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2021 World Championship Preview: Women's Freestyle Day Two (50 kg/53 kg/65 kg/76 kg)

Forrest Molinari 2021 World Team Trials(Photo/Sam Janicki; SJanickiPhoto.com)

50 kg: Hildebrandt Headlines a Young Lightweight Field

As is typical in most post-Olympic World Championships, many weight classes are slightly depleted of talent. 50 kilos is no exception: reigning Olympic Champion Yui Susaki will not be attending, nor will her finals opponent Yanan Sun or defending World Champion and Olympic Bronze Medallist Mariya Stadnik. However, the weight class is not completely deficient of Olympic medalists and major international stars: 2018 World Silver Medalist and Tokyo Bronze Sarah Hildebrandt will make her return in Oslo this week.

Hildebrandt's descent down to 50 kilos left some questions in international wrestling fans, wondering if the cut would be too much. The American had spent most of her time up at 55 kilos before switching to 53kg, a weight where she looked strong and lean. However, Hildebrandt accustomed to 50 kg nicely (as evidenced by the fact that she has only lost one match in her five tournaments since descending!) and secured a bronze medal in Tokyo, earning wins over Evin Demirhan, Miglena Selishka and Oksana Livach, losing only a razor-thin bout to Sun of China. As the highest Olympic placer and one of the most successful women as of late in the field, Hildebrandt will be heavily favored to win this tournament.

The two women that Hildebrandt steamrolled en route to the semifinals, Selishka of Bulgaria and Demirhan of Turkey, are both registered for the World Championships. While Hildebrandt dominated them both with a pair of techfalls, both these women are well-credentialed and are in excellent position to secure a medal at this event. Demirhan owns three continental medals in addition to a 2017 World Bronze and a U23 World Title from the same year. Selishka is a three-time European finalist, including when she took the title in 2020, and has been a fixture on the international scene for the past quad. While neither of these athletes are in the top tier of competitors at 50 kilos, the slightly sparser field will provide them with an opportunity to bring home some hardware for their nations.

Other Olympians who'll be present at this weight include Argentinian Patricia Bermudez, who had the performance of a lifetime to secure fifth in Rio but failed to re-qualify to Tokyo, and two-time World Silver Medallist Emilia Vuc of Romania. Vuc's resume is well-credentialed, including two World and three European medals, but her performances can politely be described as hot-and-cold. At her previous five tournaments, she has placed 3rd, 7th twice, 8th, and 14th at the Olympic Games (falling to Selishka first round). However, she made the 2019 World finals over some incredibly tough competitors and pushed Hildebrandt to the final seconds in a 4-2 match at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone. If Vuc is on, this bracket could be hers for the taking; however, it's hard to know what version of her we will see.

Though Japan will not be sending Susaki, the women's wrestling powerhouse will be sending one of their youngest up-and-comers, who should undoubtedly not be counted out. Remina Yoshimoto won a 2017 Cadet World Title as well as 2016 Cadet and 2019 Junior Asian titles, and she'll look to continue Japan's traditional dominance at the lightest weight class here. This will be a big test for the 21-year old as she looks to prove herself, though she'll likely be stuck behind Susaki in the lineup for the foreseeable future.

A couple other points of interest include Ukraine's entry of Bohdana Kokozei Yashchuk, who is decidedly an unknown at this weight. Yashchuk doesn't appear to have any international results- not even at her home country's annual Outstanding Ukrainian Wrestlers and Coaches Memorial- and Ukraine's depth at this weight makes her registration a surprise. It will be interesting to see if she is on the top tier of Ukrainian lightweight women's wrestling, which includes the likes of World Medallist Oksana Livach, World Cup Finalist Lillia Malanchuk and multiple-time age-group World Medallist Mariia Vynnyk.

Beyond these top contenders are many age-level standouts looking to expand their credentials from the highly competitive Cadet, Junior and U23 Championships to the Senior level. There are six athletes at this weight with solid international resumes looking for their breakout performance on the big stage. The most successful of the group is
2015 Junior World Champion Turkan Nasirova, who also owns a U23 Bronze and Junior Silver to complete her collection. However, the Azeri hasn't had the same success on the senior level as she has on the age-group scene, though this tournament is the prime opportunity for a breakout performance. Also incredibly successful on the Junior and U23 levels is Russian Nadezhda Sokolova, who owns two U23 World medals and a Junior World Silver. She could really make some noise at this event. Furthermore, Cadet World Silver Medallist Otgonjargal Dolgarjav of Mongolia will be making her Senior level debut in Oslo; she dominated the 2018 Cadet Worlds field up until her finals match and thus will be an interesting addition to this weight class.

