The Rio 2016 gold medallist has bounced back from injury and is ready to go all out to defend her crown in Tokyo
Securing a spot at the Tokyo 2020 Games
“I thought I should quit wrestling if I lost,” said DOSHO Sara, looking back on the play-off match for the remaining spot at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
As Japan’s first female heavyweight gold medallist (69kg, Rio 2016), Dosho had lost the 2019 All-Japan Wrestling Championships semi-final against MORIKAWA Miwa by a wide margin of 2-9, missing out on what would have been her ninth consecutive All-Japan title and her ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Games.
This forced her into a play-off in March 2020 for the women’s 68kg spot at Tokyo 2020.
The playoff, her last chance to secure a ticket to Tokyo 2020, was a duel between Dosho and Morikawa. In Dosho’s corner were her coaches, TOSAKA Eri and KAWAI Risako.
“Having two fellow Rio 2016 gold medallists beside me was reassuring. They cheered me on, saying, ‘Keep your cool and confidence', so I was able to fight with confidence,” Dosho said.
With strong support from two fellow wrestlers, Dosho battled through the six-minute bout, clinching a berth at the Tokyo 2020 Games.
As relieved as she was to have secured a spot on the Japan team, Dosho was not fully satisfied with her performance.
She had succeeded in putting pressure on her opponent while also counterattacking, but her signature “heavyweight tackle” was nowhere to be seen. Dosho could not go all out as she feared a reoccurrence of the injuries she had suffered multiple times after the Rio 2016 Games.
Dosho was in her fourth year of university when she won an Olympic gold medal.
As soon as the Rio 2016 Games were over, at only 21 years old, she started out on her next quest to compete and win another gold medal at Tokyo 2020. Despite her confidence and passion, she was physically burnt out. In particular, her left shoulder and knee - the limbs she uses for her 'signature tackle' from the left-side - were under stress.
At the Wrestling World Cup in March 2018, she dislocated her left shoulder again, seriously aggravating the condition.
“I desperately wanted to compete at the Tokyo 2020 Games, so I decided to have surgery to get my shoulder fully fixed, but when the doctors opened it up, the condition was worse than expected. They were surprised that I had managed to wrestle in that state.”
Dosho had surgery in April, and took time off wrestling for about five months.
It was the most amount of time she had spent away from the mat since she began training in the sport at elementary school. The strength of the Japanese team lay in the amount of training they did, and she was frustrated about not being able to. In the end, she managed to struggle through the ordeal, telling herself to work on her lower body and return to the mat more powerful than before.
But in 2019, her left knee reached the limit of what it could bear.
In November, right before the All-Japan Championships, her knee became so inflamed that Dosho even felt pain when it touched the mat. Although she persevered through the championships on painkiller injections, she failed to secure qualification for the Tokyo 2020 Games.
“The condition won't be fully cured by the playoff in March, so I’ll have to play it safe,” she thought.
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Overcoming fears for Tokyo
Shortly after Dosho qualified for Tokyo 2020, the announcement of its postponement came. Throughout the previous year, her left shoulder and knee had gradually recovered, allowing her to move with almost no issues, but her anxiety lingered.
“My shoulder has been dislocated a number of times, which makes me have second thoughts about going for a tackle like before. I have a mental block when I go to tackle,” she said.
She even thought about changing her distinctive style. Yet, in the back of her mind, she always had the memory of herself making an aggressive tackle to win the gold medal at Rio 2016. She reconsidered and came to the conclusion that she would need to push through.
With the Olympic Games drawing closer, Dosho has started to overcome the fear she felt.
“Finally, I’m overcoming my fear and have started to tackle again. I know that my strength lies in my tackle. I will be fully prepared for the Olympic Games and will win with a tackle,” she said.
Fighting for Tosaka, the wrestler she admires
There's another reason why Dosho has a strong desire to repeat her victory at the Olympic Games — her fellow wrestler and compatriot, Tosaka, will not be fighting at Tokyo 2020.
Dosho and Tosaka both looked up to four-time Olympian YOSHIDA Saori, both graduated from Shigakukan High School and University, and joined the same wrestling team.
But their personalities differ. Dosho is easygoing while Tosaka has rigid self-discipline, to the extent that she undertook personal training every day after team training. The differences between the two wrestlers first became clear at the 2013 World Wrestling Championships, where Tosaka won a gold medal and Dosho had to settle for bronze.
Realising the level of effort it took to become a world champion, Dosho asked Tosaka to let her train with her.
Whenever Dosho felt down, Tosaka was there to help her regain a more positive outlook. The pair have always been supportive of each other throughout their time competing, even promising each other they would win gold medals together again, just as they did at Rio 2016.
Unfortunately, Tosaka could not secure a ticket to the Tokyo 2020 Games, so Dosho is determined to give everything she has to win in her honour.
“I was able to change because of Eri-san (Tosaka), that’s for certain. So, I want to win a gold medal for Eri-san,” Dosho said.
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The quest for back-to-back Olympic victories
Dosho finished fifth at the 2019 World Championships and experienced defeats in Japan. She also suffered major injuries.
“At the time of Rio 2016, I was able to maintain my aggressive drive, but not anymore. Even so, I believe that I have become stronger after struggling through my agonising injuries and many other experiences. My style of wrestling is now not merely focused on a vigorous drive, but also on tactics and strategies.”
Even though clinching back-to-back Olympic victories won't be easy, Dosho is determined to do everything she can to repeat her feat, not only with her hallmark tackle but also the new style of wrestling she has learnt through her experiences.
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