Tsugumi Sakurai secured Japan’s fifth gold medal at the wrestling world championships on Thursday, defeating the Rio de Janeiro Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis of the United States in the women’s 57-kilogram final.
The 21-year-old Sakurai won an intense encounter 3-0 in Belgrade after scoring a second-period takedown against the 30-year-old Maroulis, who denied Saori Yoshida her fourth straight Olympic gold in 2016 at 53 kg.
Tsugumi Sakurai (blue) of Japan and Helen Maroulis of the United States compete in the women’s 57-kilogram final at the wrestling world championships in Belgrade on Sept. 15, 2022. (Kyodo)
“I’ve come here with (enough) practice under my belt and didn’t want to be beaten in stamina by my overseas opposition. It’s huge I’ve managed to grind out the win,” Sakurai said.
After taking a 1-0 lead in the first period through an activity point, Sakurai grabbed a leg and mounted Maroulis’ back before taking her down for two decisive points.
“I believe I eclipsed her in stamina and tenacity,” said Sakurai, who will likely need to beat out two-time Olympic gold medalist Risako Kawai to secure a 2024 Paris Games berth.
“Becoming the world No. 1 in 57 kg is something I can build (toward),” she said. “(But) I won’t even be competing in the Olympic qualifiers if I fail to come through the domestic competition. This is just the start.”
Nineteen-year-old Ami Ishii lost the 68-kg final to Tamyra Mensah-Stock of the United States by fall to finish runner-up.
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