Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat won her first gold medal of the 2020 season after defeating Ecuador’s Luisa Elizabeth Valverde 4-0 in the 53kg category on Friday (January 17).
The Olympic-bound wrestler’s win came as an achievement for the country after teen sensation Anshu Malik settled for a silver in 57kg competition.
“Competing at an international event tests our training. It tells us whether we are moving in the right direction or not? So this result shows we are on right track since its big year, it an Olympic year,” Vinesh, India’s big medal hope at the Tokyo Games, told PTI from Rome.
Known for her immense upper-body strength, Vinesh rattled her rival with shoulder pulls, never allowing her to attack and downed two Chinese rivals to reach the yellow metal.
“The Ecuador girl was also good. When you seem them practice it’s different but on the mat it’s different. I needed to get a feel of all contenders, who I might be facing in Tokyo,” Vinesh explained how she could not stop Luo from going for a double-leg attack.
“The strategy was not to give her leg but it did not happen. I had to get that feel, had not wrestled against her before. In the final too, Elizabeth was good in counter attack and in power but I was more flexible and that was the difference. “The Japanese are Chinese are clear, Elizabeth was a bit like me, creating moves from anywhere.”
She won by technical superiority against Khrystyna Bereza (10-0) and Lannuan Luo (15-5) before getting the better of Qianyu Pang (4-2).
“At this event, I competed with girls I had never wrestled before and against Pang I was wrestling for the third time. It was important to know if her style has changed or not. These tournaments help in assessing yourself and the rivals too.”
If the win against Ukrainian Bereza was about spectacular double leg attacks, the quarterfinal win over the Luo was much tougher than what the score-line suggested. Luo was a strong opponent, who led 5-2 at the end of the first period but Vinesh turned it around with smart point-scoring moves from nowhere in the second period.
Twice she threw Luo with moves from between the legs when the Chinese was holding her from the back.
“The Ukraine girl (Bereza) was good, I had trained with her before coming here. The Chinese wrestlers were also good. But Luo was still scoring points off me. I so wanted to compete against them because I had never grappled with them.”
With two wrestlers, having immense upper-body strength, jostling for the upper hand from standing position was a sight to watch.
“We worked on strength and stamina in three months of off-season. The mat training began only in January. I mostly score points from standing wrestling and not much from ground wrestling. It’s not easy to change but compared to last year’s January, I am much better, so the coaches are happy,” she said.
Fighting a measured bout against Pang, Vinesh was in control in the semi-final. With two takedowns in each period, she led 4-0 and conceded points only towards the end of the fight.
The 18-year-old Anshu carried her sparkling form from the trials at her maiden international tournament at the senior level but could not replicate it in the gold medal bout, losing to Nigeria’s Odunayo Adekuoroye.
She was dominant till the final, beating American Jenna Rose Burkert, Grace Bullen of Norway, 2019 world champion from Canada Linda Morais en route the final. Anshu had upset world championship bronze medallist Pooja Dhanda during the trials.
“In India, I do score points from ground wrestling easily and against anyone but at this level, its difficult. The more I compete in these competitions, the better for me. The training camps outside have helped me.
“Everything has changed since I switched the category. “The training, the food, the technique, the style, everything has undergone a huge change. Body takes time to adapt though mind accepts. But both mind and body have to come together,” the only woman wrestler to win a medal at the 2019 World Championship, said.
But Divya Kakran returned empty-handed after losing the 68kg bronze medal play-off bout to Danielle Suzanne Lappage of Canada.
Competing in 50kg, Nirmala Devi, lost her semi-final to Sarah Ann Hildebrandt and later the bronze play-off to Victoria Lacey Anthony to miss out on a medal. Nevertheless, she potential.
Against Hildebrandt, Nirmala was aggressive throughout, going for leg attacks, but the American stayed solid in her defence, reminding the tactics that Vinesh had employed against her at the 2019 World Championship in Nur Sultan.
In the men’s freestyle competition, Satyawart Kadiyan (97kg) and Sumit Malik (125kg) exited following their quarterfinal defeats.
Kadiyan lost 0-2 to Ukraine’s Murazi Mchedlidze while Sumit suffered defeat by technical superiority against Canada’s Amarveer Dhesi.
Its been a year now that Vinesh is competing in 53kg category after dominating the 50kg weight division. She is gradually getting the belief that this is her category.
“In 50kg, I knew each and every rival. Now in 53kg, also I have a fair idea against whom I have to use power and where I need to wrestle smartly. I can say that 60 to 70 percent I am there.”
(With inputs from agencies)