VI­NESH PROVES MET­TLE ON WORLD STAGE

HER BEST Be­comes First Indian Wrestler To Seal Quota Spot For Tokyo Olympics

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Times Sport - Hin­[email protected] times­group.com World C’ships Asian Games C’wealth Games C’wealth Games (53kg) (50kg) (50kg) (48kg)

New Delhi: “What I missed in Rio, I will def­i­nitely take in Tokyo. I feel an Olympic medal is writ­ten in my destiny.” This was star Indian woman wrestler Vi­nesh Phogat’s re­ac­tion af­ter she won the bronze medal at the Wrestling World Cham­pi­onships in Nur-Sul­tan, Kaza­khstan on Wed­nes­day. Vi­nesh de­feated two-time world bronze medal­list Maria Prevolarak­i of Greece by fall in the bronze medal bout of 53kg freestyle event. The score in the end was 4-1 in favour of Vi­nesh.

The 25-year-old also be­came the first Indian wrestler to se­cure a quota spot for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She achieved that with an 8-2 win over world No. 1 and last year’s run­ner-up, Sarah Ann Hilde­brandt of USA, in a show of ex­cep­tional de­fence in her sec­ond repechage round. She had be­gun her repechage bouts with a strong 5-0 win over Ukraine’s Yuliya Khal­vadzhy. Vi­nesh also be­came the first-ever Indian woman wrestler to qual­ify for the Olympics from the Worlds.

Just 10 months back, Vi­nesh, in con­sul­ta­tion with her per­sonal coach, Hun­gar­ian Woller Akos, de­cided to change her weight cat­e­gory and moved up from 48kg to 53kg cat­e­gory. This move was made to re­duce in­juries and pro­long Vi­nesh’s ca­reer. Of course, this de­ci­sion was taken keep­ing in mind the fact that in wrestling, when a grap­pler moves up, he or she may not be the same force. Vi­nesh, who was on a gold-medal win­ning spree be­fore mov­ing up, lost in her first few tour­na­ments. The crit­ics started sharp­en­ing their knives and ques­tioned her de­ci­sion to change her weight cat­e­gory. Doubts were cast on the pos­si­bil­ity of Vi­nesh win­ning a medal at 2020 Olympics.

Vi­nesh ig­nored all that and kept train­ing — with the aim of win­ning a medal at the Worlds. “This is my first World cham­pi­onship medal. For five years I was try­ing very hard and then I changed my weight cat­e­gory and now I fi­nally won the medal. I have also clinched Olympic quota for my coun­try. It’s a very, very proud mo­ment for me. For me, this is the big­gest medal in my life,” Vi­nesh told TOI.

She pre­pared hard at a small train­ing fa­cil­ity run by her hus­band Somvir Rathee in Kharkhoda – a city in Haryana’s Soni­pat dis­trict. “I changed my weight cat­e­gory and by God’s grace it turned out to be a plus point for me. I mem­ory. “What I missed out in Rio, I will def­i­nitely take in Tokyo. I have clinched the quota for the coun­try. Now I will try my best and win gold in Tokyo,” Vi­nesh said.

Vi­nesh be­came the fifth woman wrestler from In­dia to win a World medal. The oth­ers are Alka To­mar (2006), Geeta Phogat (2012), Babita Phogat (2012) and Pooja Dhanda (2018). “My fel­low Indian wrestlers had huge hopes from me. Ev­ery­body was pray­ing for me. Thank­fully, I was able to do jus­tice to their ex­pec­ta­tions,” Vi­nesh said.

Adding to the ela­tion in the Indian camp was a gritty show by Pooja Dhanda in the 59kg, a non-Olympic cat­e­gory. Pooja first out­played Be­larus’ Kat­siaryna Han­char by tech­ni­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity in a 12-2 ver­dict to set up a quar­ter­fi­nal show­down with top seed Yuzuka Ina­gaki of Ja­pan. Pooja reached the semi­fi­nals with a re­mark­able come-from-be­hind 11-8 win over Ina­gaki be­fore los­ing the semi­fi­nal by tech­ni­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity to Rus­sia’s Li­ubov Ovcharova, the 2017 Eu­ro­pean cham­pion, in a 0-10 ver­dict.

She will now fight for her sec­ond bronze medal at the Worlds, hav­ing won one in 57kg at the 2018 Bu­dapest edi­tion.

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