Photos by Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com
The fourth day of the 2017 World Championships in Paris, France, saw women’s freestyle come to a close. The action was once again exciting and intense. Veterans proved they could still win in some cases, while we saw the emergence of new stars as well. Team USA came out firing with six consecutive victories to start the day, five of them by fall or technical superiority. The competition got tougher, but it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Americans. The end result was something we had not seen in many years.
The finals were a dual meet between Japan and the rest of the world with Japan advancing a wrestler to the final in every weight class just as they did on the first day of women’s freestyle in Rio. They won each of the three weights on offer that day. In the first final of the night, a rematch of the 2014 World Championship final, Sara Dosho (JPN), the Rio Olympic champion, avenged her loss from three years ago, beating Aline Focken (GER), 3-0. Yui Susaki (JPN) made it two for Japan on the day, three in women’s freestyle overall, crushing the field at 48 kg just a year removed from her third consecutive Cadet world championship. It looked like it would be three when Mayu Mukaida (JPN) built a 6-0 lead at 53 kg, but Vanesa Kaladzinskaya (BLR) scored the final eight points, including the last four in the closing seconds to give Japan their first loss of the day. 60 kg, featuring Alli Ragan (USA), will be discussed below.
It was news after the first day of women’s freestyle that Japan was only in first place by a little bit, leading by two points. Having won every World Championship team race in this style since a 2012 loss, one that comes with a bit of an asterisk as that tournament was held after the Olympics that year with Japan having some of their top wrestlers only compete in London, and having also won the two years before that, Japan is the world’s powerhouse program. They flexed their muscles on day four, putting each of their four wrestlers in the finals and losing just one match on the day. The final tally was 60 points, besting the United States and Belarus, who tied for second, by 22. It was a historic performance by the United States, finishing second for the first time since 2003, when the American team medaled at every weight, only losing to Japan on the first tie-breaker, most champions, and even more remarkable for Belarus who had never finished so high. Mongolia (25), Canada (24), and Turkey (24) were the next tier, each earning a spot in the Women’s Freestyle World Cup.
Japan also took over the top spot in the combined team scores with only men’s freestyle remaining. They hold a 70-63 edge over Russia which will be difficult to hold. Belarus is third with 59, Turkey fourth with 58, and Germany is fifth with 44. Rebounding from two days of Greco that yielded one point, Team USA is now sixth with 39 points overall.
Match of the Day: Patricia Bermudez (ARG) vs. Turkan Nasirova (AZE)
After falling in the bronze medal match last summer in Rio, Bermudez was looking for a podium finish this time around. To do that, she almost certainly needed to win in the opening round against 2015 Junior world champion Nasirova. After a half-shot by Bermudez, Nasirova stated her intent with a pretty headlock for four that became six after Bermudez scooted her way out of bounds. The Argentinian was on the front foot for the rest of the period, but could only score a step-out while Nasirova again found the headlock, earning two more to lead 8-1 at the break. Early in the second, it appeared Bermudez would finally take control as she got to a body lock, flung Nasirova to the mat for four and used a crotch-lift to cut her deficit to a single point. However, the comeback stalled and, as the clock ticked under one minute remaining, the score remained the same. Finally, Bermudez found her way through again, taking the lead with just 35 seconds on the clock and putting an exclamation point on her win with a violent counter. Unfortunately, that would be the end of the good news for Bermudez as she fell in the next round and did not make the repechage.
Victoria Anthony, 48 kg
This was Anthony’s first World Championship at her preferred weight of 48 kg after her only other appearance, in 2013, came up at 51 kg. She finished fifth in that tournament after an agonizing semi-final loss and headed to Paris looking for that elusive world medal. She wouldn’t have to wait long as she was first up on Thursday, though if you blinked you might have missed it. Anthony’s famous inside trip was followed by a series of gut wrenches that ended her bout against Miran Cheon (KOR) in just 28 seconds, 10-0. Her next opponent, Asian Championships 55 kg silver medalist Vinesh (IND), would prove a bit more difficult, building a 4-0 lead on a pair of takedowns before the break. Anthony is rarely inactive, but she picked up the pace even further to begin the second, halving her deficit with a takedown of her own. She avoided falling further behind with a nifty cartwheel to evade a Vinesh attack and moments later pancaked the Indian, securing the fall in 5:09. That was a crucial victory for Anthony’s medal hopes as waiting in the next round would be Yui Susaki (JPN), the 2014-16 Cadet world champion who entered the competition having won the Yarygin, Klippan Lady Open, and Asian Championships during her undefeated first season of Senior-level competition. The Japanese woman is just 18 years of age but is already a dominant force in the weight class. Anthony could find no offense against Susaki, falling behind 3-0 at the break before the prodigy locked up a leg lace off of her second takedown and ended the match, 11-0. As expected, Susaki made the final, pulling Anthony back into medal contention.
