Japan’s Hitomi Obara justified her decision to come out of retirement by winning the women’s 48kg freestyle wrestling gold in her first Olympic Games at London’s Excel Arena.
Obara, who under her maiden name of Sakamoto won seven world titles in the non-Olympic 51kg class, defeated Azerbaijan’s Mariya Stadnyk 3-1 in a repeat of last year’s world championship final in Istanbul.
Stadnyk won the opening period convincingly but the 31-year-old Obara stormed back into the contest with several well-judged takedowns and, after her referee raised her arm to confirm her victory, dissolved in floods of tears.
Canada’s Carol Huynh, the 2008 Beijing champion who lost to Obara in the semi-finals, took an early lead in her bronze medal bout when, after the opening period ended scoreless, Senegal’s Isabelle Sambou drew a blue ball – the colour of Huynh’s singlet.
That gave Huynh the right to mount the first leg-grab attack in the 30 seconds of extra-time and she duly scored.
The second two minute period also ended without any points and this time Huynh drew a blue ball and again made the most of her good fortune to secure a bronze medal.
In the other bronze bout, Clarissa Chun of the United States produced a takedown with a couple of seconds remaining in the opening period to go 1-0 up against Irini Merleni of Ukraine, the inaugural 2004 Athens Games champion and Beijing bronze medallist.
Merleni attacked hard in the second period but Chun’s hip-toss extended her lead and she took the bout 3-0.
Merleni was applauded off the mat by Ukraine sporting great and former Olympic pole vault champion Sergei Bubka.
Japan will have a chance to make it two golds out of two on the opening day of women’s wrestling action when two-time champion Kaori Icho faces China’s Jing Ruixue in the 63kg final.
What a sport!