Yoshida opts to ‘pass baton’ to younger Japanese wrestlers

TOKYO (The Japan News/ANN) - Anguishing between the desire for a fourth gold medal and opening the way for a new generation of wrestlers to take the spotlight, Saori Yoshida said she opted for the latter, in explaining her decision to retire as one of the sport’s legends.

“Seeing the many young wrestlers having success on the world stage, I thought maybe it was time to hand off the baton,” Yoshida said at a nationally televised press conference in Tokyo on Thursday.

Yoshida, the most successful wrestler in history with three Olympic golds and 13 world titles — all consecutive — last competed at the 2016 Rio Olympics, where she lost in the 53-kilogram final to Helen Maroulis of the United States.

That defeat — only the third of her stellar career to a non-Japanese opponent — had sparked a desire to continue on to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a quest that her many fans wanted to see.

“Taking a good look at myself, I had given everything that I could, so I decided to retire,” said the 36-year-old Yoshida, who received the People’s Honor Award in 2012.

Yoshida first announced her decision on her Twitter account on Tuesday, saying she had decided to bring her 33-year wrestling career to a close.

Adding to the difficulty of her decision was her recalling the words of her father Eikatsu, a former national champion who had been her coach from the time she started the sport at 3 through high school. He died in March 2014.

“I ended up with the silver medal in Rio,” Yoshida said. 

“My father had said how and when you go out is important, that it’s indeed important to end with a victory. So many people had urged me to go for the gold. It was a really hard decision.”