The Kawai sisters: Japan’s new wrestling dynasty

Yukako Kawai won gold at the Tokyo Olympics. Twenty-four hours later, her sister Risako did the same.
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By Jacqueline Weitz

On Wednesday night in Tokyo, Japanese wrestler Kawai Yukako won Olympic gold in women’s 62kg weight class.

Exactly 24 hours later (down to the minute), her sister – Kawai Risako – did the same in the 57kg weight class.

What makes their story especially special is the degree of sacrifice and devotion shown by the Kawai sisters to each other.

Risako, who earned Olympic gold in 2016 at 63kg, decided to make a run for the Olympics in a lower weight class to provide Yukako with the best chance of qualifying for Japan’s Olympic team.

For Risako, the 26-year-old team captain, it was a nice way of saying thank you to her younger sister, who served as her training partner in Rio. But it was also a significant athletic feat: Going from 63kg (136 pounds) to 57kg (125 pounds) required her to lose almost 10% of her body weight, while averting loss of muscle and strength.

The strategy worked. Both sisters qualified for the Olympics their respective weight classes at the 2019 World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan.

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And with their victories in Tokyo, the Kawai sisters became the first wrestling sisters to win Olympic gold medals at the same Games. They are also the second Japanese siblings to win gold at these Olympics after Abe Hifumi and Abe Uta won in judo.

The Kawai sisters’ passion for wrestling, and commitment to family, was influenced by their parents. Their father, Takahito, specialized in Greco-Roman wrestling; and their mother, Hatsue, was 7th in the 53kg weight class at the 1989 World Championships.

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