Pre-Olympic blow for Japan wrestling queen

28 May 2012 07:16:54

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Japanese wrestling queen Saori Yoshida's bid for a third straight Olympic gold and a place in history has taken a big knock with the end of her 58-match winning streak just weeks ahead of the London Games.

With her trademark tackles failing to hit home, Yoshida lost 2-1 to Valeria Zholobova in the 55kg bout of the Japan-Russia final at the women's World Cup in Tokyo on Sunday.

The 29-year-old fought back tears after her surprise loss, which did not prevent Japan from beating Russia 5-2 to win the team title for the first time in six years.

"All I have done will mean nothing if I don't achieve a three-peat in London," Yoshida told Japanese media. "I want to turn these tears into tears of joy in London and I want to finish with a smile on my face."

Her last loss came months before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but she bounced back to defend her title, and will be hoping to do the same in London.

Yoshida has nine world and two Olympic titles, and gold in the summer will put her level with Russian Alexander Karelin's record of 12 straight world and Olympic wrestling crowns.

The Japanese star is adapting to a new skill after her high-speed tackle had been worked out by her opponents.

Her coach Kazuhito Sakae said Yoshida had been practising tackling at close range, but had harsh words for the world champion.

"She has yet to get her act together. She cannot tackle full-out. We need to improve on that," said Sakae.

In the match against Zholobova, 10 years her junior, Yoshida took the first period, but in the second her tackle could not bring down her less celebrated opponent.

The Japanese lost the final period as she was pinned down close to a fall after her incomplete tackle was brushed aside.

"When I tried to tackle, something in my head told me I might be countered and put the brakes on me," an emotional Yoshida said.

"I wasn't courageous enough to charge into my opponent," she said. "In the remaining two months, I will re-think the way I fight to win and if I cannot find the answer, in time I may switch back to my old style."

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