Risako Kawai

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Japanese wrestling legend fails to make world championships, Olympics in peril

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Kaori Icho‘s bid to become the first person to earn individual gold at five Olympics just got tougher.

Icho, already the lone woman to earn individual gold at four Olympics, lost a playoff against fellow Rio Olympic champion Risako Kawai for a world championships spot, according to Japanese media.

It’s the biggest setback of Icho’s comeback after taking more than two years off from competition following Rio.

“Frankly, this is frustrating,” Icho, 35, said Saturday, according to Kyodo News. “Making up for that hiatus was difficult and that has played a part.”

Icho, who won the 58kg class at the Rio Games, and Kawai, the 63kg champ in Brazil, split previous matches in December and June, marking Icho’s first defeat to a countrywoman in 17 years. Kawai moved down in weight for this Olympic cycle and into direct competition with Icho.

Kawai will clinch Japan’s lone available 2020 Olympic 57kg berth if she makes the podium at worlds in Kazakhstan in September. Icho will not try to qualify for Tokyo in another weight class should Kawai succeed, her coach said, according to the Asahi Shimbun.

“Now I wait,” Icho said, according to Kyodo. “[Five straight Olympic golds] is a rare feat, something highly out of the ordinary. My desire going forward to attract people to wrestling — either as a competitor or a coach — is unchanged.”

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.

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Japan Olympic legend avenges first home loss in 17 years in comeback

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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 PhelpsCarl Lewis and Al Oerter.

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