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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    2021 World Championship Preview: Women's Freestyle Day Three (57 kg/59 kg/68 kg/72 kg)

    2021 Junior World Champion Kylie Welker (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    57 kg: 2020 Olympic Bronze Medalists Maroulis & Nikolova Headline 57 kg Bracket

    While 57 kilos was originally one of the most loaded brackets of the competition, it certainly suffered from registration changes as several of the top wrestlers originally entered in this bracket chose not to attend. Nonetheless, it still features some incredible athletes, containing everything from age-level superstars and wrestling's future to Olympic medalists and legends of the sport.

    This weight class will be headlined by the return of two-time Olympic medalist Helen Maroulis, who will be competing in her first World Championships since 2018. Maroulis made her return this season after recovering from some serious head injuries that plagued her for much of the past quad. Her journey back to the podium was far from smooth sailing; however: there was much doubt as to how Maroulis would perform at the Games based on her limited international experience in the couple of years leading up to the event. While she looked solid at the Pan Am Qualifier in 2020, she faltered domestically in the Olympic Trials Finals against Jenna Burkert and took two surprise losses at the Poland Open Ranking Series in June. At the Olympics, however, she appeared to be back in tip-top shape: she beat 2018 World Champion Ningning Rong in the first round, avenged her loss from Poland against Tetyana Kit in the quarters, and pushed eventual Olympic Champion Risako Kawai to the brink in a 2-1 semifinal match. Maroulis will enter this bracket as the heavy favorite.

    Also returning from the Olympics is Evelina Nikolova of Bulgaria, who was a surprise bronze medalist at the weight. Nikolova had initially planned to try to qualify at 53 kilos, where she competed at the 2019 World Championships, but moved up in 2021 for the European OGQ. The Bulgarian had a strong performance at the Games, earning notable wins over Anastasia Nichita and 2016 Olympic Silver Valeria Koblova, but her path to a medal was somewhat softened when Adekuoroye fell in the first round. Nikolova lacks the resume of some of the other women in this weight class and has numerous losses to women both at 57 kilos and 55kg.

    The sole remaining Olympian returning to this weight class is young star Anshu Malik of India. Anshu had a challenging tournament, dropping both of her matches; however, her two Olympic losses were to past and present silver medallists. Anshu most definitely has a bright future ahead of her and will be instrumental in leading the Indian Wrestling Federation to success in the upcoming quad.

    While Japan will not be sending their two-time Olympic Champion and legend-in-the-making Risako Kawai, their 'B' team replacement could very well have near-equivalent success. Sae Nanjo owns three world titles- two Junior and one U23- and has proven that she can contend with Senior-level athletes since she was a Cadet. Nanjo made her debut performance at the 2017 Ivan Yariguin as an 18-year-old, dominating the competition (including a pin over Sarah Hildebrandt in the final). Despite her youth and relative Senior level inexperience, Japan's track record and Nanjo's age-level dominance should cause wrestling fans to regard her as a serious contender.

    While these Olympians and senior-level talents have already been able to showcase themselves on the highest level, several athletes are entering these World Championships looking to prove themselves. Russian Veronika Chumikova had been looking strong as ever and a huge force when she qualified the weight for Russia at the World OGQ. However, a fluke performance at the Poland Open influenced Russian coaches to send 2016 Olympic Silver Medalist, Valeria Koblova, instead of her. This tournament is a prime opportunity for her to redeem herself as Russia's number one. In addition, Canadian Alex Town will look to have a strong performance after Canada surprisingly failed to qualify 57 kg for the Games. Town is a U23 World Champion and placed a very respectable third at the Canadian Olympic Trials. Her dynamic and crafty style will be a treat for all fans looking to view some exciting matches.

