Three-time Olympic champion Saori Yoshida announces retirement

The wrestler with more global titles than anyone else quits aged 36, just over 18 months before Tokyo 2020.

Wrestling's most decorated champion, Saori Yoshida, has announced her retirement.

The 36-year-old won Olympic gold at Athens 2004, Beijing 2008 and London 2012, with her first Games defeat coming at the hands of Helen Maroulis in the Rio 2015 53kg final.

Only compatriot Kaori Icho has more Olympic wrestling titles.

Yoshida also claimed 13 consecutive world titles up to 2015, making her the most successful wrestler - male or female - of all time.

She posted a message on Twitter with a photo of her 16 global gold medals and her Rio silver.

"Thank you for always supporting Saori Yoshida. Now I have decided to end my 33-year career as a wrestler.

"I have done my best as an active wrestler for a long time thanks to the cheers and support of many people.

"Thank you very much, everyone."

First Olympic title

The daughter of former national champion Eikatsu Yoshida made her senior debut at 59kg in 2002.

Later that year, she dropped to 55kg and won the Asian Games title in Busan, South Korea, just days after turning 20.

A month later, Yoshida claimed her first world title in Chalkida, Greece.

Women's wrestling made its Olympic debut at Athens 2004 and, after coming through a tight semi-final against France's three-time former world champion Anna Gomis, the Japanese defeated Tonya Verbeek of Canada to take the gold medal.

Complete dominance

Yoshida ruled her sport for the next decade, going unbeaten at the World Championships, Asian Games and Olympic Games.

She defeated Verbeek in the semi-finals at Beijing 2008 before meeting home favourite Xu Li in the final.

And Yoshida left the home crowd stunned as she pinned Xu early in the second period to retain her Olympic title.

Between 2001 and 2008, she won 119 consecutive matches.

By the time London 2012 came around, Yoshida had racked up three Asian Games crowns and nine world titles.

Waiting for her in the final was old adversary Verbeek.

Once more, Yoshida proved too strong as she completed a hat-trick of Olympic titles by a score of 5-0.

Verbeek won two silvers and a bronze at three Olympic Games, falling to her Japanese rival on each occasion.

A new rival

The following month, Yoshida defeated Helen Maroulis by fall in the final of the World Championships in Alberta, Canada to claim her 10th consecutive world title.

In 2014, Yoshida dropped down to 53kg after it was announced that this category would replace the 55kg division she had dominated for so long.

While she won world titles in 2014 and 2015, taking her tally to 13, Maroulis was proving equally dominant at 55kg.

A mouthwatering clash beckoned at Rio 2016.

And it was the American who prevailed 4-1 in the final, inflicting Yoshida's first defeat in major international competition since her senior debut.

After Rio

Yoshida took a break from competing and became a coach for Japanese national team.

In February last year, she was still undecided about returning for a fourth Games, saying, "I won’t be able to forgive myself for stepping onto the mat without the necessary desire, so I want to continue thinking about it."

And her absence from December's All Japan Championships heightened speculation that she would call it a day.

After making a cameo appearance in a Japanese television drama in 2014, Yoshida has said she would like to return to acting after the end of her wrestling career.

But for now, she plans to help her successors win gold on home soil at Tokyo 2020.

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