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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Tokyo Watch - 50 Profiles in 50 Days: Ningning Rong (China)

    2018 World Champion Ningning Rong (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    As of today, we under 50 days from the start of wrestling at the Olympic Games. Over the next 50 days, we'll bring you one profile per day of a decorated international contender. Make sure you get to know the wrestlers that Team USA will compete against in Tokyo.

    6/12/21 - Bajrang Punia (India)

    6/11/21 - Frank Staebler (Germany)

    6/10/21 - Geno Petriashvili (Georgia)

    The giant cloud that overshadows most of the international women's circuit, particularly in Asia, is Japan. Despite the dominance of the Japanese women, China is routinely in the mix as one of the second or third best teams in the world. One of the best performers on the Chinese team is their 57 kg star, Ningning Rong. By the time the first whistle blows, Rong will still be 23 years old and she already has appeared in a pair of world finals, winning once. Rong has been successful at one of the deepest weights in the world, 57 kg. She'll be among the many women vying for medals at the weight. Get to know more about one of the brightest stars from Asia, not competing for Japan, Ningning Rong.

    Key Wins: Myong-Suk Jong (2019 Asian Championship; Finals), Tserenchimed Sukhee (2019 Asian Championship; Semifinals), Odunayo Adekuoroye (2019 Nikola Petrov; Semifinals), Irina Kurachkina (2019 World Championship; Round of 16, 2019 Lady Klippan; Final), Grace Bullen (2019 Nikola Petrov; Final, 2018 World Championship; Semifinals, 2018 Poland Open; Finals), Yumeka Tanabe (2018 Poland Open; Semifinals), Irina Ologonova (2018 Poland Open; Quarterfinals), Olga Khoroshavtseva (2018 China Open; Finals), Xingru Pei (2018 China Open; Semifinals), Zalina Sidakova (2018 World Cup), Battsetseg Altantsetseg (2018 World Cup), Shoovdor Baatarjav (2018 Asian Championship; Semis), Alli Ragan (2018 Ivan Yarygin; Finals), Bilyana Dudova (2018 World Championship; Finals, 2018 Ivan Yarygin; Semifinals), Veronika Chumikova (2018 Ivan Yarygin; Quarterfinals), Momoka Kadoya (2017 World Cup), Sumiya Erdenechimeg (2017 World Cup), Olena Kremzer (2018 U23 World Championship; Semifinals, 2017 World Cup); Pooja Dhanda (2019 Asian Championship; Semifinals, 2018 World Championships; Quarterfinals, 2017 World Championship; Round of 16), Irina Khariv Chykhradze (2017 Poland Open, 2017 World Championship; Repechage)

    Key Losses: Yuzuka Inagki (2019 World Cup), Risako Kawai (2019 World Championship; Final), Grace Bullen (2018 U23 World Championship; Finals), Olga Khoroshavtseva (2018 Medved Semifinals), Aisuluu Tynybekova (2017 World Championship; Bronze Match), Marwa Armi (2017 World Championship; Quarterfinals), Helen Maroulis (2017 Poland Open)

    The Early Years (2015-17)

    Ningning Rong quietly debuted on the international scene in 2015 as a 17-year-old competing at the Asian Junior Championships. Entered at the 59 kg weight class, Rong was beaten by India's Sarita Mor, 6-2 in her second bout of the event. As a result of the bracketing, Rong was awarded the bronze medal. A year later, at 18, Rong arrived at the Senior level. The Asian Championships represented her only major competition of the year. Rong was a victim of a poor draw and met up with Japan's entry, Momoka Kadoya, in her first bout. Her tournament ended abruptly with a 10-0 tech. Kadoya was upset in the semifinals by a Mongolian, which dashed any repechage hopes for Rong.

    2017 is when Rong really demonstrated her potential and began her rise up the international ranks. Rong was able to grab bronze at the Poland Open. Her only setback at that event came to 2016 Olympic gold medalist Helen Maroulis. Along the way, she picked up a win over 2014 World bronze medalist Irina Khariv Chykhradze of Ukraine. That set the stage for Rong's first world championship event, the 2017 Senior World Championships. Rong advanced to the quarterfinals before getting shocked by Marwa Amri. A year earlier, Amri had become the first African woman to win an Olympic medal in wrestling. She would advance to the world finals, which pulled Rong into repechage. In the wrestlebacks, she earned a second win that year over Khariv Chykhradze, which set up a bout with then-two-time Asian Champion Aisuluu Tynybekova of Kyrgyzstan. The veteran, Tynybekova, was able to outlast her younger counterpart in a 6-5 win for the bronze medal.

    Before the end of the year, Rong was selected to compete for Team China in the World Cup dual meet series. Rong went undefeated at the World Cup and demonstrated just how far she had improved within the previous year. Though her team fell to Japan in the championship dual, Rong avenged a loss from 2016, by downing Kadoya.