    Giullia Rodrigues of Brazil had been looking to qualify Brazil to the Olympic Games at 57 kg after winning the 2020 (and 2021) Pan-Am Championships, but unfortunately fell just short at the Pan-Am and World OGQs, where 57kg was one of the deepest weights. She has some strong wins under her belt. This bracket will also feature 2019 Junior World Champion Patrycja Gil, who beat Chumikova in a strange match at the Poland Open in addition to notching a U23 Euro silver this year. This year's Junior World Bronze medallist Elvira Kamaloglu of Turkey will also be in attendance. Also to be kept an eye on is Solomiia Vynnyk of Ukraine, who didn't compete at Junior Worlds due to Ukraine's team not attending but managed to win a Junior Euro title to add to her prior Senior Euro silver from 2020.

    All in all, this weight class is solid, as the returning Olympic medallists and top tier of competitors will be nipped at the heels by some of the age level scene's biggest stars. Watch as Japan's Sae Nanjo will have an opportunity to prove her country's women's wrestling depth while Maroulis and Nikolova look to upgrade the colors of their medals.

    59 kg: Bullen, Morais & Dudova Show What We Missed at the Olympic Games

    While many of the weight classes contested in Oslo have retained some semblance of depth following the Olympics, 59 kilos lacks the starpower that the others have. Unlike many of these weight classes, which contain Olympic medalists or well-credentialed veterans, 59 kilos has only one Olympian returning from Tokyo and no clear favorite.

    Jowita Wrzesien of Poland is the sole Tokyo Olympian in this weight class here. She qualified for the Games via a 5th place finish at the World Championships, but hasn't notched any other big results or wins. Wrzesien's slim international credentials make it hard to pick her as a likely title contender, but her solid run in 2019 and status as the sole 2020 Olympian make her certainly in the mix to contend for a medal.

    While this weight class may lack in number of Olympians, the defending World Champion from 2019 will be in attendance: Canadian Linda Morais won her nation's sole world medal in Nur-Sultan with a stunning gold-medal performance, capped off with a come-from-behind fall over Liubov Ovcharova. Despite this grand success, Morais was unable to qualify Canada for the Olympic Games; she was upset by Jane Valencia of Mexico at the Pan-Am OGQ and fell to Grace Bullen- who she had previously teched 10-0- at the World OGQ. Morais will look to defend her title here, though she can be a little hot-and-cold with her performances.

    Ukraine's late addition of 2015 World Champion and Rio Olympian Oksana Kukhta Herhel throws an interesting twist in things: Kukhta has only competed a couple times since 2017, but owns astounding results prior to that. She won a world title in Vegas at 60 kilos before qualifying her nation to the Olympics at 58 kg and competing in Rio, where she lost in the first round. Since 2017, however, she has competed sparingly and predominantly at 65 kilos without any major results. It's hard to gauge what level she's currently at and how she'll perform at this lower weight, but she'll certainly be an intriguing addition to the field.

    One of the most underrated women's wrestlers of our time, Bilyana Dudova, is also registered to compete at 59 kilos. Despite being a four-time European Champion and a 2018 World Silver Medalist, Dudova did not make her country's Olympic team. Surprise Tokyo bronze medallist Evelina Nikolova, who had initially tried to qualify at 53 kilos, made the trip to the Games instead of her talented teammate. Bulgaria's depth at this weight is often overlooked, but the three-woman punch of Olympic Bronze Medalists Nikolova and Taybe Yusein at 57 kg and 62 kg with Dudova sandwiched in between at 59 kg makes for an impressive lineup. Dudova will be one of the favorites of this weight class as she looks to redeem herself after missing the Games.

    Another big name missing at the Olympics was Grace Bullen of Norway. Bullen is regarded as one of the most promising Nordic wrestlers, heralding accolades such as U23 World Champ, 2-time Euro Champ and World 5th-placer thanks to her highly engaging and dynamic style. Despite being a powerhouse and sporting unique techniques, Bullen failed to qualify Norway for the Games at both the Euro OGQ and the World OGQ. She lost a dramatic bout to Veronika Chumikova in the semifinals in Sofia but had wrestled very well prior to that match. She'll look for redemption in her home country at her most natural weight.

