Gehlot no match for Japanese Okuno, settles for silver
Pooja Gehlot’s coach, Mandeep Saini, had instructed her to stay clear of counter-attacks during her gold medal match against Japan’s Haruna Okuno in the women’s 53kg freestyle event at the U-23 World Championships in Budapest on Friday.
The 22-year-old Gehlot failed to remember the advice. Okuno, the current world junior champion, pinned Gehlot on the counter attack and the contest was over in 75 seconds. The score was 2-0 in favour of 20-year-old Japanese, who won her second world title this year after the junior crown in 53kg at Tallinn, Estonia, in August.
“Her (Gehlot’s) strength is speed, but the attack wasn’t effective to upset the Japanese and she lost,” said coach Saini.
Seeking positives from the competition, he said: “The training for the World Championships wasn’t 100 per cent yet she gave it her all on the mat. Winning silver is a big thing.”
Participating in Budapest has been special for Gehlot as she spent the last two years nursing a right shoulder injury. “It has been a long struggle with injuries but she didn’t give up and managed to compete,” said Saini.
“It was a challenging task to keep her going because she wasn’t competition fit. I told her if she could win gold at the Junior Asian Championships in 2017, she could be successful here in Budapest. That helped her reach the final,” he said.
In 2017, Gehlot shifted base from Delhi to Rohtak as the facilities were better but the shoulder injury continued to trouble her.
Gehlot missed half of the 2017 season due to the injury, and was out of action in 2018. “All this time, the emphasis was on technique during training. Some fitness workouts were done but no wrestling on the mat,” said Saini.
Three months before the U-23 nationals in September at Shirdi, Gehlot sprained her ankle.
A former volleyball player, Gehlot represented her school team at the national level before opting for wrestling in 2010. “It has to do something with the success of the women’s team at the (2010) Delhi Commonwealth Games,” said father Vijender Singh.
At the 2015 junior nationals in Ranchi, she won gold and two years later finished top at the Junior Asian Championships in Taiwan.
Her parents soon found that Delhi wasn’t the best place to train for young girls. “She was the only girl at the local akhara and injured her shoulder twice while sparring with boys. That was the time we decided to shift and the best option was Rohtak,” said Vijender.
“There is no dearth of women sparring partners in Rohtak. Moreover, her younger brother Ankit also trains with her.” said the father.
The parents are now hopeful of a good season. “We hope the shoulder injury won’t trouble her in future,” said Vijender.
In the men’s 77kg semi-final in Greco Roman, Sajan lost 4-5 to Kodai Sakuraba of Japan. The Indian took a 2-0 lead but lost points for passivity. Sajan will fight for bronze on Saturday.