ALBERTA

World championships first step toward Rio for Canada's women's wrestling team

09/26/2012 07:30 EDT | Updated 11/26/2012 05:12 EST
EDMONTON - Barely a month has passed since the London Olympics, but Canada's mighty women's wrestling team has its sights set on Rio.

The first step is this weekend's world championships in Edmonton, where Canada's women's coach Leigh Vierling hopes a group of rising wrestling stars can build on the team's strong showing in London.

"I think we've built an expectation already, even prior to London, that when you step on the mat with a Canadian that you're going to be in for a match," Vierling said. "I want our girls this weekend to pick right up from the success of Beijing (2008 Olympics) and from London, and carry it forward."

Tonya Verbeek of Grimsby, Ont., won a silver at the London Games, while Carol Huynh of New Hazelton, B.C., claimed bronze.

Both have taken a pass on the world championships, although they'll be at the event to cheer on their teammates. London Olympian Martine Dugrenier also isn't competing.

Vierling said none of the veterans have announced they are retiring.

"That being said, it was a lot to expect those wrestlers that put so much into Olympic preparation to compete here," said the coach. "Their time (to retire) will come, and I want to leave that to them to decide how long they want to wrestle."

The timing of the world championships is far from ideal coming on the heels of the Summer Olympics, but Vierling said it's an important event. Only four weight classes for women are contested at the Games, while the world championships include the full seven weight classes.

Men's Olympic wrestling has seven weight classes, so there is no world championships for men in an Olympic year.

"Because only half the athletes get to compete at the Olympics, we hosted this event," Vierling said.

"We want to show that we want to have seven weight classes in the Olympic Games, just like the men. We do have a whole program of athletes who train hard year in and year out, so the world championship is another event that allows all seven weight classes to compete for a world title.

Jessica MacDonald of Windsor, Ont., is one of those women who didn't wrestle in London but will battle for a medal in Edmonton.

She won bronze at the last world championships at 51 kilograms, and challenged Huynh for the Olympic berth at 48 kilos.

"She was the alternate for Olympic team, but she could definitely be our Olympian moving forward in 2016," Vierling said.

Dorothy Yeats of Montreal is a rising young wrestler Vierling said will be one to watch in the buildup to the Rio Games. Yeats won gold at the world junior championships.

"It was really exciting and it was a great success at the Olympic Games, but we have to dust ourselves off quickly and regroup and here we are now with a new group of kids building toward Rio already," Vierling said.

The coach said wrestling's international body is fiercely lobbying for the inclusion of all seven weight classes for women at the 2016 Games in Brazil.

"(Women's wrestling) has been in three Olympic Games now and it's been an exciting sport, and it's highly participated in around the world. So it's definitely worthy of having that addition," Vierling said.

The three non-Olympic weight classes — 51, 59 and 67 kilos — will be contested Thursday. The 55 and 72-kilogram classes are Friday, followed by 48 and 63-kilo events on Saturday.

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