    While 59kg lacks senior-level firepower, there are a total of three age-level world champions in this bracket. Bullen owns a U23 World title. The USA will be sending new World Team member Maya Nelson, who won the 2017 Junior Worlds at 63kg, to add to a bronze medal from the year prior. Nelson has some strong domestic wins and also secured a criteria victory over Linda Morais earlier this year at Pan Ams. She, in turn, will be challenged by Akie Hanai, a 2019 Junior World Champ at 57 kg, who also has a U23 World silver medal and some strong Senior-level results (including medals from the Klippan and Yariguin). These two women could have a breakout senior-level performance and should be watched to see how they fare on the big stage.

    Several other athletes to keep an eye on include 4-time Euro bronze medallist Alyona Kolesnik of Azerbaijan, who has been a staple internationally for the past quad. Russia will be sending 2020 World Cup Champion Svetlana Lipatova, who also has two Euro medals and strong results from some other tournaments (including gold at the 2018 Poland Open and silver at the 2019 Yariguin). As well, Sara Lindborg of Sweden picked up a Euro medal in 2020 and also owns a 2018 Junior World Bronze and Euro silver. She's had some strong results at some of the bigger international tournaments in Europe and could become one of Sweden's primary reps at the middleweights.

    In summary, there is no clear favorite at this weight class; Olympian Jowita Wrzesien and World Champions Morais and Kukhta Herhel stand out as the most credentialed women in this bracket. Keep an eye out for Bilyana Dudova to make a statement, and don't miss out on Grace Bullen's dynamic style as she looks to earn her first world medal in her home country.

    68 kg: Tamyra Looks to Earn Her Second Global Title in 65 Days

    68 kilos is one of the most blessed weights post-Olympics; with three of the four medallists making an appearance in Oslo, much of the depth that will be lacking in some of the other categories will still be retained here. This weight class will be headlined by the only defending Olympic Champion in Oslo: Tamyra Mensah-Stock, coming off a dominant gold medal campaign, will be looking to win her second global title in 65 days.

    Mensah-Stock manhandled everyone she faced at the Olympics- her performance was highlighted with technical superiority victories over defending champion Sara Dosho in the first round, followed by a similar 10-0 victory over the last woman to beat her: Feng Zhou, who defeated her at the Matteo Pellicone in January 2020. One-sided victories over Alla Cherkasova and Blessing Oborodudu capped off her championship performance. Perhaps just as impressive as these victories, however, has been Mensah's steady trajectory to the top- from not qualifying to the Games in 2016 to slowly moving up the rankings at the World Championships and now owning a World and Olympic Gold, Tamyra's growth over the last quad has been immeasurably impressive.

    However, the two other Olympic medalists joining Tamyra will be pushing to take the title for their own. Blessing Oborodudu of Nigeria was a bit of a surprise finalist; the 3-time Olympian lacked any previous major world accolades, but earned some solid wins en route to making it to the finals. Oborodudu's success holds deep meaning to the nation of Nigeria and its growing wrestling program, as well as wrestling in Africa overall. Women's wrestling in Nigeria, led by Canadian Olympic Champion Daniel Igali, has been improving exponentially over the past couple quads. Blessing will look to continue her positive momentum in Oslo and bring home more hardware for her nation.

    Equally treasured in her home country is Meerim Zhumanazarova, Kyrgyzstan's first female Olympic medalist in any sport. Zhumanazarova, only 22, owns three age-level world medals and has had a very successful transition over to the senior scene. She emerged as a prime prospect after winning the 2020 World Cup, highlighted by a victory over Ukrainian 2013 World Champion and 2019 World Silver Medallist Alina Berezhna. En route to her Olympic bronze medal, Zhumanazarova lost a close 3-2 match to Oborodudu; she'll be itching to get another shot here.

