London 2012: Japan's Yoshida wins 3rd straight Olympic gold

AP, Thursday 9 Aug 2012

Saori Yoshida wasn't about to pretend it was just another win

 Saori Yoshida

The co-star of Japan's unstoppable 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 history for Yoshida - and historic for Japan.

Yoshida beat Beijing bronze medalist 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.

Japan's Kaori Icho also clinched her third Olympic gold medal on Wednesday. She, Yoshida and Russian legend Alexander Karelin are the only wrestlers to do so.

"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 the Olympic wrestling gold in the women's 72-kg freestyle by pinning Bulgaria veteran Stanka Zlateva Hristova in the second period.

Vorobieva announced her emergence on the international stage with three straight pins to win gold.

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

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

Yoshida was almost as cold and emotionless as Icho - whose icy stare didn't waver until she'd won the gold - until she beat Zholobova.

Zholobova, the 19-year-old prodigy who's most likely to dominate the weight class once Yoshida moves on, 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 a brief, emphatic clap.

That was nothing compared to the celebration to come.

Yoshida took the first period by driving Verbeek outside the mat for three points. She got two more in the second with a similar move, and was so ferocious in victory that she was almost apologetic about it.

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

Nobody fought with more ferocity than Vorobieva.

Vorobieva, a three-time junior world champion, dropped the first period to Hristova 1-0. But just 46 seconds into the second, Vorobieva got Hristova on her back and held her down long enough to register the fall.

Hristova, who settled for silver in Beijing, looked stunned as she realized she'd have to do so again.

Hristova was pinned by Wang Jiao of China in the 2008 final. Vorobieva pinned Wang in a semifinal Thursday in just 17 seconds, then did the same to the crestfallen Hristova.

"The competition to get onto the Russian team was extremely hard. But the moment I realized I was on the team I knew that I would be there, standing on the podium and getting the gold medal," Vorobieva said.

Britain's Olga Butkevych, a native Ukrainian who only received her U.K. passport in May, drew by far the loudest cheers of the wrestling tournament so far when she opened against Lissette Antes Castillo of Ecuador.

Butkevych was the only wrestler to compete for Britain, so she was treated by the crowd as though she was born right here in East London. But the loud chants of "Olga! Olga!" weren't enough for Butkevych, who dropped a late point in the third period and ended up losing.

"I didn't feel pressure from the crowd, but I was proud to be there for them. There were so many people here to support me and I'm proud. But I'm sorry. I'm sorry," Butkevych said.

Campbell had the toughest draw of the day - Yoshida, first round - and though she fought hard, she fell 0-1, 0-1. Teammate Ali Bernard, who won a bronze medal at worlds in 2011, lost to Jenny Fransson of Sweden and didn't get a spot in the consolation bracket.

Campbell did, but she lost in the repechage to Ratkevich.

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