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Kyoko Hamaguchi has an Animal in her corner
By ERIC FRANCIS - Calgary Sun


Kyoko Hamaguchi after her 2003 world championship. -- Canoe files

Stampede Wrestling fans know better than anybody no wrestling match was safe from chicanery when Heigo "Animal" Hamaguchi was ringside. However, when the legendary Japanese wrestler shows up at the Ano Liossia Olympic Hall for the inaugural Olympic women's wrestling tourney, Christine Nordhagen-Vierling needn't worry about referee interference or foreign objects.

He's simply there to cheer on his daughter, five-time world champ Kyoko Hamaguchi, who may very well face the Calgary resident Nordhagen-Vierling in what would be a marquee gold-medal showdown.

"We've been back and forth over the years," said Nordhagen-Vierling, a six-time world champ who is 3-3 against the Japanese star.

"In 2003, she won the world championships. I beat her a month later but it'll be interesting to see how she handles the pressure. Kyoko is the flag-bearer for Japan, so I can't imagine the pressure she's feeling.

"I was in Jasper training last week and a film crew came up from Japan to film me just because I'm 'the rival' to Kyoko Hamaguchi. They're investing a lot of time and money into her winning at the Olympics."

Following his retirement in 1990, Heigo (Animal) Hamaguchi has been his 26-year-old daughter's full-time coach. His name was a household one in Calgary in the mid-'70s when he teamed with Mr. Hito to take on the likes of Bret and Keith Hart, a rivalry that was renewed years later in Japan.

"He was the hardest-working guy on the card every night," recalled Keith.

"High-flying moves off the rope -- just the kind of stuff my dad (promoter Stu Hart) loved. They had a Japanese ritual of throwing salt in their corner and stomping the mat before the match and they always had a little extra pouch of salt to rub into their opponents' eyes when things got tough."

As for Kyoko, her rise to the top was more 'legit' than her father's. The flag-bearer for the Japanese delegation at the opening ceremony in Athens, she is a household name in Japan. At 13, Kyoko was a competitive bodybuilder. She started wrestling at age 14, and made her first worlds at 17, and captured her first world championship at 19 in 1997, upsetting five-time defending champion Liu Dongfeng of China by fall in the semis.

SLAM! Sports covers The Games
SLAM! WRESTLING'S
OLYMPIAN STORIES
  • Earl McCready, 1928
  • Mad Dog Vachon, 1948
  • Danny Hodge, 1952, 1956
  • Dale Lewis, 1956, 1960
  • Bob Roop, 1968
  • Chris Taylor, 1972
  • Bad News Allen, 1976
  • Mark Henry, 1992, 1996
  • The other Olympians
  • Kyoko also won world titles in 1998 and 1999, then slumped to third in 2000 and fourth in 2001. She regained her championship form in 2002 and in 2003, she beat American Toccara Montgomery for the title in New York at 72 kg. After her fifth title, the 25-year-old Kyoko exploded with joy and took a victory lap. "I always do something to please myself when I win," Hamaguchi said at the time. "My going fast was just showing my emotions, showing how happy I was. I still can't believe ... I had been in this position before of course but Toccara was known to be very strong. There was a possibility I could be defeated like everyone else. ... I love wrestling. I will go as long as I can fight."

    The Women's Freestyle competition begins August 22 in Athens.

    -- with files from Greg Oliver