    Two other Olympians will be present in this bracket. Khanum Velieva of Russia attended her first Games this year after qualifying at the Euro OGQ in March. Velieva has had tons of success on the age-level scene, earning three total world titles at the Cadet and Junior World Championships. She has already amassed wins over some of the top women, but has also taken some losses to women who aren't as skilled as her. Velieva has gained a lot of positive experience over the past couple years, attending essentially every major tournament since the 2019 World Championships, and will likely become a top threat on the senior scene once she gains a bit more experience.

    Also in attendance will be Adela Hanzlickova of the Czech Republic, who attended the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro. Hanzlickova owns a U23 World Bronze medal and a handful of senior and age-level European medals. She is a pinning machine and has a sneaky way of getting a lot of high-level wins. Her big throws and strong positional wrestling give her the potential to upset some really tough athletes and she even threw Mensah-Stock for four points in a close match at the Pellicone in March. Hanzlickova's style naturally lends itself to some inconsistency, but it'll be interesting to see if she can do any damage in this bracket.

    Missing from this bracket is Rio 2016 Champion Sara Dosho, whose Tokyo performance disappointingly ended without a medal; she will be replaced by Cadet Asian Champion Rin Miyaji. Miyaji's victory at the Japanese nationals was a bit of a surprise; not only does she lack the normally well-adorned international resume that most of Japan's top women have, but she only recently moved up to 68kg from 62 kilos. Miyaji earned two victories over top prospect Naruha Matsuyuki to make the world team. She credits much of her recent success to training with Kaori Icho. After Dosho's disappointing performances at the past couple world events, it will be interesting to gauge Japan's depth at this weight class and their potential for future success with Miyaji's performance here.

    Several top Junior athletes will be looking to prove themselves on the next level in Oslo. Delgermaa Enkhsaikhan of Mongolia won a 2018 Junior World silver medal in addition to a 5th place finish in 2019; she's had a strong start to her senior level career with wins over some mid-tier women, including a defeat of 62kg Olympic bronze medallist Iryna Koliadenko in 2018. Enkhsaikhan will likely be the future of this weight class in Mongolia as longtime representative Battsettseg Soronzonbold is now 31.

    2021 Junior World Bronze medallist Nesrin Bas will be attending her first Senior World championships. She has competed everywhere this year and has been really heavily invested in by Turkey; though her results have been pretty mixed, she does own a victory by fall over 2021 Olympian Elis Manolova from this year's senior Euros. 2019 Junior World Bronze medallist and 4-time age-level Euro medallist Ewelina Ciunek will also be in attendance in Oslo.

    A couple other names of note include Ukraine's choice to send Anastasia Lavrenchuk; 68 kilos has really strong domestic depth in Ukraine, but Lavrenchuk is not one of their top 3 or 5 women. She placed second at the Poland Open in June at 65 kilos but likely won't challenge for a medal here. Lithuania will be sending Senior level staple and one of their most successful female wrestlers, Danute Domikaityte, who heralds two age-level world medals in addition to some smaller international successes. Finally, Olivia Di Bacco of Canada will return to the biggest international stage following her 5th place showing at the 2018 World Championships. Di Bacco is a very talented athlete, albeit lacking some international experience, and even managed to take a match from 2018 World Silver medallist and 2020 Olympian Danielle Lappage at Canada's Olympic Team trials last year. She lost a very close 1-1 match against Zhumanazarova at the Kiev this year and could notch some strong results around the mid-to-top tier here.

    The depth of this weight class is insane. Tamyra Mensah-Stock will aim to defend the Olympic title she earned 65 days prior but will be pushed by returning Olympic medallists Zhumanazarova and Oborodudu, as well as other strong athletes like Rin Miyaji, Khanum Velieva and Olivia di Bacco.

