VINESH PROVES METTLE ON WORLD STAGE
HER BEST Becomes First Indian Wrestler To Seal Quota Spot For Tokyo Olympics
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.