June 24 (Reuters) - Five wrestlers to watch out for at the Tokyo Olympics:
ABDULRASHID SADULAEV (RUSSIA)
Abdulrashid Sadulaev will headline Tokyo 2020 as a returning Olympic gold medallist, after bagging the gold at 86-kg in Rio. Now competing at 97-kg, his fiercest rival will be defending Olympic champion Kyle Snyder of the United States. The duo have wrestled twice in three years, splitting the outcomes.
Nicknamed the “Russian Tank,” Sadulaev has won four World championships in the last six titles. With an official record of 131 wins against two losses, the 25-year-old wrestler will have the spotlight on the mat, and on Instagram, where he is the most popular athlete in his sport with more than one million followers.
HASSAN YAZDANI CHARATI (IRAN)
Hassan Yazdani Charati comes to Tokyo as a 2016 Olympic champion, winning at 74-kg. Now competing at 86-kg, the 2019 world champion faces a tough field of top competitors, including David Taylor of the United States.
In Iran, where freestyle wrestling has been regarded the national sport, Yazdani became known as “The Greatest” and “The King”. With almost 700,000 followers on Instagram, he is one of the most popular athletes in wrestling.
His taller and thinner figure is unusual for his weight category, where most athletes are shorter and broader.
ISMAEL BORRERO (CUBA)
In men’s Greco-Roman, Cuba have a strong duo in three-time Olympic champion Mijain Lopez at 130-kg, plus world and Olympic champion Ismael Borrero, then at 60-kg, now at 67-kg. Cuba have a chance to repeat their successful Rio performance in Tokyo.
In April, Borrero recovered after testing positive for the coronavirus after a March competition in Canada, where he won the 67-kg division.
Borrero, a former weightlifter, broke through at the 2015 World Championships. He moved up to 67-kg in this Olympic cycle.
RISAKO KAWAI (JAPAN)
Risako Kawai, 26, will be looking to repeat her Rio gold. In celebration after winning at 63-kg, she memorably slammed her coach down on the mat twice. Kawai is not the only star of the Japanese women wrestling team, who won 11 out of 18 gold medals in the last three Olympic games.
Five years ago, Kawai wrestled in the 63-kg event to avoid having to go up against 10-time world champion and four-time Olympic women’s wrestling champion Kaori Icho at 58-kg, and claimed the gold medal in her Olympic debut in Rio.
But for Tokyo 2020, Kawai made the bold move of stepping down a weight division and coming face-to-face with Icho in order to leave the pathway open for her sister to make it to the Olympics with her.
TAHA AKGUL (TURKEY)
Olympic gold medallist in Rio at 125-kg, Taha Akgul was crowned European champion in April. The 30-year-old has been training with American Kyle Snyder and is determined to repeat his Rio success.
Akgul’s latest gold meant a lot to the Turkish giant, he said in a recent interview with the state news agency Anadolu, coming after nearly two years on the sidelines with injury. (Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Ken Ferris and Lincoln Feast.)