Susaki and Higuchi Poised to Returned to Japan's Starting Lineup

By Eric Olanowski

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (March 31) -- Japanese stars Yui SUSAKI (JPN) and Rei HIGUCHI (JPN) are poised to make their return to the starting lineup at next week's Asian Olympic Qualifier (April 9-11).

Susaki will represent Japan at 50kg for the first time since the '19 Women’s Wrestling World Cup, where she went 2-0 and scored wins over Yanan SUN (CHN) and Whitney CONDER (USA). Higuchi, on the other hand, will make his 57kg debut in Japan's lineup for the first time since winning a silver medal at the '16 Olympic Games. 

Susaki, the two-time world champion, fell to Yuki IRIE (JPN) in a ’19 playoff and lost her starting spot on Japan’s ’19 world championship team. But, in surprising fashion, Irie dropped a barn-burning quarterfinal-match in Nur-Sultan to Rio Olympic bronze medalist Sun and squandered the opportunity to qualify the Tokyo Games host nation at 50kg. This left the door open for Susaki to make a last-ditch effort to reclaim her starting spot, and hopefully, compete at the Olympic Games in her home country.

Susaki regained her starting spot and the right to represent Japan at the Asian Olympic Qualifier by winning gold at the ’19 December All-Japan Championships.

Meanwhile, Higuchi will return to international competition at 57kg for the first time since the '16 Rio Olympic Games. The energetic fan-favorite is best known for his unbelievable showing in Rio where he put on an absolute show en route to a surprising run to the finals. Higuchi won four matches in Brazil before ultimately falling to Vladimer KHINCHEGASHVILI (GEO) in the gold medal match.

Since that magical run in Rio, Higuchi has competed at 61kg and 65kg. But after falling to Takuto OTOGURO (JPN) in a Japan wrestle-off, Higuchi was forced to move back down to 57kg to keep a dream alive of improving his silver to Olympic gold. He defeated ’17 world champion Yuki TAKAHASHI at the All Japan Championships and earned his right to represent Japan at 57kg.

The Asian Olympic Qualifiers kicks off on April 9-11 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Greco-Roman action starts on Friday, followed by women's wrestling on Saturday, and freestyle closes out the competition on Sunday. 

50kg Women's Wrestling Entries
YeoJin KIM (KOR)
Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL)

57kg Freestyle Entries
Minghu LIU (CHN)
Ahmed Jawad Kadhim AL ZAIDAWI (IRQ)
Sunggwon KIM (KOR)
Hyeonsik SONG (KOR)
Tuvshintulga TUMENBILEG (MGL)
Muhammad BILAL (PAK)
Allen Mitch ARCILLA (PHI)
Rozgeldi SEYIDOV (TKM)


Olympic Veteran Orchibat Nabs Mongolia Ticket to Tokyo in Days Final Match

By Ken Marantz

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (April 10) --- Unlike everyone else who secured an Olympic berth in the women's competition at the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament, ageless Burmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) had to wait until the evening session to clinch hers. And in the final bout of the day no less.

The veteran  -- who appeared at the inaugural Olympic women's wrestling competition at Athens 2004 and will turn 39 in May -- gave Mongolia a fourth Olympic berth from the tournament in Almaty when she finished second at 76kg.

Needing a victory to clinch the silver medal in the five-woman round-robin group, Ochirbat came through with a flurry of second-period points to build up a 10-1 lead before securing a fall at 5:27 over Shakhribonu ELLIEVA (UZB).

"This will be my third Olympics," said Ochirbat, who placed 10th in Athens and eighth at the 2012 London Games. "I am 39. This is very good and I am happy going back to Mongolia."

Ochirbat finished second with a 3-1 record behind 2020 Asian silver medalist Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ), who completed all four of her matches in the afternoon and had already clinched the gold by going undefeated.

The pressure was on Ochirbat when Pooja POOJA (IND) scored a victory by fall over Seoyeon JEONG (KOR) in the preceding match to finish 2-2. Had Ochirbat lost to Ellieva and also finished 2-2, Pooja would have finished second because of her head-to-head victory over Ochirbat.

Ochirbat took nearly four years off after missing out on the Rio 2016 Olympics and had a baby, before returning to competition in April 2019. The three-time world medalist showed she still has it by finishing second at the 2020 Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix.

"I missed the Rio Olympics and even before that, I had stopped wrestling," she said. "I didn't know what to do but wrestle, so after a four-year break, I decided to come back, and now I qualified.

