2008 Olympic Games preview at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. in women?s freestyle wrestling
Gary Abbott USA Wrestling

Chiharu Icho of Japan has won the last two World titles at this weight class, but will have a tremendous challenge on her quest to win her first Olympic title. Icho won a silver medal at the 2004 Olympic Games. Icho is the sister of 2004 Olympic champion Kaori, who competes at 63 kg.

Icho defeated 2004 Olympic champion Irini Merlini of Ukraine in the finals of the 2007 World Championships. Merlini took off the 2006 season and returned with a strong performance in Baku, Azerbaijan last year. Merlini has won three World gold medals, and was second in both the 2005 and 2007 World meets. Many expect that the Olympic Games finals may again be a matchup between Icho and Merlini.

You can?t overlook 2005 World champion Xueceng Ren of China, who placed second behind Icho at the 2006 World Championships. Ren moved up to 51 kg for the 2007 World Championships and placed second. Her replacement at this weight last year, Xiaomei Li, won a bronze medal. Ren is back down at 48 kg, and lost in the finals of the 2008 Asian Championships to Icho.

The other Olympic medalist from 2004, Patricia Miranda of the United States, will not be competing at the 2008 Olympics. Veteran Clarissa Chun defeated Miranda in the finals of the U.S. Olympic Team Trials and will be seeking an Olympic medal of her own. Chun competed in the 2000 World Championships and was a Pan American Championships gold medalist in 2008.

There are two other talented women wrestlers from the Pan American nations who are expected to battle for an Olympic medal in 2008. Mayelis Caripa of Venezuela was third at the 2007 World Championships and Carol Huynh of Canada placed fifth last year at the World meet. Huynh won a World silver medal in 2001 and a World bronze medal in 2005, and has been fifth in the World the last two years.

Also qualifying for the Olympics by placing in the top eight at last year?s World Championships were Maria Stadnyk of Azerbaijan and Sofia Mattsson of Sweden. Mattsson won Junior World titles in both 2006 and 2007. Stadnyk won the gold medal at the 2008 European Championships, defeating Vanessa Boubryemm of France in the finals. Boubryemm qualified for Beijing as the highest placewinner at the Europeans who had not yet qualified.

Russia is very competitive at this weight class. Qualifying Russia for the Olympics by winning one of the Qualification Tournaments was Elza Tazetdinova. Other possible entries for Russia include 2004 Olympian Lorissa Oorzak who is also a past Junior World champion. Other Russians to watch include Lilya Kaskarova of Russia, who was fifth in the 2005 World Championships, and Inga Karamtchakova, who has won three World medals.

Enkhjargal Tsogbazar of Mongolia, who was third at the Asian Championships this year, is among the qualifiers here. She won the Asian Championships in 2006 and the World University Championships in 2006.

Qualified nations at 48 kg/105.5 lbs. ? Australia, Azerbaijan, Canada, China, El Salvador, France, Japan, Korea, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Tunisia, Ukraine, United States, Venezuela


2007 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs.- Gold - Chiharu Icho (Japan); Silver - Irini Merleni (Ukraine); Bronze - Xiaomei Li (China); Bronze - Mayelis Caripa (Venezuela); 5th - Carol Huynh (Canada); 5th - Stephanie Murata (United States); 7th - Maria Stadnyk (Azerbaijan); 8th - Sofia Mattsson (Sweden); 9th - Venessa Boubryemm (France); 10th - Brigitte Wagner (Germany)

2006 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Gold - Chiharu Icho (Japan); Silver - Ren Zue Cen (China); Bronze - Iwona Sadowska (Poland); Bronze - Francine DePaola (Italy); 5th - Marina Markevich (Belarus); 5th - Carol Huyhn (Canada); 7th - Nataliya Pulkovska (Ukraine); 8th - Hajar Ashtiani (Finland); 9th - Mary Kelly (USA); 10th - Sunisa Klahan (Thailand)

2005 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Gold - Xueceng Ren (China); Silver - Irini Merleni (Ukraine); Bronze - Carol Huynh (Canada); Bronze - Makiko Sakamoto (Japan); 5th - Mayelis Caripa (Venezuela); 5th - Liliya Kaskarakova (Russia); 7th - Jenny Wong (USA); 8th - Francine DePaola (France); 9th - Sigrun Dobner (Germany); 10th - Zhyldyz Eshimova (Kyrgyzstan)

2004 Olympic Games results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - Gold ? Irini Merlini (Ukraine); Silver ? Chiharu Icho (Japan); Bronze ? Patricia Miranda (USA); 4th- Angelique Berthenet (France); 5th ? Lorisa Oorzhak (Russia); 6th- Brigitte Wagner (Germany); 7th ? Lidiya Karamchakova (Tajikistan); 8th ? Enkhjargal Tsogbazar (Mongolia); 9th ? Li Hui (China); 10th ? Fani Psatha (Greece)

2003 World Championships results
105.5 ? Gold ? Irini Merleni (Ukraine) dec. Patricia Miranda (United States), 5-4; Bronze ? Li Hui (China) pin Fani Psatha (Greece), 5:56; 5th ? Makiko Sakamoto (Japan); 6th - Angelique Berthenet (France); 7th ? Alfia Zaynulina (Kyrgyzstan); 8th ? Inga Karamchakova (Russia); 9th ? Kamelia Tzekova (Bulgaria); 10th ? Mayerli Karipa (Venezuela)

2002 World Championships results
48 kg/105.5 lbs. - 1st - Brigitte Wagner (Germany) dec. Inga Karamtshakova (Russia), 4-3; 3rd - Ida Hellstrom (Sweden) pin Nicoleta Badea (Romania), 2:50; 5th - Carol Huyhn (Canada); 6th - Laurianne Mary (France); 7th - Angeles Barazza Sanchez (Mexico); 8th - Mayelis Caripa (Venezuela); 9th - Flor Quispe (Peru); 10th - Myrsini Koloni (Greece)

2001 World Championships results
46 kg/101.25 lbs. - Gold - Irini Merlini (Ukraine) dec. Carol Huyhn (Canada), 3-0; Bronze - Brigitte Wagner (Germany) dec. Farah Touchi (France), 4-2; 5th - Misato Shimizu (Japan); 6th - Agoro Papavassiliou (Greece); 7th - Volha Prydanikava (Belarus); 8th - Kamelia Tzekova (Bulgaria); 9th - Ayse Guneri (Turkey); 10th - Inga Karamthakova (Russia)