    The Breakout (2018)

    If Rong showed she was capable of competing for world-level medals in 2017, 2018 was when she announced herself as a favorite at the weight for the foreseeable future. Rong was extremely active in 2018, entering eight tournaments and taking gold in six of those events.

    Rong's year started at the Ivan Yarygin and she had to run through a gauntlet to capture the title. She scored wins over World University Champion Veronika Chumikova (Russia) and Bilyana Dudova (Bulgaria), just to get to the championship bout. For the gold medal, Rong controlled two-time World silver medalist Alli Ragan (USA).

    Just over a month later, Rong secured her first Asian Championship. Her most notable win from that tournament came over returning World bronze medalist Shoovdor Baatarjav of Mongolia. Both the Yarygin and Asians titles came at 59 kg. She dropped down to 57 kg following this tournament and has primarily competed at the weight since.

    For the second consecutive year, Rong emerged unscathed from the World Cup dual tournament. She notched a pair of solid wins at the event over Bulgaria's 2012 World silver medalist, Zalina Sidakova, and Battsetseg Altantsetseg of Mongolia. Altantsetseg had already amassed a U23 World silver medal and a Junior World title at that point.

    Next up was the China Open, which saw Rong clash with one of her elite countrywomen, Xingru Pei. Pei was the opponent who defeated Ragan for a world title in 2016 at 60 kg. She also was the Asian Champion at 57 kg in 2018 (Rong won at 59). In the finals, Rong defeated Olga Khoroshavtseva of Russia. Khoroshavtseva has been lights out in 2021, winning the European title, along with Poland and the Last Chance Qualifier.

    Speaking of Poland, the 2018 event had a stacked field. Among others, Rong defeated Yumeka Tanabe, a two-time Cadet World Champion for Japan, and Grace Bullen in the finals. Just a week later, Rong was in action again at the Medved. There she suffered her first loss of 2018 to Khoroshavtseva in the semifinals. She would rebound to grab the bronze.

    Just a month after the Medved was the 2018 World Championships from Budapest, Hungary. The favorite at 57 kg was American, Maroulis. In her first match, Helen was injured and upset by Alyona Kolesnik (Azerbaijan). Next up for Kolesnik was Rong. Another upset was not in the cards, as Rong teched her Azeri opponent. Rong's first real test came in the quarterfinals against a past world medalist, Pooja Dhanda of India. The two have frequently clashed and Rong continued her dominance over the Indian. The semifinals included a win over Bullen, setting the stage for a gold medal match against Bilyana Dudova of Bulgaria. The two met earlier in the year at the Yarygin and Rong was victorious. Rong continued the trend by finishing on the right side of a 3-3 bout decided on criteria, making her a world champion.

    Even though Rong won a world title, she was still young enough to compete at U23's and she entered that event just a few weeks after her exploits in Budapest. This tournament came at 59 kg. Also moving up for U23's was Bullen. She was defeated by Dhanda for a bronze medal at Seniors. Bullen and Rong would be advance to the 59 kg gold medal match and the Norwegian star would flip the result and took the gold with a 5-2 win.

    The Post-Breakout Years (2019-Present)

    Even with a world title and a handful of other wins in 2018, Rong didn't slow down much in 2019, as far as her schedule goes. Rong started the 2019 campaign off with a title at the Klippan Lady Open in Sweden, followed by another at the Nikola Petrov. That tournament featured wins over Bullen and 2015 World bronze medalist Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria.

    In April, Rong stayed in China for the Asian Championships and garnered her second career gold at the tournament. That event allowed Rong to add another pair of high-quality wins to her hit list. In the semi's, she edged former world champion Tserenchimed Sukhee (Mongolia) and three-time world bronze medalist Myong-Suk Jong (North Korea) in the gold medal match.

    The Asian Championships were the last event for Rong before the 2019 World Championships. Her win at the continental championships locked up a top-seed in Nur-Sultan for the Chinese superstar. Though she was the number one seed, Rong had far from a cakewalk to the finals. In the Round of 16, she won a hard-fought 4-1 match against European gold medalist Irina Kurachkina (Belarus). That did represent the most challenging bout for Rong before the finals. Standing in the way of Rong's second consecutive world title was Japan's Risako Kawai. Kawai came into Kazakhstan having won world championships in 2018 and 2019, with the most recent gold coming at 59 kg. Down at 57 kilos, in preparation for the Olympic run, Kawai stormed out to a big lead on Rong. Ningning battled back and made it a match before falling 9-6.

    Less than a month after the World Championships, Rong entered the UWW Test Event in Japan, but did not compete. She ended 2019 by wrestling at the World Cup. Rong was used sparingly, but did suffer a loss to another Japanese foe, Yuzuka Inagki. Inagki was a 2019 U23 World Champion and has won world golds at the Junior and Cadet age groups. She was Japan's representative at Senior World's in 2019, but did not medal at 59 kg.

    The Tokyo Olympics will have been more than a year and a half since Rong's last major competition, so one could question whether or not she'll be rusty. If anywhere near her top-form, she should be on the shortlist of true gold medal threats at 57 kg.

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