Women wrestlers prepare for Games

Wrestling, one of the few remaining male sporting strongholds at the Olympics, makes its debut as a female sport at the upcoming Athens Games. In preparation, a thee-day women’s tournament starts today as an Olympic test event. Top athletes will compete, including four current world champions, all Japanese. The tournament, being staged at the capital’s newly built Olympic wrestling and judo facility in Ano Liosia, has attracted 96 contestants from 16 countries. Women’s wrestling emerged officially in France in 1983. Competition then went international with the first-ever world championships, in 1987, in the Norwegian city of Oslo. The first Europeans were held a year later, in Dijon, France. Japan’s four current world champions, Chiharu Icho (51kg), Saori Yoshida (55kg), Kaori Icho (63kg), and Kyoko Hamaguchi (72kg), who won their titles last year, should figure among the highlights. Also competing will be Greece’s Sophia Poubouridou, a world champion in 2002 in the 51-kilogram category who has since moved up to the 55kg division, and Germany’s Brigitte Wagner (48kg), a world champion in 2002 and European champion last year. Also represented at the test event will be Austria, Bulgaria, China, France, Hungary, Italy, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, and the USA. Preliminary events in four of the tournament’s seven divisions begin early this morning. Finals are scheduled for tomorrow and Sunday.

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