Japanese wrestler Kaori Icho is off to a strong start in a bid to be the first person to earn individual gold medals at five Olympics.
Icho, 34, won a national title after taking two years off after the Rio Games, beating fellow Olympic champion Risako Kawai in Sunday’s 57kg final. A day earlier, Kawai handed Icho her first loss to a countrywoman in 17 years, according to Kyodo News.
This weekend’s Emperor’s Cup was the first event of a two-pronged qualification for September’s world championships and is the first tournament with Olympic qualifying implications in Japan, according to United World Wrestling.
“I felt a kind of nervous tension like I hadn’t in a long time,” Icho said of her second tournament back, according to Kyodo. “I still have room to grow, to improve, and now I want to take stock of the issues that arose with my performance today and make use of those lessons.”
Icho earned 58kg gold in Rio, while Kawai, a decade younger, was the 63kg champion. Kawai earned 59kg and 60kg world titles the last two years.
The weight classes alter slightly for Tokyo 2020 with 57kg and 62kg divisions.
Icho once held a 13-year win streak and owns 10 world championships.
She is already the oldest female Olympic wrestling champion (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.
Icho is the lone woman to earn individual gold medals at four Olympics, joining a group of men including Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis and Al Oerter.
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