By Peter Griffiths
LONDON (Reuters) - Japan's Saori Yoshida powered to her third successive Olympic freestyle wrestling gold in London on Thursday, clinching the third gold for her country who have dominated the women's freestyle competition.
One of Japan's most successful athletes, Yoshida defended the title she won in Beijing and Athens and kept her record of never having lost an Olympic or world championship bout.
She has also won nine world titles and with the victory over Canada's Tonya Verbeek in the 55kg freestyle final on Thursday, equalled the record of 12 global titles set by Russia's peerless Aleksandr Karelin, who competed in the Greco-Roman discipline.
Japan have won three of the four women's wrestling medals at the London Games, outstripping the two golds they won at both Beijing and Athens. Japan's Kaori Icho also won her third consecutive Olympic gold in the 63kg on Wednesday.
Wearing an electric blue leotard emblazoned with the head of a roaring tiger, Yoshida backflipped across the mat and threw one of her coaches to the floor at the end of the final.
"I was so stressed, more than at the other two (Olympics)," she said. "I really wanted to fulfil my promise."
Yoshida never looked like losing and did not drop a point at the London Games, despite saying she did not feel at her best.
She won a tense rematch in the semi-final with Valeria Zhobolov, the Russian who stunned the wrestling world by beating Yoshida in a tournament in May.
Yoshida dominated the final, winning the first two rounds in a best of three match. With lightning speed, she twice lifted the Canadian and bundled her to the edge of the mat.
Asked if she would defend her title in Brazil in 2016, she said: "I can't think about that at the moment. It will take some time."
The night's other gold medal final saw Natalia Vorobieva of Russia upset Bulgaria's world champion Stanka Zlateva Hristova in the 72kg weight class, the heaviest for women at the Games.
The Bulgarian, who won silver in Beijing and is a five-time world champion, had to make do with second place once again after Vorobieva took control.
The former world junior champion closed her eyes and kissed the gold medal as she stood on the Olympic podium for the first time, while Hristova looked on in tears.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)
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