Four-time wrestling Olympic gold medallist Kaori Icho continues record hunt

The Japanese enters next stage of comeback as she attempts to win a fifth Olympic gold medal at Tokyo 2020

One wrestling record is not enough for Kaori Icho.

When the Japanese claimed the 58kg title at Rio 2016, she became the sport's first four-time gold medallist.

In a sport as physically demanding as wrestling, many athletes above the age of 30 with such an esteemed record would possibly be tempted to quit, having seemingly conquered the sport.

But not Icho.

This 34-year-old is gunning for gold number five at Tokyo 2020.

Disrupted preparation

Despite the 10-time world champion's unmatched experience at the top level, her fifth Olympic cycle will undoubtedly be her most challenging.

For with age, also comes injury.

The Japanese did not compete for her country for two years following her Rio 2016 victory due to injury.

Her return to the international arena at the 2019 Asian Wrestling Championships in Xi’an, China came with a lot of nerves as she was highlighted as favourite to win her sixth Asian Wrestling Championship title.

"There's some uneasiness, but I'm also looking forward to it," Icho said at a recent national team practice in Tokyo.

"To think of it as just a stepping stone [to the Olympics] would be taking it too lightly.

A new class of rivals

As well as an ageing body, the Hachinohe native also has some talented new challengers to keep an eye on.

"Since Rio de Janeiro, the members [in the weight class] have completely changed," she explained.

"So there is not one wrestler that I've ever fought against or even know.

Not even world champion Rong Ningning, who won both the Klippan Lady Open in Sweden, and the the the Dan Kolov-Nikola Petrov in Bulgaria.

"The world champion is a Chinese wrestler, and the venue is China. I think this a big event leading up to the Tokyo Olympics. I want to be properly prepared. It will likely be the first meeting with every opponent."

On the journey towards Tokyo 2020, Icho will have to overcome the likes of India's 2018 world bronze medallist Pooja Dhanda and North Korean Asian Games champion jong Myong-Suk.

On the plus side, Icho won't have to worry about compatriot and world champion Mayu Mukaida, the 55kg gold medallist at the 2018 World Championships who has dropped to the 53kg weight category.

The quintuple club

To win one Olympic gold medallist is an achievement beyond most athletes' wildest dreams.

To win five individual titles, at five consecutive Games, is an achievement of such magnitude, it's in its own stratosphere.

Should Icho complete her mammoth challenge to win one more Olympic title, she will join the likes of rowing legend Steve Redgrave in the unofficial Olympic quintuple club.

To put that level of consistency over such a sustained period of time in perspective, not even 23-time gold medallist Michael Phelps can gain entry to the club, as he did not medal at Sydney 2000.