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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 62kg 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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MORE: Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder lead U.S. team for world champs

Jordan Burroughs, Kyle Snyder lead U.S. wrestling team for world champs

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Olympic champions Jordan Burroughs and Kyle Snyder headline the U.S. team for the world wrestling championships in Kazakhstan in September. The team was mostly decided at qualifying events the last two weekends.

Burroughs, a 2012 Olympic gold medalist and four-time world champion, suffered a rare loss to a countryman in his best-of-three series against Isaiah Martinez but finished him off 7-1 in the rubber match in Lincoln, Neb., on Saturday. Burroughs made a ninth straight Olympic or world team.

Snyder, a 2016 Olympic champion and two-time world champion, swept Kyven Gadson in his series.

The U.S.’ other active Olympic champion, Helen Maroulis, sat out spring competition as she works her way back from shoulder surgery. She will not be at worlds, making four-time world champion Adeline Gray the headliner of the women’s freestyle team.

Three 2018 World champions in men’s freestyle found themselves in different positions. David Taylor will not defend his 86kg title due to knee surgery. Kyle Dake, the 79kg champ, has delayed his match with Alex Dieringer for the last spot on the world team due to injury. J’den Cox, the 92kg gold medalist (and an Olympic bronze medalist), swept Bo Nickal to make the world team.

The full roster:

Men’s Freestyle
57kg: Daton Fix
61kg: Tyler Graff
65kg: Zain Retherford
70kg: James Green
74kg: Jordan Burroughs
79kg: Kyle Dake or Alex Dieringer
86kg: Pat Downey
92kg: J’den Cox
97kg: Kyle Snyder
125kg: Nick Gwiazdowski

Men’s Greco-Roman
55kg: Max Nowry
60kg: Ildar Hafizov
63kg: Ryan Mango
67kg: Ellis Coleman
72kg: Raymond Bunker
77kg: Pat Smith
82kg: John Stefanowicz
87kg: Joe Rau
97kg: G’Angelo Hancock
130kg: Adam Coon

Women’s Freestyle
50kg: Whitney Conder
53kg: Sarah Hildebrandt
55kg: Jacarra Winchester
57kg: Jenna Burkert
59kg: Alli Ragan
62kg: Kayla Miracle
65kg: Forrest Molinari
68kg: Tamyra Mensah-Stock
72kg: Victoria Francis
76kg: Adeline Gray

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MORE: Helen Maroulis on why she missed world team trials

David Taylor will not defend wrestling world title

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David Taylor waited five years to get his chance at the world championships. The wait will also be a little longer than expected to defend his world title.

Taylor suffered a knee injury in a May 6 match and underwent surgery, according to his social media. He was to face Pat Downey in two weeks for the U.S.’ spot at 86kg at September’s world championships, but that’s not happening now.

“The nature of competing as a professional athlete is a delicate one,” was posted on Taylor’s accounts. “One year, you find yourself winning the tilte of the 86 kg World Champion and being voted best pound for pound wrestler on earth. In the blink of an eye, you lose yourself in thought over the noisy lull of the MRI machine, hoping that the pain in your knee isn’t what you fear most.”

Taylor, 28, was one of three U.S. men to earn maiden world titles last October in Budapest, along with fellow former NCAA standouts J’den Cox and Kyle Dake.

Taylor upset Iran’s Olympic and world champion Hassan Yazdani in his first match at worlds. He suffered a knee injury in his second match and said he was kicked in the face in the semifinals. He then dumped Turkey’s top-seeded Fatih Erdin in the final, scoring a two-point takedown in the first 10 seconds and getting a 12-2 tech fall.

“To be able to earn it the way that I earned it, there’s no easy way,” Taylor said. “I wrestled every single best guy every single round.”

Taylor became the oldest first-time Olympic or world champion for USA Wrestling since 2006. He had finished second or third at trials for the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017 World teams and the 2016 Olympic team. He is one of four men to win the NCAA Wrestler of the Year award multiple times, doing so in 2012 and 2014 for Penn State.

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MORE: Helen Maroulis on why she missed world team trials