"I had a baby and after that, I was at home for a long time. But then I thought I should try for the Tokyo Olympics. Very recently I started training again."

It was a good day overall for the Mongolians, who now have five places at the Tokyo Olympics. The nation had previously secured a spot at 68kg at the 2019 World Championships in Nursultan.

Susaki adds to gold collection
Meanwhile, two-time world champion Yui SUSAKI (JPN), having achieved her primary goal of securing a place at the Olympics in her home country, added a bonus with another gold medal for her sprawling collection when she captured the 50kg title.

That weight class also had five entries and was conducted as a single round-robin group. In a showdown of wrestlers who had gone unbeaten in the afternoon session -- which had clinched Olympic spots for both -- Susaki had little trouble in dominating Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL).

Susaki rolled to a 10-0 technical fall in 1:49, giving her a combined time of 7:59 on the mat in four matches -- all technical falls, and without surrendering a point. While she finished off the final win with her trademark lace lock, she also scored with something a bit different for her, a front headlock roll.

"I was absolutely determined to seize this chance to qualify on my own," Susaki said of her performance. "I had the courage to be aggressive and go on the attack first, and the matches went as I wanted."

As for tossing all shutouts, Susaki said, "No matter what match it is, it was part of going for the Olympics and I stayed focused, so that was good."

For the 21-year-old from Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo where the wrestling venue for the Tokyo Olympics is located, the victory caps a long, delayed road to achieving of dream of qualifying for the chance of an Olympic gold.

"I'm really happy that I can now get down to the business of preparing for the Tokyo Olympics," she said. "Heading toward August, I will train even harder so I can win the gold medal."

In other finals, 2018 world bronze medalist Feng ZHOU (CHN) put together the kind of match that was missing in the afternoon to dominate 2019 world junior silver medalist Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ) with an 8-0 victory for the 68kg gold.

Zhou, who will head to Tokyo looking to vastly improve on a 12th-place finish at the Rio 2016 Olympics, had had to come from behind to eke out a 7-5 win over Zhumanazarova in the preliminary group match.

But in the rematch, the tall Chinese came out far more aggressively and scored early with a front headlock roll to take a 2-0 lead into the second period. She padded the lead with a spin-behind takedown and gut wrench, then added an 2-point exposure off a counter.

In the 57kg final, Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) held on for a 7-4 win over Anshu ANSHU (IND) that went down to the wire.

Boldsaikhan, who scored a takedown and roll for a 4-1 lead early in the second period, had the advantage on criteria when Anshu tied the score at 4-all. In the final seconds, the Mongolian scored a takedown that was unsuccessfully challenged to clinch the victory.

The two other finals went uncontested due to injury defaults. Jia LONG (CHN) took the 62kg gold over rising star Sonam SONAM (IND), while Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) was awarded the 53kg gold over Tatyana AKHMETOVA AMANZHOL (KAZ).

Both Sonam and Akhmetova Amanzhol suffered knee injuries in their semifinal matches, and noticably limped onto the mat to concede in the finals.

Women's wrestling results

GOLD -  Yui SUSAKI (JPN) 4-0
SILVER  - Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL) 3-1
Key Match: Yui SUSAKI (JPN) df. Namuuntsetseg TSOGT OCHIR (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 1:49, in Round 5

GOLD - Bolortuya BAT OCHIR (MGL) df. Tatyana AKHMETOVA AMANZHOL (KAZ) by Default
BRONZE - Meng Hsuan HSIEH (TPE) df. Hyungjoo KIM (KOR) by Default

GOLD - Khongorzul BOLDSAIKHAN (MGL) df. Anshu ANSHU (IND), 7-4
BRONZE - Shokhida AKHMEDOVA (UZB) df. Jieun UM (KOR) by Fall, 1:28 (4-0)

GOLD - Jia LONG (CHN) df. Sonam SONAM (IND) by Default
BRONZE - Tserenchimed SUKHEE (MGL) df. Ayaulym KASSYMOVA (KAZ), 4-2

GOLD - Feng ZHOU (CHN) df. Meerim ZHUMANAZAROVA (KGZ), 8-0
BRONZE - Nisha NISHA (IND) df.  Hyeonyeong PARK (KOR) by Fall, :44 (8-0)

GOLD -  Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) 4-0
BRONZE - Pooja POOJA (IND) 2-2|
Key match: Aiperi MEDET KYZY (KGZ) df. Burmaa OCHIRBAT (MGL) by TF, 10-0, 1:41, in Round 4