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Japanese wrestling organization admits harassing women's wrestling great Icho

Kaori Icho with the Japan flag after winning her fourth Olympic title (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

Four-time Olympic gold medalist wrestler Kaori Icho was the subject of harassment by a director of the Japan Wrestling Federation, the Olympic organization governing the sport in Japan admitted Friday.

Kazuhito Sakae, development director for the federation, was forced to resign the same day the Japan Wrestling Federation confirmed the accusations, some dating back to January of this year, which Sakae and the organization had denied until now.

Earlier Friday, an independent panel of lawyers, set up by the federation in early March, recognized four cases of harassment against Icho by Sakae, including one concerning a remark Sakae made to Icho when she joined a training session of wrestlers representing Japan.

According to the report by the third-party panel, Sakae told Icho, "How dare you wrestle in front of me?"

The report also said the omission of Icho from the Japan team for the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, China, without a sufficient explanation constituted harassment.

Sakae's harassment of Icho began nearly a decade ago, when she moved her training base to Tokyo from Aichi Prefecture in central Japan, against Sakae's wishes, after winning back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008.

Sakae ordered Icho's coach Chikara Tanabe to stop working with her when she went to Russia for the 2010 World Championships. When he refused, Sakae told Tanabe to quit if he could not follow orders, the complaint said.

The development director also allegedly harassed Icho by preventing her from using a Metropolitan Police Department training facility shortly before the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, where she became the first female athlete to win four consecutive Olympic titles in an individual event.

Japan Wrestling Federation president Tomiaki Fukuda offered an apology at a press conference held Friday after the organization's emergency meeting.

Japan's sports minister Yoshimasa Hayashi told a press conference Friday, "If the harassment complaints are true, I believe the federation will swiftly take appropriate measures." He said he had not read the panel's report.

Kaori Icho is one of the most decorated freestyle wrestlers in history, having won four consecutive gold medals in women's freestyle competition at four Olympics -- 2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London, and 2016 Rio de Janeiro. In fact, the 33-year-old is the first female in any sport to have won four individual gold medals at four consecutive Olympics. In addition, Icho has tallied ten World championships, and won one gold medal at the Asian Games. Icho had an undefeated streak stretching from 2003 to early 2016, when she lost to Mongolia's Orkhon Purevdorzh at the Golden Grand Prix Ivan Yarygin tournament.

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