Additionally, 2018 Cadet World Bronze Medallist Natallia Varakina has secured 5th at the past two Junior World Championships and will look to improve upon those finishes here. Lisa Ersel of Germany won bronze at the 2020 World Cup and also owns a Junior Euro Silver and a Cadet World Bronze. Finally, Kumari Hanny of India secured a 2019 Cadet World Bronze medal in solid fashion. She'll look to make waves on the senior level and increase India's growing list of successes in women's wrestling. Don't be surprised if any of these athletes have a breakout performance and land amongst the medals or upset one of the more established competitors.

53 kg: The World's First Look at Akari Fujinami

Of the six Olympic weights, 53 kilos is the most deprived of talent post-Tokyo. Only two of the sixteen competitors will be returning to action in Oslo and the bracket contains only one previous Senior level world medalist, who'll go into this bracket as the prohibitive favorite: Bolortuya Bat-Ochir of Mongolia.

Bat-Ochir has emerged as a top senior-level contender over the past couple years since winning a 2019 World Bronze medal in Nur-Sultan at 55 kilos. Since then, she capped off a stellar performance at the Asian OGQ with an even brighter run in Tokyo, securing the bronze medal with a tech-fall in her final match. Bat-Ochir is only 24 and indubitably has a bright future ahead of her at the weight.

The only other Tokyo Olympian in this bracket, Luisa Valverde Melendres of Ecuador, is an interesting addition to the field. Valverde has been incredibly successful on the Pan-Am scene with 8 continental medals to her name and has also experienced flashes of brilliance on the World-level scene, including wins over 3-time European Champion Stalvira Orshush and two-time world medallist Maria Prevolaraki. However, she tends to struggle with consistency and putting together a complete tournament (see her performance at this year's Pan-Am's- she teched Ronna Heaton in the first round, then lost to her 9-6 in the finals). If Valverde is on, look out. It's just hard to say what version of her will show up in Oslo. Also making an appearance is Polish veteran Katarzyna Krawczyk, who attended the Rio 2016 Olympics but stayed at home behind Roksana Zasina this year. Krawczyk has been a staple at 53 kilos for many years, highlighted by a fifth-place finish at the 2018 Worlds, and is consistent and experienced enough to be in medal contention. Other veterans to watch out for include two-time European medallist Annika Wendle of Germany, 2021 European bronze medallist Iulia Leorda of Moldova, and Anzhelika Vetoshkina, who has been a staple on the Russian scene and has had some solid results at tournaments like the Klippan and Yariguin. Vetoshkina also won bronze at the 2020 World Cup. While these veterans are solid and well-credentialed, the young women entering will steal the show in Oslo. Positive age-level results have shown a promising new crop of 53 kg athletes emerging, which will be highlighted in Oslo by Akari Fujanami of Japan. Fujanami won the Cadet Asian and World Championships in 2018 and has since been the source of a lot of domestic and international buzz. Rumors have floated around that she has been able to "more than hold her own" against Olympic Champion Mayu Mukaida in training room matches. Fujinami also had to beat out two-time World Champion Haruna Okuno and 2019 World finalist Nanami Irie just to make the world team- matches which she won dominantly. Japan is well-known for having incredibly talented youngsters right out the gate and Fujinami will be a prime pick to win the title in Oslo.

