Risako Kawai booked her spot in next year's Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday along with compatriot Hiroe Minagawa as both advanced to the finals of their weight classes at the world wrestling championships in the capital city of Kazakhstan.
The 24-year-old Kawai, who defeated four-time Olympic champion Kaori Icho in July to reach the worlds in the women's 57-kilogram division, won an Olympic gold medal in 2016 in the women's 63-kg class. Icho's only shot at a berth in next year's Olympics in the 57-kg class rested on Kawai not reaching the finals.
Like Kawai, the 32-year-old Minagawa won all four of her bouts in the 76-kg category on Wednesday, and will represent Japan in the Olympics for the first time. Both Kawai and Minagawa are guaranteed to each win at least a bronze medal here.
(Risako Kawai (R) beat Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria in their semifinal)
"Four years ago I was hurt and could not compete (at the worlds)," Minagawa said. "Retiring crossed my mind. But going to the Olympics has been a dream of mine from the start."
Kawai did not surrender a point until she had to come from behind to win her semifinal.
"Of course, I came here with an eye on competing at the Tokyo Olympics," Kawai said. "But even more than that was my desire to beat each opponent in front of me."
"I want to wrestle a final that will give me momentum (ahead of the Olympics)," she said.