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Japanese wrestler wins 3rd straight Olympic gold

Associated Press Published: August 9, 2012
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LONDON (AP) — She wasn't about to pretend it was just another win.

Saori Yoshida, half of Japan's unstoppable wrestling duo, launched into cartwheels and backflips, body-slamming one coach and hoisting another on her powerful shoulders, the flag of Japan held high above his head.

It was relief.

It was joy.

It was historic — for Yoshida and for Japan.

Yoshida beat Tonya Verbeek of Canada 3-0, 2-0 to win her 12th world-level championship and give Japan three of the four golds awarded in women's wrestling at the London Games.

The other half of the duo, Kaori Icho, clinched her third Olympic gold medal a day earlier. She, Yoshida and Russian legend Alexander Karelin are the only wrestlers to do it.

"I was so stressed out," Yoshida said. "I really wanted to fulfill my promise to win gold."

Natalia Vorobieva, Russia's 21-year-old sensation, won gold in the women's 72-kilogram freestyle by pinning Bulgarian veteran Stanka Zlateva Hristova in the second period.

Vorobieva announced her emergence on the international stage with three straight pins to take the title.

But even that was overshadowed by Yoshida's remarkable night.

Yoshida tore through the field, beating four wrestlers — American Kelsey Campbell, Yuliya Ratkevich of Azerbaijan, Valeria Zholobova of Russia and Verbeek — without giving up a point.

Icho didn't break her icy stare until she had won the gold, and her teammate Yoshida was almost as cold and emotionless — until she beat Zholobova, the 19-year-old prodigy who's most likely to dominate the weight class once Yoshida moves on.

Zholobova beat Yoshida at a recent World Cup meet. When Yoshida redeemed herself with a quick and decisive win over her young rival, she allowed herself a quick fist pump and an emphatic clap.

That was nothing compared with the celebration to come.

In the match with Verbeek, who won bronze in Beijing, Yoshida took the first period by driving her outside the mat for three points — not unlike a linebacker drilling a wayward running back into the turf.

She got two more in the second with a similar move, and was so ferocious in victory that she almost apologetic about it.

"I didn't mean to be so forceful," Yoshida said. It's just the way I fought."

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