Wrestling FreestyleWrestling Freestyle
Year of Birth1982


Women's wrestling was included in the Olympic programme for the first time in 2004. Irini Merleni earned the honour of being the first gold medal-winner. In addition, she compiled the most impressive record of any of the winners in the four weight categories.


Only 1.50 metres tall, she entered the Olympic Games in Athens as a three-time world champion in the lightest weight division. In the preliminary round, Merleni easily defeated her three opponents, outscoring them 31-0 in only 4 minutes 36 seconds total. She shut out her semi final opponent, Patricia Miranda of the United States, 9-0.

In the final, Merleni finally met her match: Japan's Chiharu Icho, the reigning world champion in a higher weight category. The two struggled through an even contest. Trailing 1-2, Merleni tied the score with 2 ½ minutes left and then was awarded the victory by judges' decision.

… until beaten by an equal

In 2008, at the Olympic Games in Beijing, Irini Merleni was competing in the under-48kg category. She faced Chiahru Icho in the semi-final, but her Japanese opponent won the bout that time. Merleni pulled herself back up, and found the motivation needed to beat America’s Clarissa Chun in the bronze medal match.


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