New Delhi: Vinesh Phogat entered the KD Jadhav Wrestling Arena amid cheers befitting a rock star, but Mayu Mukaida, not for the first time in her short rivalry with the Indian, stole her thunder, running away to a 6-2 win in their opening bout of the 53kg category on Friday.
The win was Mukaida's third over Vinesh in as many matches, following the Japanese's 10-0 rout at last year's Asian Championships in Xian, China, and 7-0 takedown at the World Championships in Nur Sultan in September. Vinesh's lone consolation was that she managed to take two points off Mukaida for the first time in their three meetings.
"It (the loss) is disappointing, but I am working towards bridging the gap. I would say, the difference between us is marginal. 80-100 ka fark hai, but I am not shying away under excuses. She was better today and deserved to win. I am working on a few techniques of my own, which, to an extent, I was able to implement. I am still learning though," Vinesh said of her Japanese opponent shortly after winning the bronze medal playoff against Vietnam's Thi Lie Kieu.
"I would say there is gradual improvement. My margins of losses have come down since our first meeting."
Vinesh, who moved to 53kg category from 50kg last year — after winning gold at the Commonwealth and Asian Games (2018) in the lighter category — said she is still getting used to the higher weight division.
"It is not easy to move categories. Mukaida has been fighting in 53 or 55kg categories for a number of years now, so she has an obvious advantage. However, I still have enough time to work on myself," Vinesh said.
'No mental block'
Further, the 25-year-old Indian quashed all talks of having developed a mental block against Mukaida, but conceded that enough planning had gone into this bout.
"I don't think there is ever a mental block. When you aim to get an Olympic medal, you can't be overawed by any opponent. I believe I can beat her on my day if I manage to execute my techniques well. We had studied her, but the first point she scored off me was through move that I had not seen her apply on anyone," she said.
The 22-year-old Japanese, who later endured a shock defeat at the hands of Kazakhstan's Tatyana Akhmetova Amanzhol in the summit clash, negated Vinesh's threat with an expert mix of technique and ingenuity.
She was resolute in defence and efficient in attack besides being mindful of keeping her right foot away from the Indian. The trick paid off as Vinesh went for leg holds on at least five occasions, but managed to complete the move only once. By contrast, Mukaidu created and completed each of her three chances at takedown.
With no answers yet to the Mukaida challenge, Vinesh's quest for Olympics glory looks far from simple. The loss, however, revealed her grudging admiration for the Japanese: "It is always great to fight a wrestler of her calibre. She helps me bring out my best version. Opponents like her make you a better wrestler," she said.
Later, bronze medals from Anshu (57kg) and Gursharan Preet Kaur (72kg) and a silver from Sakshi Malik (65kg) ensured Indian women ended the Asian Championships with eight medals, their best-ever haul at the event.
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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2020 08:28:24 IST