RIO DE JANEIRO -- "It's like a dream come true," a teary Eri Tosaka thought to herself on the podium as she was in euphoria after clinching the gold medal in the women's 48-kilogram freestyle wrestling at the Rio Olympics on Aug. 17, while Azerbaijan's Mariya Stadnik looked down next to her with the silver medal.
Tosaka conquered Stadnik in a last-grasp victory with just three seconds left in the gold medal match. Apparently frustrated later at the award ceremony, Stadnik took her silver medal off her neck as soon as she stepped down from the podium and hid it behind her back. Her regretful expression illustrated how dramatic Tosaka's victory was.
A native of Takaoka, Toyama Prefecture, Tosaka is a young strategist. She had also secured a last-grasp victory with less than 10 seconds left in the final match against Stadnik in last year's World Wrestling Championships. The Azerbaijani wrestler may have been well wary of a re-enactment of the turnaround at Rio. Stadnik had also swept all three matches up to the Rio semifinals by fall or technical fall while sitting over 10 points up.
In the gold medal match, Tosaka managed to overpower Stadnik again after exhausting her during the 5 minutes and 57 seconds up to the last-minute drama. By the time Tosaka reeled out her winning tackle, Stadnik's leg movements had already slowed down. "The match unfolded just as an act of god or as if according to a well-calculated scenario," team director Kazuhito Sakae said.
Tosaka started wrestling during her third year at elementary school, when her brother went to watch a wrestling match. Her father Osamu, a former wrestling champion in the National Sports Festival, was initially hesitant, thinking to himself, "Wrestling is not for girls," but ended up allowing her to take up the sport.
When she lost in the first round of a national wrestling meet for third-graders, Tosaka cried out of frustration and envied her rivals who took the podium. "Are you aiming to take the top of the podium by the time you are in sixth grade?" her father asked. That was the starting point of her intensive training with her father.
After every match, her mother Atsuko would show them video footage at home to review and examine the day's match, and her father would give her advice. Tosaka's single leg tackle, which is her forte, was passed down by her father.
During her early days at Shigakukan High School in Aichi Prefecture, Tosaka didn't stand out to catch the eye of the team manager. She once thought about quitting wrestling, and thought, "The manager doesn't even talk to me because I lack ability."
She decided to follow in the footsteps of prominent wrestler Saori Yoshida, and continued training even after everyone else in her team had left school for the day. Her strenuous efforts slowly but steadily took shape.
After enrolling at Shigakkan University, Tosaka won the World Wrestling Championships three years in a row. In the Japanese women's national wrestling team at Rio, only Tosaka and Yoshida are reportedly capable of climbing up and down a rope over 10 meters long three times with their arms alone. That height is equivalent to a three-story house.
In her elementary school yearbook, Tosaka wrote, "The difference in outcome stems from a difference in awareness. Where there's a goal, there's an outcome" -- quoting her father's words. True to the adage, she managed to reach Olympic glory. "My obsession with the gold medal and my resolve to clinch victory at any price brought me success," she said. (By Tomoshige Fujino, Mainichi Shimbun)