While Fujinami has been absent from the international scene since 2019, 2021 Junior World Champion Emma Malmgrem is more than familiar: she looked fantastic in Ufa in August and has accumulated a long list of age-level credentials since 2017. The Swede won the 2018 Youth Olympic Games, won Cadet Euros twice, and owns two age-level Euro bronzes. Malmgrem is not new to the Senior level, having wrestled for Sweden at 50kg at the OGQs; however, she is definitely too big for the weight class, but was stuck behind the talented Sofia Mattsson in regards to the 53kg spot. She looked alright at 50 kilos- even pinning 2012 World Champion Jessica MacDonald- but has looked even more stellar at 53kg and has huge Senior-level potential.
Other strong youngsters include Zeynep Yetgil of Turkey, who has had a ton of age-level success, including 3 World bronze medals and 5 European medals. She has been a rising star for Turkey for the past couple years and will likely be their prime representative over the next couple quads. Yetgil is in the top tier of current U23 athletes and will be looking to extend her success to the older age group. Ukraine's Khrystyna Bereza will also look to establish herself and her country on the senior level after securing silver at the 2021 Poland Open in addition to her previous three age-group world medals. Bereza will look to be the answer for Ukraine at 53 kilos after they failed to qualify the weight for the Olympics; this is the only category in which Ukraine lacks in success and depth. A strong performance here could cement the nation's strong women's wrestling program as a powerhouse for the upcoming quad.

Also, keep an eye on American Amy Fearnside, who won the US World Team Trials out of the seventh seed and will be attending her first world championships. Though Fearnside lacks the international experience of some of her competitors, she does have some really strong results, including a recent win over 2019 50kg World Bronze medallist Ekaterina Poleshchuk.

While this weight class features some of the international scene's most seasoned veterans, all eyes should be on young Akari Fujinami. Her insane domestic success- already including victories over some of the world's best- should translate well to Oslo and I expect her to dominate the field in her senior international debut.

65 kg: Return of the 'Tweeners

65 kilos will be an interesting weight class as the top women who have ruled this category will be largely absent from Oslo. 2021 Olympian Elis Manolova is the only medalist returning from 2019, and none of the medallists from 2018 (when this weight class debuted) are registered. Going through the entry list, there's an interesting prevalence of 'tweeners: many of the women struggled to make the 62kg weight class, and were forced to go up to 68kg for the Olympic year despite being undersized.

Manolova has one of the most well-adorned resumes in the field as she will look to continue Azerbaijan's streak of medaling at 65 kilos since the weight class' inception. She qualified for the 2021 Games at 68kg through the World OGQ in Sofia, Bulgaria, and sports credentials, including a 2020 European title, a 2019 World Bronze and three age-level world medals. She'll most certainly be in the hunt for a medal, especially down at her optimal weight.
The most interesting entry, however, is the last-minute addition of Koumba Larroque of France, moving down from 68 kg after a disappointing performance in Tokyo. The 22-year old athlete looked on pace to have a stellar performance at the Olympics, winning the Poland Open and Euros in the months prior to the Games, but was shockingly pinned by Soronzonbold of Mongolia in the first round. Larroque owns world titles at the Cadet, Junior and U23 age levels and will be looking to complete her collection by upgrading her two senior world medals to gold in Oslo. Larroque has a win over Tamyra from 2018 and will be in contention for the title here if she is at her best. Her entry at 65 kilos is especially interesting considering she has spent a lot of time up at 72kg, and was thus generally regarded as a bigger 68kg athlete. If she can compete at her best and be healthy here in Oslo, she'll be the favorite to win her first senior world title.

Also well-esteemed is Mimi Hristova of Bulgaria, a two-time Olympian and 2020 European Champion. Originally, Hristova tried to qualify for the Olympic Games at 57 kilos, but would eventually qualify and compete at 68kg. The descent to 57 appeared to be a large cut for her and Bulgaria's middleweight depth- featuring Olympic medallists Taybe Yusein and Evelina Nikolova in addition to 4-time Euro Champ and 2018 World Silver medallist Bilyana Dudova, who couldn't even attend the Olympics- lead Hristova to search for a new weight class. As Yusein occupied 62 kilos, 68kg was the only option left; despite being obviously undersized, Hristova was able to represent her nation in Tokyo and will look to have a solid performance at 65 kilos here (where she fits best in the Bulgarian lineup).

