World silver medalist Pirozhkova shoots for Olympic gold; Bernard returns for second straight Games

Updated: May 24, 2012

2012 Olympic Wrestling Preview — Women’s Freestyle 138.75 and 158 pounds

By Mike Finn

(Editor’s Note: This is the second of 11 weekly previews of the of this summer’s Olympics in London. In last week’s WIN eNews, we looked at the 105.5- and 121-pound weight classes in women’s freestyle. Next week, WIN will start previewing the six  Greco-Roman weight classes and eventually men’s freestyle.)


63 kilos / 138.75 pounds (Competition held August 8, 2012)


U.S. Entry: Elena Pirozhkova, 25, Greenfield, Mass.

Born in Russia, Pirozhkova grew up in Massachussetts as a naturalized citizen … and America’s best at this weight since qualifying for the first of four straight World Championships in 2008. (FILA also offered a World Championship in only women’s freestyle that Olympic year). Since then she has compiled an 11-7 record in these tournaments and finished in the top 10 at every Worlds.

Elena Pirozhkova (top) defeated another former World medalist Adeline Gray at the Olympic Team Trials in Iowa City.

That includes a silver medal finish in the 2010 Worlds, where her only loss was to Japan’s two-time Olympic gold medalist Kaori Icho (who defeated America’s Sara McMann during the gold medal match of the 2004 Olympics and then Randi Miller, the bronze medalist for the U.S., during the 2008 Olympics).

Pirzohkova also lost in the 2011 World semifinals to Icho and then to Ruixue Jing of China in the bronze medal match.

Top Contenders

• Kaori Icho, Japan — Not only has the 28-year-old Japanese wrestler won this weight class in the two previous Olympics, she also has gold-medal performances in seven World Championships: 2002, ’03, ’05, ’06, ’07, ’10 and ’11. She was quite the nemesis for 2004 Olympian Sara McMann, who lost to Icho in four of those Worlds: 2002, 2003 (gold medal match), 2005 and 2007.

• Lyubov Volossova, Russia — This three-time World medalist is one reason America’s Elena Pirozhkova did not medal in her first two Worlds (2008 and 2009) when the Russian defeated the American and eventually finished second in those two international events to another Japanese wrestler, Mio Nishimaki. After settling for a bronze medal in the 2010 Worlds (where Pirozhkova beat the Russian), Volossova failed to place in last year’s Worlds, losing to Nasanburmaa Ochirbat of Mongolia.

• Marianna Sastin, Hungary — The 28-year-old wrestler finished second to Icho in last year’s Worlds but that was not the only time she secured a silver medal. The first time came in 2005 when she competed in the non-Olympic weight of 130 pounds. Sastin also finished third at 59 kilos in 2009 (when she defeated American Deanna Rix).


72 kilos / 158 pounds (Competition held August 9)


EDITOR’S NOTE: Stephany Lee tests positive for illegal drug; loses Olympic spot

U.S. Entry: Ali Bernard, 26, New Ulm, Minn.

Bernard, who lost to Stephany Lee in the finals of the Olympic Trials in Iowa City in April, learned on June 28, that she would get a chance to compete in her second straight Olympics after Lee tested positive of illegal drugs.

A thankful Ali Bernard claimed her first World medal last September when she pinned Guzel Manyurova of Kazahkstan in the bronze medal match.

Bernard, who won a bronze medal in last September’s World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey, finished fifth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where she split four matches. The graduate of the University of Regina in Canada and five-time Canadian college champion defeated Nigerian Amarachi Objajunwa in the first round before losing to eventual silver medalist Jiao Wang of China in the second round. In consolation, Bernard defeated Jenny Fransson of Sweden before losing to Japan’s former World champion Kyoko Hamaguchi in the bronze medal match.

A former two-time Junior World champion (2003 and 2005), Bernard has competed in two Senior World Championships: losing her only match during the 2009 Worlds to Bulgaria’s Stanka Zlateva before coming back to the 2011 Worlds where she won four of five matches — including an avenging victory over Wang of China before losing to Zlateva in the semifinals. In the bronze medal match, Bernard defeated Gouzel Manyurova of Kazahkstan.


 Top Contenders

• Stanka Zlateva, Bulgaria — This 29-year-wrestler has been the most dominating wrestler at this weight since 2006, despite finishing second to Jiao Wang of China in the 2008 Olympics, Zlateva has won five World titles at 72 kilos: 2006, ’07, ‘08, ‘10 and 2011. (The Bulgarian defeated American Ali Bernard in both 2009 and 2011). Zlateva settled for a bronze medal in the 2009 Worlds, where her only loss was to another Chinese wrestler: Xiaoging Qin. Zlateva also represented Bulgaria in the 2004 Olympics where she finished 12th.

• Ekaterina Bukina, Russia — The 25-year-old from Moscow has earned two World medals the last two seasons: claiming a bronze in 2010 and silver last September (her only losses were to Bulgaria’s Stanka Zlateva).

• Kyoko Hamaguchi, Japan — At one time, this 33-year-old wrestler from Tokyo and daughter of professional wrestler Animal Hamaguchi, was the most dominant women’s wrestler at this weight; winning World championships in 1997, ’98, ’99, 2002 and ’03). Since then, Hamaguchi has medaled in seven other World or Olympic competitions: two silver (2005 and 2006) and five bronze (2000 Worlds, 2004 and 2008 Olympics, and 2008 and 2010 Worlds).

During her career, Hamaguchi has defeated several Americans at either the Worlds or Olympics: Kristie Davis (1997-99 and 2006) and Toccara Montgomery (2003 and 2004) before losing to Iris Smith in the gold medal match of the 2005 World Championships. She also defeated American Stephany Lee in the 2008 Worlds.

Click here for preview of women’s freestyle 105 and 121 pounds