Vinesh Phogat locks Tokyo berth with maiden bronze at World Championships
Vinesh went all out—not only did she make the qualification cut, she also won the next match for her first ever World Championship medal.Updated: Sep 18, 2019 23:46 IST
If there was one bout Vinesh Phogat has yearned for in the last three years, it was this one—her second repechage round at Nur Sultan—win it, and it would take her to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It was as difficult an opportunity as could be; she had to overcome the world No 1 and top seed, USA’s Sarah Ann Hildebrandt. In a match that had no place for half-measures, Vinesh went all out—not only did she make the qualification cut, she also won the next match for her first ever World Championship medal.
The fight against the world No 1 was six minutes of pure thrill. When Vinesh attacked she did it with ferocity and speed. When she defended—which she did for much of the fight—she did it with tenacity and aggression.
Hildebrandt got hold of her right leg a number of times but was never allowed a firm enough grip; instead, she found Vinesh leaning into her and combatively reaching for her ankles, sometimes lifting the US wrestler off the ground and throwing her off balance. When the tall Hildebrandt used all her force to push and get control of a move, Vinesh went into a gymnastic split to dismantle it.
It was a sequence that was played out throughout the six minutes.
The plan was well charted. It was to attack Hildebrandt right at the start of the bout. Within seconds, Vinesh snapped down on Hildebrandt’s head and made a vicious move on her legs before bringing her down on the mat for a two-pointer.
She added two more points to lead the first period 4-0. She repeated the exact attack in the dying seconds of the first half for another two points. Within 10 seconds of the start of the second period Vinesh pounced again on Hildebrandt’s legs to increase the gap by two more points.
Sitting on a 6-0 lead, Vinesh got down to defend and gave nothing at all, blunting the attacks one after another, turning her defence into sharp counter-attacks that left the US wrestler winded.
With 30 seconds left on the clock, Hildebrandt made a frantic attempt, but Vinesh countered even as she was taken down—winning the match and a place in the Olympics with an 8-2 scoreline.
On the cards
This win had been in the works for three years. Stretched off the mat after a career-threatening knee injury at the Rio Olympics, where she was a favourite to win a medal, Vinesh returned with tears in her eyes and an uncertain future. The next year was the toughest in the young wrestler’s career as she underwent a surgery, went through extensive rehabilitation work, and fought her way back to the mat. She came back stronger, more focused, and technically better.
“Vinesh has improved exceptionally…in her defence in her scrambling ability,” said India’s women’s team chief coach Andrew Cook over the phone from Kazakhstan.
Japanese mind block
“She has a firm grip and she is not prepared to give an inch. I just hoped she had been a little bit more physical with the Japanese (Mayu Mukaida). Vinesh is as good as Mukaida and she just needs to overcome the Japanese hurdle in her mind.” Vinesh lost to Mukaida, the defending world champion, on Tuesday, in what would be the only fight in the tournament where she was passively defensive.
“Her positioning today was not the greatest,” Cook said. “I thought she should have beaten Sarah fairly easily. But her defence and her ability to soak in that pressure is great. And in terms of her ability to upturn a bad situation she is the best in the world. Today in that bout she got in such positions but she was able to come out of it.”
Vinesh was up against a minefield of a draw that pitted her against the toughest in her new category (53kg); from the current world champion to Olympic medallists.It was only in March that Vinesh had switched to 53kg from her usual 50kg. She defeated Sofia Mattsson , the Rio Olympics bronze medallist, 13-0, on Tuesday before losing to the two-time world champion Mukaida.
When Mukaida reached the final Vinesh got a fresh lease of life through repechage. By the time she came out for the bronze medal match, Vinesh looked sapped. She was smart against Greece’s Maria Prevolaraki, a two-time medallist here, and conserved her energy till the very last.
With just over a minute left on the clock Vinesh again countered strongly to an attack initiated by Prevolaraki, twisting her opponent down to the mat in a powerful move that gave her four points and the bronze medal. Vinesh grabbed a flag, wrapped it around and celebrated. She would want to repeat that in Tokyo too.
Pooja eyes a second
Pooja Dhanda came out on top in a thrilling quarter-final match in 59kg, before losing her semi-final. Yet she will have a chance at being the first Indian woman to win two World Championship medals when she fights in repechage on Thursday.
Pooja, who won a bronze at the 2018 World Championships in Budapest, reached the semi-finals of 59kg non-Olympic category after a sensational comeback victory over Japan’s top seed Yuzuka Inagaki.
She was trailing 0-5 but turned it around in the final few seconds for a 11-8 victory. Pooja, however, lost her next bout to Russian Lyubov Ovcharova 10-0.
Pooja was stunned by unfancied Satira Mor in the trials for 57kg which is an Olympic category. She then decided to compete in a non-Olympic category. In 50kg, Seema Bisla lose her second repechage round 3-11 to Russia’s Ekaterina Poleshchuk. In the 76kg, Kiran lost a close bout to Germany’s Aline Rotter after a lead of 4-0.
First Published: Sep 18, 2019 18:28 IST