Olympics Summer

Wrestler Erica Wiebe won't repeat Olympic gold, eliminated in opening round

Canada's Erica Wiebe won't repeat as Olympic wrestling champion after dropping her opening-round match in the women's 76-kilogram weight class in Tokyo.

32-year-old from Stittsville, Ont., loses 5-4 to Estonian opponent

Canada's Erica Wiebe competes against Epp Mäe of Estonia during the women's freestyle 76-kilogram match at Makuhari Messe Hall in Chiba, Japan. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Canada's Erica Wiebe won't repeat as Olympic wrestling champion after dropping her opening match in the women's 76-kilogram weight class in Tokyo. 

The 32-year-old from Stittsville, Ont., won the gold medal five years ago in Rio in the 75 kg event.

Estonia's Epp Mäe defeated the Canadian 5-4 on Saturday at Makuhari Messe Hall in Chibo.

"My only goal today was just to compete at my best, and I think I did that the last two minutes of the match," Wiebe said. "That wasn't enough today."

Wiebe had a small chance to advance to the repechage if Mäe had put herself in position to fight for a gold medal. But the Estonian lost in the quarter-finals, eliminating Wiebe from contention. 

"We've been waiting a long time for this moment, and it's such an incredible honour to be out there competing today against the best in the world, and it's great to do it for Canada, " Wiebe said. 

"It wasn't the way I wanted to perform today, but it's an honour to be here."

WATCH | Wiebe falls in opening bout:

"This is a new competition. The previous result doesn't matter," Mäe, a two-time world bronze medallist, said of facing the Rio Olympic champion. "It was a new match, it was a new day. We were both there to win."

Against Wiebe, Mäe was able to get a step-out point early in the match and scored a takedown for two more. She scored another two points at the start of the second half.

Altered training during pandemic

With one minute left, Wiebe came back to secure four points, but wasn't able to surpass her opponent's lead in the final 10 seconds. 

"I know how [Erica] can move and I know the pressure she can apply on people and I felt that she had not done that right from the start," said Canadian coach Paul Ragusa. "It took a little bit to settle in to the match, that's it."

A loss to Mäe at worlds two years ago forced the Canadian to qualify for Tokyo through her performance at a 2020 Pan American Olympic qualifier last year in Ottawa.

Wiebe had to contend with a change in training due to the pandemic, often shadow-wrestling, and battled knee and ankle injuries leading up to the Games. That said, she was prepared and ready to fight. 

"I like to live my life being delusionally optimistic," she said. "So I had a Plan A to Z, for every single outcome. You've got to catastrophize your situation. You've got to think, 'What's the worst-case scenario and how do I work back from that to still be successful?"'

Ragusa noted high-performance programs in European countries had more options last year for travel and training, adding many teams were able to hold regular camps.

Wiebe, meanwhile, had limited training partners and finite travel options at times.

"We had to really adjust our plan based on quarantines and that," she said. "We created a good solid environment for ourselves. In the current circumstances, we were able to do what we could and be the best prepared that we could be for this tournament."

Despite her family not being allowed to be in Tokyo and watch from the stands, Wiebe said she felt an unbelievable amount of support — "more than ever" — citing a send-off in Calgary, as well as messages and videos she's received. 

"I really feel all of Canada's behind me," she said. 

With files from The Canadian Press

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