The only 62kg Olympian in this weight class is Romanian Kriszta Incze, who is back up at her more natural weight. Incze has three Senior and 5 age-level Euro medals, but hasn't really been able to extend her success to wins over the top tier at this weight class. She qualified for the Olympics following North Korea's withdrawal from the Olympic Games, assuming the spot of Rim-Jong Sim as the next highest placer at the 2019 Worlds.
Despite the four Olympians in this weight class, the athlete that many are most excited to see is 2021 Junior World Champ Irina Ringaci. Ringaci will look to become Moldova's first female world medallist as her nation rises through the ranks of women's wrestling powerhouses, sporting formidable youngsters such as herself and Anastasia Nichita. Ringaci has amassed a pile of age-level credentials, including 3 European medals, 3 age-level world bronze medals and most recently, a well-deserved Junior World title. Ringaci even capped off her stellar recent performances with a 2021 Senior European title, showcasing her readiness for the senior scene. However, she failed to qualify for the Olympics-losing a heartbreaking razor-thin 12-11 match at the Euro OGQ and a surprise defeat by fall at the World OGQ largely in part to being ill-suited to either Olympic weight. Despite competing at 62kg in 2019, she was no longer suitable for that descent post-pandemic; she was undersized at 68 kilos and failed to produce the results she was looking for. This will be an opportunity for the Moldovan to prove herself as the top tier of this weight class.

Ringaci's participation in this tournament could lead to the rubber match in what has been one of the more invigorating women's wrestling series over the past 12 months: her matches against Ukrainian Tetiana Rizhko. The two first met at the Individual World Cup, where Rizhko teched her 14-4 in the finals; however, Ringaci flipped the script at

the European Championships to deal her a 10-0 defeat in the gold medal match. The drastic variance in the two results will lead to an intriguing deciding bout. Rizhko has had remarkable success on the age-level scene and could very well be in medal contention here.

After finishing in fifth place at the previous two World Championships, American Forrest Molinari will look to upgrade to a medal here in Tokyo. Her chances are looking brighter than ever: none of the four women who have defeated her in the past two World Championships will be in attendance, giving Molinari a fresh shot at cracking the top tier of 65kg wrestlers. Also in the hunt for a medal will be 2016 Olympian and two-time world bronze medallist Johanna Mattsson of Sweden, who has had an observable decline in performance over the past two years. Her biggest claim to fame, however, is two wins over Tynybekova, including one in 2019 at the Sassari City tournament just prior to the World Championships- where Tynybekova would go on to win a world title. If Mattsson is in top form, she could potentially do some damage in this bracket, though she hasn't competed since 2019.

Japan will be represented by 2019 Junior World Champion Miwa Morikawa, who also owns a U23 World Silver and Junior Bronze. Morikawa has minimal Senior experience, though she did earn a silver medal at the 2018 Klippan and has had some positive results representing her country at the World Cups. This event will be a good gauge for her potential future representing Japan.

Based on the current entries, the top seed of this bracket will go to Aleksandra Wolczynska of Poland, who has expanded upon her 2017 Junior success to winning a Senior Euro bronze and a medal at the Poland Open this year. Wolczynska is still new to the senior level and thus lacks the wins over the top women in this bracket, but the 24-year old will seek to attain some defining results at these World Championships.

This weight class will be characterized by rejuvenation: as many of these women will return from the smaller and larger Olympic weights to their optimal size, we'll get to see the world's top athletes performing at their best. If Koumba Larroque arrives in peak form, watch for her to notch some big results; keep an eye on Ringaci, Rizhko, Molinari and Manolova to contend for medals here as well.

76 kg: Adeline goes for World Title #6

After a heartbreaking quarterfinal defeat in Rio, Tokyo seemed like Adeline's time. With nearly three years between competition day and her last loss, and the momentum following her second consecutive and fifth total world title, it seemed as though there was little that could get between Adeline and an Olympic gold medal. However, in the finals, the always-tough Aline Rotter Focken rattled off 7 huge points to eventually take the match by a score of 7-3, leaving Adeline to settle for second place. While an Olympic silver medal in arguably the deepest women's weight class is nothing to scoff at, such a loss will surely have instilled a new degree of hunger in the American to reach the top of the podium once more.

Gray may be the only returning Tokyo medalist in this weight class, but she is far from the only Olympian. Narrowly missing the podium this year is one of 76 kilos' greatest rising stars, Aiperi Medet Kyzy. Medet Kyzy made history by becoming the first Kyrgyzstani woman to win a world title, taking Junior Gold in 2017. She had an impressive performance en route to fifth place at the Games, capped off with a near-defeat of Adeline Gray in the semifinals. A lost Kyrgyz challenge shifted the 2-2 criteria lead from Aiperi back to Adeline's corner, a decision that turned out to eventually decide the match. Despite this defeat, Medet Kyzy has impressed the world by showing that she can already compete with the very experienced field, and she should be expected to compete for a medal in Oslo.

