Since it’s inception at the 2004 Athens Games, women’s freestyle wrestling has been utterly dominated by Japan. At every single Summer Olympics, Japan has sent a wrestler to the medal podium in every weight category offered, save for two times – heavyweights in 2012 and 2016. Japan has won medals in sixteen of the eighteen tournaments. If that’s not bonkers enough for you, of those sixteen medals, eleven of those have been gold. Over half of all the gold medals awarded to women wrestlers have been from Japan.
At the Rio Games, Japan fielded six competitors, and won five medals. Four of those were gold, including a complete three-division sweep on the first day of competition.
In Rio, Japan made history. Kaori Icho, with a last-second two-point reversal, won her fourth gold medal, this time at 58 kg, after three golds at 63 kg. With that win, Icho became the first woman to win gold medals in individual events across four Olympic Games. She also became the very first wrestler, man or woman, to win four gold medals. What’s even crazier is that Icho was almost matched by her teammate, Saori Yoshida, who ultimately fell short in the finals, having to settle for silver.
While Yoshida and Icho have likely wrestled their final Olympics, Japan should remain in good hands for the foreseeable future. The first gold won by Japan in Rio was courtesy of 48kg Eri Tosaka. She’s just 22 and, in addition to her Olympic gold, has already won three world championships.
Perhaps fittingly, the final gold won by Japan, and indeed, the final women’s freestyle wrestling match of the Rio Games, was won by Risako Kawai. While the other gold medals were won by the narrowest of margins (two by single point advantages and one by virtue of technical criteria) Kawai utterly dominated her opponent, winning gold by a final score of 6-0.