Bronze girl in Tokyo ring
Vinesh Phogat is not new to the excitement of Olympics. But a terrible injury at the Rio Games had forced her to withdraw early in 2016. Since then, she had wanted to come back and on Wednesday, she booked a Tokyo berth in style and then went on to win a bronze at the World Championships being held at Nur-Sultan in Kazakhstan.
“It is a day I will always remember. I secured qualification for the Tokyo Olympics and bagged a bronze medal in the World Championships on the same day. I am very, very happy. This is a special moment for me,” Vinesh told The Telegraph from Nur-Sultan, just before going for the mandatory dope test on Wednesday. “I have been trying to win a World Championships medal for the last four years. For me, the bronze is no less than a gold.”
Asked about the bronze medal bout against Maria Prevolaraki, Vinesh said: “Any game in the World Championships is tough. And before this match I earned the Olympics berth. So I was confident that I would get the medal. But I had to be cautious,” she said.
“I had changed my weight category and in just 10 months, I got this medal. It is a thing of great happiness for me. It is the biggest medal of my career till now.”
Vinesh knew the World Championships would be tough and so she trained with the men. “I played against men during training and winning against them gave me extra confidence. That helped me.”
The World Championships is over and now Vinesh wants to prove herself in Tokyo. “This is going to be my second Olympics. In Rio, the experience was not good, but this time I want to make it count,” the wrestler said. “But how I would prepare myself is up to my coach. Whatever he will suggest I will do accordingly.”
For the record, during a quarter-final bout against Sun Yanan in Rio, Vinesh injured her knee very badly.
Former national coach Kripa Shankar Patil, who is currently an international umpire, is pleased with Vinesh’s progress.
“I was national team coach from 2009-2015. When I first saw her, Vinesh was very young. But she always had the wish to do better,” Patil said. “She has improved a lot. She is much stronger now. I used to be Vinesh’s partner during training,” he said.
Having endured a medal-less run in three World Championships before, Vinesh finally ended the drought by pinning wrestler Maria by fall in the bronze-medal bout.
The 25-year-old Indian lost a point for passivity after Maria, the two-time medallist, suffered a cut on her face in the beginning of the bout.
Vinesh made two moves but Maria defended well to keep the narrow lead at the break. Maria forced standing wrestling, locking Vinesh. The Indian attempted a double leg attack but Maria defended well. The Greek then put pressure on the Indian by grabbing her right leg.
Moments after Maria received treatment on her wound for a second time, Vinesh pulled off a four-point throw and kept her on ground to complete the win by fall.
Earlier in the day, she had held off world No.1 Sarah Ann Hildebrandt with some superlative defence in her second repechage round to qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
Vinesh is now one of India’s most successful wrestlers with gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games already in her cupboard.
Adding to the elation of the Indian camp was a gritty show by Pooja Dhanda in the 59kg, a non-Olympic category.
Pooja reached the semi-finals with a remarkable come-from-behind 11-8 win over Japan’s Yuzuka Inagaki before losing the semi-final by technical superiority to Russia’s Liubov Ovcharova, the 2017 European champion.
She will now fight for her second bronze medal at the World Championships, having won one in 57kg at the 2018 Budapest edition.
Pooja can now become the first female wrestler and only second Indian to win two World Championships medals. Only Bajrang Punia has achieved the feat. He won a bronze in 2013 and a silver in 2018.