Before the London Summer Games got under way on July 27, eight Japanese women have been flag-bearers in an Olympics Opening Ceremony. But none of them went on to win a gold medal.
Saori Yoshida plans to change all that.
Picked by the Japanese Olympic Committee to lead Team Japan in the Opening Ceremony's "Parade of Nations," the 29-year-old wrestling champion seems to be a shoo-in to strike gold. After all, she has already done it before--twice. The nine-time world champion from Mie Prefecture stood atop the medals podium in 2004 in Athens, and again in Beijing in 2008.
"I want to break the jinx," Yoshida says.
The history of women's wrestling at the Olympics is short, and Yoshida has been the dominant force from the get-go.
It became an official event in 2004 Athens Olympics.
Yoshida's current physical condition is not as well-honed as it was in past Games. At a World Cup competition held in Tokyo in May, she was defeated by lower-ranked Russian Valeria Zholobova. Yoshida's 58-match winning streak, which began in 2008, had finally come to an abrupt halt.
After her defeat, an executive of the Japan Wrestling Federation had the temerity to ask her, "Are you really going to serve as flag-bearer? In such condition, can you really win in London?"
Still weeping over her surprise defeat, an adamant Yoshida proclaimed, "I will serve. I will also win."
"She will overcome her poor physical condition by her sheer mental strength," says Tomiaki Fukuda, JWF chairman, who has known Yoshida since her childhood. "Despite her recent struggles, there will be no problems as long as she has the eagerness to go forward. I think that she has grown mentally."
The Olympic competition for women's wrestling gets under way Aug. 9. Yoshida has plenty of time to train and prepare. However, the training environment and facilities in London are not as good as those in Japan. Still, Yoshida radiates confidence.
"This will be my third Olympics and I am honored to serve as flag-bearer," she says. "I'm really happy. I want to end my matches with my best smile."
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