The final barrier standing between Anthony and a spot on the podium was yet another strong Asian opponent, Son-Hyang Kim (PRK), the runner-up to Susaki at 48 kg at May’s Asian Championships. North Korea has a long history of only sending wrestlers they think can compete for medals and it was easy to see why they thought highly of Kim. Anthony had a hard time finding any place to operate. When she tied up, she couldn’t move Kim effectively. When the American went to space, Kim used devastatingly quick, straight shots to score. It was 3-0 at the break and Anthony, as she had earlier, picked her pace up even more, but to no avail. Two more takedowns and an exposure following each ended the match as Kim took the bronze, 11-1.
Haley Augello, 53 kg
A year after representing Team USA at 48 kg in Rio, Augello was back on the world stage, having moved up a weight class. The three-time WCWA champion for King will be looking to join Anthony as a four-timer next season, but she had international opponents to deal with first. Always looking strong, Augello raced past Thi Hang Vu (VIE) using a trio of takedowns with one leading to a pair of guts to win 10-0 in 1:33. That setup a showdown with a little known Chinese opponent Lannuan Luo. The Chinese have built a strong women’s program in recent years which suggested that while Luo hadn’t wrestled outside the country previously, she would be tough. That proved to be the case as Augello was forced into a slow pace, notching only a step-out and a shot clock point in the first to lead, 2-0. Luo still refused to open up, getting put back on the clock in the second. Augello made no mistakes and took the victory, 3-0. Needing one more win to reach the semi-finals and be assured of wrestling for a medal, Augello was upended by Polish veteran Roksana Zasina in the quarters. A takedown and gut wrench in the first put Haley behind the eight ball and Zasina’s defense proved good enough as she knocked off the American, 8-2. When Zasina fell to Mayu Mukaida (JPN) in her next match, Augello was eliminated.
Alli Ragan, 60 kg
When she finished as the runner-up at the Olympic Trials last spring, it looked like Ragan, who had been on three consecutive world teams, would suffer another year without a world-level medal. Instead, the non-Olympic weight World Championships were announced, Alli made the team at 60 kg and she won a silver medal. That helped her to the top seed here and she looked the part early, handling Gabriella Sleisz (HUN) on the strength of five takedowns for a 10-0 win in 5:43. Sporting pink headgear over a wrap of tape around her head all day, Ragan survived a tactical clash with Luisa Niemesch (GER) in the quarters, leading 2-0 on a pair of shot-clock points before scoring immediately after a restart to take a 4-0 decision. Anastasija Grigorjeva (LAT), the European silver medalist and a past world bronze medalist, awaited in the semi-finals. This, too, was a tactical battle, but the Latvian, unlike the German before her, was more than holding her own. Three step-outs versus a Ragan takedown had the American in need of points as Grigorjeva controlled an underhook, looking for yet another point for forcing Alli out of bounds. Instead, Ragan escaped the position by throwing a headlock that gave her the lead and before long, the fall in 4:36. She was heading back to the world finals for the second year in a row.
As was the case at every weight on Thursday, a Japanese woman made the finals at 60 kg as well. Risako Kawai (JPN) was the Olympic gold medalist at 63 kg a year ago after earning a silver in 2015. She dropped down to 60 kg to win the Asian Championships this year and was hoping to settle in atop her new class. In the end, Kawai was too much for Ragan and though it may seem odd to say so, Alli wrestled well despite falling 13-0. On Kawai’s opening takedown, she locked up a tight leg lace that could have spelled doom but instead, Alli fought it off without giving up a single turn despite the Japanese woman rotating all the way through. As Risako continued to attack, she found herself off to the side as Ragan desperately defended. When Kawai popped her hips and exploded through, many would have gone over for four points, but Ragan kept her belly down, giving up just two. Having already shown the capability for big, match ending moves, these sequences were important, giving the American more chances to capitalize on a mistake by Japan. However, that mistake never came. Alli Ragan claimed her second world silver medal at 63 kg.
Tamyra Mensah, 69 kg
After winning the Olympic trials last spring, then just missing qualifying the weight for the United States, Mensah has been steadily improving, finishing second at the Golden Grand Prix before winning the Yarygin and the Grand Prix of Spain sandwiched around securing another spot on Team USA. Though she was making her World Championship debut, there was reason to put her on the list of contenders. Though she was the last American to open the tournament on Thursday, she joined right in the early round fun, bouncing back from being dumped to her back briefly off a fireman’s to roll over Alla Belinskaya (UKR), 12-2 in 5:24. Unfortunately, the usually impressive attack that Mensah brings to the table was completely stymied by her next opponent, Yue Han (CHN) a 2016 Junior world finalist who is still Junior eligible. Though Mensah was all over the legs throughout the match, she only finished once, with 10 seconds remaining in the match. By that time it was too late and the Chinese woman took the match, 5-2. Han’s semi-final against 2014 world champion Aline Focken (GER) was a good one, but the German came from behind to win, putting Mensah out of medal contention.