Kaori Icho, Japan Olympic legend, to end two-year break from wrestling

Kaori Icho
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Kaori Icho, the only woman to earn individual gold at four Olympics, will enter a wrestling meet for the first time since the Rio Games in October, according to Japanese media.

The 34-year-old superstar is expected to compete at the All Japan Women’s Open Championships in October, according to reports from major Japanese media.

Icho had repeated since Rio that she was undecided about returning for a possible fifth Olympics at home in Tokyo in 2020.

If Icho is planning a Tokyo 2020 run, she will hope to add to one of the greatest careers in sports history. She once held a 13-year winning streak and owns 10 world championships.

Icho could become the first man or woman to earn individual gold at five Olympics.

While visiting New York in May, Icho did a high school clinic in Brooklyn and trained with U.S. Olympic champion Helen Maroulis. In Rio, Maroulis became the first American woman to win an Olympic wrestling title.

“I think she’s coming back,” Maroulis said then, with confidence. Here’s why: “[Icho] busted out the video camera,” Maroulis went on. “Like, hey, can I record practice?

“She feels good. She’s still got it. She’s smaller than she was, obviously, right at the Olympics. She’s amazing. There’s so much to learn from her.”

Icho is already the oldest woman to win Olympic wrestling gold (women’s wrestling was added to the Olympic program in 2004, Icho’s first Games). By 2020, she will be older than any men’s wrestling champion since Bulgarian Valentin Yordanov in 1996.

Maroulis, who last year moved up to the 58kg division that Icho won in Rio, wants to face Icho at Tokyo 2020 in what she called “a dream” matchup. (The weight classes have since been modified slightly, with 57kg followed by 62kg).

The American’s dominance the last three years rivals Icho’s heyday — world titles in 2015 and 2017 without surrendering a point, winning the latter title with a torn thumb ligament, and dethroning Japanese legend Saori Yoshida in Rio in between, all three golds at different weights while compiling a 78-1 record before a January concussion.

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