One of the favorites to make the finals opposite Adeline will indubitably be Epp Maee of Estonia. Maee knocked out defending Olympic Champion Erica Wiebe in the first round in Tokyo, but unfortunately fell in the quarterfinals to Minagawa (who she has historically struggled against). Despite this early loss, Maee is more than capable: she won the European Championships and placed second at the Poland Open, and inarguably has a spot in the top tier amongst Gray and Medet Kyzy. The two-time world medallist will look to redeem herself after a disappointing Olympic performance. A potential match against Gray would be of great intrigue, as the two have not met since 2018.

Top contenders at this weight class don't just hail from Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Samar Hamza of Egypt is a two-time Olympian and will be beginning the new quad back up at 76 kg despite briefly flirting with 68 kilos during the Olympic qualification procedures. Hamza has looked decent this year: she pinned 2016 Olympic Bronze medallist Ekaterina Bukina at the Yariguin prior to the Olympics and pushed 2012 Olympic Champion Vorobieva to the brink in a 16-12 barn burner in Tokyo. Hamza won't be a walkover match for any athlete, though she'll likely struggle to notch wins over the top tier of women in Oslo.

The depth of 76 kilos is exemplified by the difficulty many of the 2016 Olympians experienced when trying to repeat their previous feats in qualifiers for the Games. Two women who attended the Rio Games will look to better their recent performances in Oslo after missing out on the qualification processes. Cynthia Vescan of France, a two-time European medallist, will return to the wrestling mat despite announcing intentions to transition to MMA earlier this year. She'll be joined by the very solid Zsanett Nemeth of Hungary, who owns two European medals and has been solid on the international scene. Both women are good athletes, but will likely struggle to crack the enormous top tier of women that rule this weight class.

While Germany had a historic performance at this weight class in Tokyo, recording their first wrestling Olympic gold medallist, Russia's women's wrestling team experienced a little more disappointment. The lack of an Olympic medal at the heaviest women's weight class marked only the second time since the sport's Olympic inception that Russia failed to bring home hardware. 2012 London Champion Vorobieva and Rio 2016 Bronze Bukina will be staying home from Oslo and instead, 21-year old Marina Surovtseva will be representing her nation. Surovtseva is inexperienced on the international scene, owning a 2019 Junior Euro bronze and a 2021 U23 Euro silver. Her rise up to heavyweight is surprising as she competed down at 72kg in May. It'll be interesting to see how Surovtseva performs; her results could very well impact whether she stays at the weight class or returns back to 72 kilos, as well as whether she will be Russia's primary representative at this weight class in a potential post-Bukina/Vorobieva era.

While Japan's Tokyo heavyweight representative, Hiroe Minagawa, failed to medal at the Olympics, her replacement will indubitably be a contender to place. Yasuha Matsuyuki is still relatively new to the senior level, but has amassed accolades, including Cadet and U23 World titles and three Junior world medals. As Minagawa turned 34 this year, Japan will likely be scoping out for who will become her most likely replacement over the next quad; Matsuyuki has a huge opportunity to establish herself here.

Beyond these quintessential contenders and new faces, there are a couple other names to watch out for as potential upsetters or beneficiaries of a good draw. Iselin Solheim won a 2020 Euro bronze medal with an impressive victory over Vasilisa Marzaliuk. The Norwegian star also owns a Euro Games bronze medal and has been competitive enough at the senior level to make her a potential source of upset-style victories. Also keep an eye on U23 World silver medallist Aysegul Ozbege, who has experienced lots of success on the age-level scene, but has lacked an opportunity to prove herself internationally as a result of being backup to Turkey's superstar Yasemin Adar. As Adar has stated that she will continue to wrestle until Paris 2024, this may be one of only a few opportunities for Ozbege to compete on the world stage for a few years.

Even with some of the biggest names and most successful women missing from the entry list of this weight class, 76 kilos will still be a madhouse of talent and depth, though Gray remains the prohibitive favorite. Adeline's quest to earn a sixth world title will only be held with greater reverence because of the deep field she must overcome to turn Gray to gold once more.

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