    72 kg: Young Star Welker Looks to Prove Herself Amongst Schell, Furuichi, Bakbergenova

    Last month, in Lincoln, Nebraska, the wrestling community was treated to a showdown between two of the best teenage athletes in the world: Kennedy Blades versus Kylie Welker. The sheer skill level and insane success the two girls have already had suggests that it'll be looked back on as an early clash in one of the greatest domestic rivalries in American history. Although the series didn't materialize to the extent, anyone had hoped- cut short by an apparent head injury to Kennedy Blades, who was knocked unconscious and looked a little out of sorts- Kylie Welker's two-match defeat of her Illinois opponent earned her a well-deserved World Team berth.

    Both Welker and Blades had sensational years, making the American Olympic Trials finals against eventual Olympic finalists Adeline Gray and Tamyra Mensah-Stock, respectively. The two followed it up with identical age-level paths, both making their national Junior and U23 World teams before dominating the international field at the Junior World Championships in Ufa (Blades at 72 kg and Welker at 76 kg). The recent successes and level of dominance, domestically and internationally, have led many wrestling fans to believe that either would be competitive on the senior level. Welker will certainly look to demonstrate this here.

    Though Welker may have the most potential, the most seasoned competitor in this bracket is Anna Schell of Germany. Schell is one of only two Olympians at this weight class and will enter as the on-paper favorite: she impressed at the 2019 World Championships, where she qualified for the Olympics with defeats against Rio Olympic Silver Medalist Mariya Mamashuk and Rio Olympic Champion Sara Dosho. Though she hasn't been able to replicate that performance in tournaments since, she is still a solid wrestler and certainly in the mix to bring home the title here.

    One of the most interesting additions to this bracket is the very heavily credentialed Masako Furuichi of Japan, who owns an astounding seven age-level world titles. With Cadet titles every year between 2011 and 2013, Junior golds from 2014 to 2016, and a 2019 U23 victory, Furuichi has more hardware than many of these women could even dream of. She also won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships at this weight. Furuichi owns head-to-head wins over one of the tougher women in this bracket, Divya Kakran, and even defeated Tamyra back in 2016. A potential Welker-Furuichi final would be an incredible display of talent and age-level potential, though Japan would definitely be favored in this matchup.

    The only other Olympian in this bracket is Alla Belinska, who is returning back down to her preferred weight after representing Ukraine at 76kg in Tokyo. She lost to eventual bronze medalist Qian Zhou in the first round at the Games, but her qualifying performance in Sofia and recent dominance at 72 kilos should make her one of the favourites of this weight class. Belinska won the Euros and the Poland Open earlier this year and will look to add another medal to her collection.

    A woman who could have possibly been an Olympian- should her nation have chosen to enlist her to qualify was Divya Kakran of India. Kakran is a two-time Asian Champion and 5-time medallist; she's been dominant continentally as of late. She also owns wins over two Olympic medallists: 2020 Silver Blessing Oborodudu and 2012 Bronze Battsetseg Soronzonbold. Additionally, the talented Buse Tosun of Turkey came close to qualifying her nation at the World Olympic Games qualifier at 68 kilos, but fell short in the quarterfinals. She has had her best performances, including a U23 world title and a World Cup silver medal- at 72 kilos and should be expected to be a force at this weight.

    Young Zsuzsanna Molnar of Slovakia has been really strong for her atypical wrestling nation despite being only 20; she owns a 2018 Cadet Euro title in addition to a Junior World Bronze from earlier this year. At her Senior level debut in 2020, she won a bronze at the Individual World Cup. Molnar has an eccentric style and tends to secure a lot of pins; she should be fun to watch here though she lacks the experience against high-level competition to really go the distance this year.

    The story here will likely be seeing how the top four women at this weight- Olympians Belinska and Schell, youngster Welker, and well-credentialed Furuichi- end up placing relative to each other. Will the buzz around America's upperweight youth be proven correct? Will Schell and Belinska's extensive relative experience steer them towards a world title? Can Masako Furuichi add an eighth world gold medal to her already extensive list of credentials? This small weight class will be incredibly interesting in Oslo.

    For more of Olivia's work check out her site:

    International Women's Wrestling

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