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Wrestling champion Icho grateful to receive People's Honor Award

Kaori Icho smiles at a news conference in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on Sept. 13, 2016, after the government announced it will give her the People's Honor Award. (Mainichi)

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Kaori Icho expressed gratitude to everyone who has supported her through her wrestling career during a news conference on Sept. 13 after the government announced that it will be giving her the People's Honor Award for her achievements.

    "I can't believe it. I wouldn't have devoted my life so much to something if it wasn't for wrestling," Icho told the press conference. Icho became the first female athlete to clinch four consecutive Olympic victories in an individual event after winning the 58-kilogram freestyle wrestling division at the Rio Games.

    When asked about the first person she wanted to tell about the award, Icho mentioned her mother, Toshi, who died two years ago at age 65. But she then said, "I feel like my mother would tell me not to thank the dead but those who are alive," adding, "I want to personally tell those who have supported me and helped me through practice about the award."

    In regard to her plan for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Icho said, "It's not every day Tokyo hosts an Olympic Games. A part of me wants to try (for the 2020 Games)," but she remained cautious about the subject, saying that she needed more time to think about what she wants to do from now.

    Born in Aomori Prefecture in 1984, Icho won her first Olympic gold at the 2004 Athens Games when she was a second-year student at then Chukyo Women's University and has since defended her Olympic title. Her victory at the Rio Olympics was a comeback win in the last 30 seconds of the gold medal match.

    Icho's long-time rival Saori Yoshida, who was given the People's Honor Award in 2012, released a comment, in which she said, "I am happy about my fellow wrestler winning the award. I hope we can continue learning from each other."

    The pair has led Japan's wrestling, but in contrast to Yoshida, who is gifted with star quality, Icho is known as more of a quiet character.

    "Even though I have been given the same award (as Yoshida), I still don't see myself at the same level as Saori-san," Icho told the news conference.

    Japan Wrestling Federation Chairman Tomiaki Fukuda commented, "I am so happy that Icho, who has achieved consistent high performances through her steady efforts, has come under the spotlight, too."

    Former marathon runner Naoko Takahashi, who was also bestowed the People's Honor Award in 2000 after victory in the Sydney Olympic marathon to become the first Japanese female athlete to win a gold medal in an Olympic track and field event, also released a comment, saying, "I saw her 'never give up' spirit (at the Olympics). In receiving the award she will encourage others to work toward becoming the best person they can."

    Kaori Icho, left, and Saori Yoshida pose for a photo after the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympics. (Mainichi Photo/Masahiro Ogawa)

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