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Wrestling preview: Russia, Japan to partake in glory
13:57, July 23, 2008

Wrestling powerhouse Russia is looking forward to tightening its headlock in the Beijing Olympics as world champions Mavlet Batirov, Khadjimourat Gatsalov and Alexei Michine will be aiming for second helpings.

Russia's male mat stars are the dominant force in the world's oldest competitive sport with five Olympic golds in Athens and seven titles at the 2007 World Wrestling Championships in Baku, Azerbaijan, including a near-sweep in the freestyle events.

Gatsalov, the freestyle 96kg champion in Athens, booked his ticket to the August 12-21 competition in Beijing by again stamping his class at the Baku world championships.

Fellow Russian freestyle wrestler Batirov, who won the 55kg gold in 2004, will compete in the 60kg category in Beijing after he ruled the 60kg division in Baku.

Athens gold medalist Michine is the only Russian Greco-Roman world champion. Khasan Baroev is going to defend his 120kg title of the 2004 Olympics as he lost to Mijail Lopez of Cuba in the final of 2007 world championships.

Wrestlers from 41 countries and regions qualified in the classical Greco-Roman event, which only hands and upper bodies canbe used to attack and defend.

Hamid Soryan, Iran's 55kg world champion, the Georgian world titlists David Bedinadze of 60kg and Ramaz Nozadze of 96kg, as well as wrestlers from Hungary, South Korea and the United States, will fancy their chances to challenge the powerful Russia in Greco-Roman wrestling.

Farid Mansurov of Azerbaijan, double winner of 66kg in Athens and world championships in Baku, is expected to be the other star Greco-Roman wrestler in Beijing.

Host wrestler Li Yanyan was the gold medalist in 2006 world championships. He and 2008 Asian champion Chang Yongxiang of 74kg will be China's leading force in Greco-Roman as the country had never won a single men's wrestling gold in previous Summer Olympic Games.

Forty-three countries and regions will contest the seven golds in freestyle, where players can use their legs for pushing, lifting and tripping as well as holding their opponents below the waist.

Russia topped the medal count in Athens with five golds, two silvers and three bronzes. Buvaisar Saitiev of freestyle 74kg withBatirov and Gatsalov combined in three golds. But Saitiev was replaced by 2007 world champion Mahach Murtazaliev. Besik Kudukhovof 55kg, Georgy Ketoev of 84kg and Bilyal Makhov of 120kg all triumphed themselves in Baku at the world championships.

Cuba, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, world team champion the United States and Turkey will also be looking to avert a Russian shutout of the seven freestyle golds, while Japan, South Korea, Azerbaijanand Kazakhstan also have good fighters.

China do not play wrestlers to compete in two categories: 55kg and 120kg.

The host's only hope to win gold was in women's events. There are 30 teams lined up for female wrestling, which are similar to men's freestyle but forbids double headlocks, which is considered dangerous for women.

Japan still dominants in women's freestyle as Olympic champions Kaori Icho and Saori Yoshida added the 2007 world championship titles to their resumes. They won two of four women's golds in Athens, when female wrestling made its Olympic debut. The two golds helped Japan to take the second place in medal count of wrestling in 2004.

Five-time 55kg world champion Yoshida's six-year, 120-match winning streak ended at the World Cup in January to American underdog Marcie van Dusen.

Icho, the defending 63kg Olympic champion, will play alongside her elder but smaller sister Chiharu, the 48kg world champion and silver medalist in Athens.

The first-ever women's 72kg wrestling Olympic gold was grabbed by China's dark horse Wang Xu in Athens, who beat Kyoko Hamaguchi in the semifinal. But Wang Xu will not appear in the Beijing Olympics as her younger teammate Wang Jiao, the 2007 world Junior champion, is going to make her Olympic debut. But Stanka Zlateva of Bulgaria, the 2007 world champion, will be Wang's biggest balk.

Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Canada also count excellent female wrestlers, as well as France, Sweden and Poland.


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