HPN Rio 2016: Will the unbeatables be beaten?

HPN will be sporadically covering the upcoming Rio Olympics from the comfort of our loungerooms. If you’re here for the AFL, please feel free to ignore.

For most casual sport fans, fame often equates with ability, and the inevitability of any result. Usain Bolt is probably the most common answer for the question of “who is the best athlete in the world?” Others will argue that LeBron James or Serena Williams clearly are unmatched athletically, with name recognition globally.

For others, a count of gold medals is enough to signify greatness. Michael Phelps, for example, is considered by some to be the greatest Olympian due to his collection of medals.

But what if an athlete just didn’t lose?

The historical unbeatable

Edwin Moses is often cited as the gold standard for total domination of an individual event, an athlete that simply won every time he ran. Moses went a decade without losing in the 400m hurdles – although he only won two Olympic golds in this time due to the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics. Moses was, quite simply, unbeatable.

In the lead up to Rio, HPN looked for who is the most unbeatable athlete in the world. And we came up with two answers.

Since 2002, Saori Yoshida has lost multiple times. She lost once in 2008. She lost once in 2012. That is the “multiple times” part of this article. Most outside her native Japan couldn’t pick her from a crowd, and we at HPN are included in that group. Put simply, Yoshida just doesn’t lose; other than those two aforementioned defeats, she has swept every wrestling competition at the 53 and 55kg levels for the best part of a decade and a half. She has three Olympic gold medals, thirteen world championships and four Asian Games gold medals.

And Yoshida doesn’t even have the most remarkable winning record of the Japanese wrestling team.

At a heavier weight class sits the imposing figure of Kaori Icho, a women almost without peer when it comes to domination. Between 2003 and 2016 Icho didn’t lose a single match. Not one. However, earlier this year Icho was surprisingly dominated in the final of the Golden Grand Prix Ivan Yarygin event (we’re not making that title up) by Mongolian wrestler Orkhon Purevdorj. With reports that Icho suffered from an injured neck in that match, it’s not expected that she will lose again.

Both athlete have even greater streaks than the aforementioned Moses, and with the upcoming Toyko Games in 2020, will have the pressure of a big nation on their shoulders

Can they lose at Rio?

Both athletes will face uncertainties ahead of the games. History is on the line as both are shooting for a fourth consecutive gold medal, however Yoshida’s weight class has been moved from 55kg to 53kg.

For Yoshida, uncertainty comes in the form of Helen Maroulis, the number one ranked wrestler in the 55kg class who is competing at 53kg in Rio. Maroulis may be Yoshida’s toughest competition yet at an Olympic games, and is the primary reason why Yoshida is merely a strong rather than unbackable betting favourite. In 2012 Yoshida comfortably beat Maroulis in the final of the World Championships, but it’s worth noting that Maroulis was only 21 at the time.

For Icho, it is her recent loss that may weigh heavily on her. No one knows how Icho will react to the loss, because she’s never had to do that before. She will also have to face Purevdorj, the only wrestler still competing that has beaten Icho in competition. Purevdorj used a strategy based around counter-attacks and control to beat Icho, with early scoreboard dominance forcing Icho’s hand. If Icho is able to gain an early scoring advantage, one would expect the result to be significantly different.

Many athletes will be fated at the upcoming games, but don’t sleep on the (nearly) unbeatable Yoshida and Icho, both shooting for history.

Up next: Who are the most overwhelming favourites at the upcoming Olympics?

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