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2005 World Championships preview at 55 kg/121 lbs. in women’s freestyle

Gary Abbott USA Wrestling

This weight class has a dominant star, 2004 Olympic champion and two-time World champion Saori Yoshida of Japan. Yoshida remains on the mats, winning the 2005 World Cup, the Asian Championships and the World University Games. Many believe she is the top athlete in women's wrestling today, based on her consistency and her skill level. Until somebody shows an ability to beat her, Yoshida will be the favorite in every tournament she enters.

The finals of the World University Games was a rematch of the Olympic Games finals, where Yoshida stopped Canada's Tonya Verbeek, an athlete who has really stepped it up in the last few seasons. Verbeek had to win a deep weight class just to get on her Olympic team, then put together a great tournament in Athens.

The Olympic bronze medalist was a veteran star, Ana Gomis of France, who won four World gold medals in her career going back many years. Her age seems like a question mark for Gomis, but she continues to compete at a very high level, winning a silver medal this year at the European Championships.

The best wrestler who did not compete in Athens but has a true chance to win a World title is Tina George of the United States, a two-time World silver medalist. George lost to Tela O'Donnell in the Olympic Trials, and O'Donnell placed sixth in Athens. George came back strong this year, while O'Donnell went up a weight class. George won numerous international tournaments this year under the new rules, which compliments her wrestling style of strength and speed. She has had some close matches with Yoshida, and has a nice rivalry going with Verbeek.

Another star who was not in Athens was two-time World bronze medalist Natalia Golts of Russia, the 2005 European champion. Golts was replaced by Olga Smirnova in Athens, but Smirnova lost to O'Donnell in an early match and did not place. Golts may be Russia's best best for a gold medal in Budapest. Golts was second behind Yoshida at the World Cup this year, and would like another chance to test herself against the superstar in the weight class.

2002 World bronze medalist Ida Theres Karlsson of Sweden is a top contender, along with Italy's Diletta Giampicollo, if she drops to this division. Both wrestled up at 59 kg at the European Championships, with Karlsson winning the gold medal and Giampiccolo taking a bronze medal. Don't be surprised if they both stay up and test themselves at that division instead.

China's Sun Dongmei has proven the ability to place high at major events. Among her other achievements was fifth at the 2004 Olympics and seventh at the 2001 World Championships. China has developed great depth in women's wrestling, including Su Lihui, who was second behind Yoshida at the Asian Championships this year. Whoever China enters will be a tough draw and a medal contender.

The Junior World champion is Johanna Mattson of Sweden, who might also wrestle at the Senior level, especially if Karlsson remains up a weight class. Sylwia Bilenska of Poland and Mariya Egorova of Belarus have made a name for themselves by winning bronze medals at the European Championships this season. Lee Na-Lae of Korea placed a solid seventh at the Olympic Games, fourth in the 2001 World Championships, and was a bronze medalist at the Asian Championships this year. Maria Andrade of Venezuela was the 2005 Pan American champion.

Ukraine should be well represented, with Tetyana Lazerava, who was eighth at the Olympic Games, or Olha Levkovska, who was a bronze medalist at the 2005 World University Games. Sofia Poumbouridou of Greece was a 2002 World champion at 51 kg, and competed at this division in both the 2004 Olympics and 2005 European Championships. Hungary will have a strong local athlete, Kitti Godo, who was sixth at the 2002 World Championships andfifth at the 2005 European Championships.

Also still competing is Gudrun Hoie of Norway, a four-time World Champion who won her last World title way back in 1998. Hoie is still capable of winning matches on this level, placing fifth at the European Championships this year. An athlete to watch from an unexpected nation is Thi Hang Nguyen of Vietnam, who was a bronze medalist at the Asian Championships this year.

This weight class has a ton of talent and experience, but one athlete stands ahead of the pack, Japan's Saori Yoshida. There will be a struggle between veteran stars like Tina George, Tonya Verbeek, Natalia Golts and Anna Gomis and others to get into position to be the athlete who stops Yoshida's winning streak. Can Yoshida be beaten? We will find out in Budapest.


2004 Olympic Games results
55 kg/121 lbs. - Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan); Silver - Tonya Verbeek (Canada); Bronze - Anna Gomis (France); 4th - Ida-Theres Karlsson (Sweden); 5th - Sun Dongmei (China); 6th - Tela O'Donnell (USA); 7th - Lee Na Lae (Korea); 8th - Tetyana Lazareva (Ukraine); 9th - Olga Smirnova (Russia); 10th - Diletta Giampiccolo (Italy)

2003 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs.- Gold - Saori Yoshida (Japan) dec. Tina George (United States), 5-2; Bronze - Natalia Golts (Russia) dec. Sun Dongmei (China), 4-0; 5th - Mabel Fonseca (Puerto Rico); 6th - Jennifer Ryz (Canada); 7th - Anna Gomis (France); 8th - Marzi Andrade (Venezuela); 9th - Monika Michalik (Poland); 10th - Tatyana Lazareya (Ukraine)

2002 World Championships results
55 kg/121 lbs. - 1st - Saori Yoshida (Japan) dec. Tina George (USA), 10-4; 3rd - Ida Theres Karlsson (Sweden) dec. Konstantina Tsibanakou (Greece), 7-1; 5th - Jen Ryz (Canada); 6th - Kitti Godo (Hungary); 7th - Monika Michalik (Poland); 8th - Viktoria Zagainova (Russia); 9th - Nadine Tokar (Switzerland); 10th - Isabelle Sambou (Senegal)

2001 World Championships results
56 kg/123.25 lbs. - Gold - Seiko Yamamoto (Japan) dec. Liubov Volosova (Russia), 4-1; Bronze - Tetiana Lazarova (Ukraine) dec. Lee Na Lae (Korea), 5-2; 5th - Sara Eriksson (Sweden); 6th - Yildirim Zeynep (Turkey); 7th - Sun Dongmei (China); 8th - Gudrun Hoie (Norway); 9th - Anna Gomis (France); 10th - Yoselin Rojas (Venezuela)
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