated Dymond GUILFORD (USA), 2-1, in the 76kg final.
Renteria, a returning silver medalist, had lost the final last year to Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) but took home the gold this year with a win that got the local crowd excited.
In the first period, she was called passive and Guilford led 1-0 at the break. Guilford got going in the second period and brought down Tenteria for a takedown. However, the Colombian managed to keep her knees from touching the match to avoid giving up any points.
And when Guilford was pressuring more, Renteria jumped over and forced Guilford on her back, giving her two points and a 2-1 lead which she maintained till the end.
“Last year I won silver so I had to step up here and take home the gold,” Renteria said. “It was a tough final.”
At 68kg, Nesrin BAS (TUR) defeated Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-0, in the final to claim Turkey’s third U23 world title in women’s wrestling.
While Matsuyuki began on a good note, it was Bas who controlled the bout for most of the time and ultimately broke Matsuyuki with her high pace.
Apart from Susaki, Japan captured two more gold medals as U20 world champion Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) defeated Mihaela SAMOIL (MDA), 13-0, in the 55kg final while Himeka TOKUHARA (JPN), wrestling at her first World Championships, held off Magdalena GLODEK (POL), 3-2, to win the gold at 59kg.
Japan has already sealed the team title but will have senior world champions Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) and Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) wrestling for gold at 62kg and 68kg respectively.
Former senior and U23 world champion Haruna OKUNO (JPN) will be going for her third U23 world title Friday as she made it to the 53kg final against defending champion Lucia YEPEZ (ECU).
At 57kg, Sae NANJO (JPN) will look to add to her previous U23 world title as she takes on Patrycja GIL (POL) in the gold medal bout.
The only final Friday which does not feature a Japanese is at 72kg as senior world champion Amit ELOR (USA) reached the gold medal bout against U23 European champion Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL).
Elor will join the select club of wrestlers with world titles at U17, U20, U23 and senior levels if she wins Friday.
Ozaki will also join the club by winning the 62kg gold while Okuno was the first wrestler to win world titles at four different levels.
Freestyle wrestling will begin in five weight classes – 57kg, 65kg, 70kg, 79kg and 97kg.
GOLD: Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. ANKUSH (IND), via fall
BRONZE: Nada MOHAMED (EGY) df. Lisa ERSEL (GER), 4-2
BRONZE: Sarra HAMDI (TUN) df. Emanuela LIUZZI (ITA), 8-5
GOLD: Moe KIYOOKA (JPN) df. Mihaela SAMOIL (MDA), 13-0
BRONZE: Alisha HOWK (USA) df. Ahinsa FERNANDO (SRI), 13-5
BRONZE: Elvira KAMALOGLU (TUR) df. Virginie KAZE (CAN), 8-4
GOLD: Himeka TOKUHARA (JPN) df. Magdalena GLODEK (POL), 3-2
BRONZE: Solomiia VYNNYK (UKR) df. Lexie BASHAM (USA), 10-0
BRONZE: Mansi AHLAWAT (IND) df. Ramina MAMEDOVA (LAT), via injury default
GOLD: Nesrin BAS (TUR) df. Naruha MATSUYUKI (JPN), 8-0
BRONZE: Irina RINGACI (MDA) df. Sienna RAMIREZ (USA), via fall
BRONZE: Manola SKOBELSKA (UKR) df Noemi SZABADOS (HUN), 6-2
GOLD: Tatiana RENTERIA (COL) df. Dymond GUILFORD (USA), 2-1
BRONZE: Anastasiya ALPYEYEVA (UKR) df. Mehtap GULTEKIN (TUR), via fall
BRONZE: Yasuha MATSUYUKI (JPN) df. Inkara ZHANATAYEVA (KAZ), 7-0
GOLD: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) vs. Lucia YEPEZ (ECU)
SF 1: Haruna OKUNO (JPN) df. Felicity TAYLOR (USA), 9-1
SF 2: Lucia YEPEZ (ECU) df. Zeynep YETGIL (TUR), 10-0
GOLD: Sae NANJO (JPN) vs. Patrycja GIL (POL)
SF 1: Sae NANJO (JPN) df. Siwar BOUSETA (TUN), via fall
SF 2: Patrycja GIL (POL) df. Laura ALMAGANBETOVA (KAZ), via fall
GOLD: Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) vs. Iryna BONDAR (UKR)
SF 1: Nonoka OZAKI (JPN) df. Ana GODINEZ (CAN), 10-0
SF 2: Iryna BONDAR (UKR) df. Astrid MONTERO (VEN), 10-0
GOLD: Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) vs. Nigar MIRZAZADA (AZE)
SF 1: Miwa MORIKAWA (JPN) df. Kateryna ZELENYKH (UKR), 6-2
SF 2: Nigar MIRZAZADA (AZE) df. Elena ESPOSITO (ITA), 3-2
GOLD: Amit ELOR (USA) vs. Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL)
SF 1: Amit ELOR (USA) df. Maria NITU (ROU), via fall
SF 2: Wiktoria CHOLUJ (POL) df. Sumire NIIKURA (JPN), 3-1