Saori Yoshida

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Japan Olympic legends to start Tokyo 2020 torch relay in Greece

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Japanese Olympic gold medalists Mizuki Noguchi (marathon), Tadahiro Nomura (judo) and Saori Yoshida (wrestling) will be among the torchbearers for the Tokyo 2020 torch relay’s first eight days in Greece in March.

Noguchi will be the first Japanese torchbearer and second overall, receiving the Olympic Flame from a Greek during the traditional lighting ceremony in Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games, on March 12.

The Olympic Flame will spend eight days in Greece before being flown to Japan to start a 121-day trek leading to the July 24 Opening Ceremony. The Japanese part of the relay begins in the tsunami-affected prefecture of Fukushima.

Noguchi won the 2004 Athens Olympic marathon that began in Marathon and ended at the Panathenaic Stadium used for the first modern Olympics in 1896.

Nomura is the only judoka with three Olympic gold medals, winning the lightest male division (60kg or 132 pounds) in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The wrestler Yoshida is also a three-time Olympic champion, plus a 13-time world champion between 53kg and 55kg. She retired after being dethroned by American Helen Maroulis in a bid for a fourth gold in Rio.

Others to be the first host-nation athletes to carry the Olympic Flame in Olympia included South Korean soccer player Park Ji-sung, Brazilian volleyball player Giovane Gavio and Russian hockey player Alex Ovechkin.

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Olympic wrestling legend shatters strange Guinness World Record

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Saori Yoshida, who owns a record 16 combined Olympic and world wrestling titles, recently added a much stranger accolade.

The Japanese sports legend shattered the Guinness World Record for most balloons burst by sitting in one minute.

Yoshida, a 35-year-old who last competed in Rio and is assumed to be retired, popped 123 balloons on a Japanese TV show, according to Guinness. As of Jan. 26, the record had been 95 balloons.

Video of Yoshida’s record is here.

Yoshida went into the Rio Olympics looking to become the first woman to win an individual gold medal at four Olympics. She was upset by American Helen Maroulis in the final, in tears wearing the silver medal on the podium.

Yoshida is among the most famous female athletes in Japan, which hosts the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Fellow wrestler Kaori Icho, less of a celebrity, did earn that unprecedented fourth individual gold earlier in the Rio Games.

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Japanese legends to miss world wrestling championships

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Japan’s Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida, who combined to win seven Olympic wrestling titles, will both miss the world championships in Paris in August, according to United World Wrestling.

Neither Icho nor Yoshida has competed since Rio, where the 32-year-old Icho became the first woman to win individual gold at four Olympics in any sport.

Yoshida, now 34, was bidding for the same but was beaten in the 53kg final by American Helen Maroulis in one of the seminal moments of the Games.

Neither Icho nor Yoshida registered for next week’s Japanese Championships, a selection event for worlds, according to Nikkan Sports.

Icho, a 10-time world champion, will miss a world championships outside of an Olympic year for the second time in her career. She skipped the 2009 Worlds while taking a break from wrestling but is otherwise undefeated in Olympic and world championships competition dating to her 2002 debut.

Yoshida also began her undefeated Olympic/worlds streak in 2002, a run that ended at the hands of Maroulis. The 13-time world champion will miss worlds for the first time since 2004.

Neither Icho nor Yoshida has committed to a run for Tokyo 2020, where each would be among the biggest stars of their home Games in any sport.

Yoshida said in the spring that she is now focused on coaching.

Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion, moved up from 53kg to 58kg (Icho’s weight class) this year and in April qualified for worlds.

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