TOKYO, June 6 (Reuters) - Don’t let the fluffy socks fool you. Pint-sized Japanese wrestler Saori Yoshida could just be the most fearsome athlete in any sport at this year’s London Olympics.
Yoshida, who marched Terminator-like to Olympic wrestling gold in the 2004 and 2008 women’s 55-kg division, has never tasted defeat at an Olympics, world or Asian championships.
She believes nobody can stop her in her quest for a hat-trick of Olympic titles.
Along with a remarkable nine successive world crowns, a third Olympic gold would allow her to equal the record 12 global titles won by Greco-Roman great Alexander Karelin of Russia.
Like Karelin, Yoshida is a bear, just not the cuddly kind.
“I won’t lose,” Yoshida told reporters after a training session in the run-up to London, sitting on the wrestling mats in a sweatsuit and fluffy white socks.
“Not if I fight the way I know I can, and have trained for. That’s the way I feel going to London.”
Having lost just once since 2001, when her astonishing 119-match win streak came to a shock end at a World Cup team event in 2008, the 29-year-old’s confidence is understandable.
“Fear does exist,” said Yoshida, although the comment sounded hollow given her iron-fisted rule at lightweight. “It is the Olympics so anything can happen.”
Clearly, however, Yoshida’s expects no other outcome than her completing a three-peat of Olympic gold medals in London.
It is difficult to imagine even Usain Bolt, the world’s fastest man, being quite so overwhelmingly certain of his gold medal chances.
To hear Yoshida speak, in soft tones and with a wide smile, about constructing an even more unstoppable version of herself, will strike the fear of God into her Olympic rivals.
“The experience I came back with from Athens and Beijing, and the fear too, I want to use that to build a me that can’t lose,” said Yoshida.
“I will do everything to make sure I win a third gold medal in London,” she added, the softness in her voice underpinned by a granite assuredness.
“That target drives me. I’ll be fighting fit to take the gold back home.”
Yoshida, who stands just 1.56 metres, overpowered Canada’s Tonya Verbeek in the 2004 Athens Olympic final and beat China’s Xu Li in Beijing four years ago.
“I’ve experienced two Olympics and the atmosphere. If you get sucked into the pressure of it, you’ll get punished,” said Yoshida, who began wrestling at the age of three.
Yoshida mentioned Verbeek and little-known opponents from China and North Korea when pushed about potential threats, but failed to convey any real sense of concern.
“With China and North Korea, you never know who you’ll fight,” said Yoshida, who fights men in training to boost her power.
“It’s all about winning at the Olympics, not about winning pretty. I’ll just keep trying to improve, add more muscle power and make sure I‘m the last one standing.”
Yoshida insisted she would stay grounded despite her aura of invincibility.
“I will go in with the right attitude, feeling strong, feeling unbeatable and not let the pressure get to me,” she said.
“That’s what decides who wins gold. I‘m bulking up and have more power now.”
Too polite to even think it of course, Yoshida may well have added for effect: “Be afraid, be very afraid!” (Editing by Ossian Shine)