Commonwealth Games 2018: Wrestler Vinesh Phogat puts Rio disappointment behind with gold-winning effort

The last time Vinesh Phogat represented India at a multi-sport event, she had been reduced to a haunting picture of pain. Broken knee, broken ambition. Sprawled on the mat, her face was etched with anguish as her journey at the 2016 Rio Olympics ended during the 48kg quarterfinal bout against China’s Sun Yanan. She had been stretchered out from the mat and her knee, later, put together on a surgeon’s table.

On Saturday, she wiped that off to create a memorable picture of power. The Indian wrestler hauled her Canadian opponent, Jessica Macdonald, on her shoulder, spun around as if showing off her trophy to photographers around the stadium, and neatly dunked her on the mat. That was Vinesh’s four-point first move, a stirring opening statement in a commanding victory.

 Commonwealth Games 2018: Wrestler Vinesh Phogat puts Rio disappointment behind with gold-winning effort

File photo of Vinesh Phogat. AFP

“She played like she was telling her opponent, ‘This is my gold medal’,” Geeta Phogat later said of her cousin Vinesh claiming the 2018 Commonwealth Games gold in the 50kg freestyle category.

Vinesh’s 13-3 win over Macdonald at the Gold Coast event deepened the connection the Phogats have with Commonwealth gold. Geeta was the one who had set them on a decorated journey by bagging the gold medal at the 2010 Games in New Delhi in the 55 kg category. She had then become the first Indian female wrestler to claim the honour. Her sister, Babita Kumari, took on the reigns four years later, winning gold in the same category in Glasgow.

The 23-year-old Vinesh had grown up watching her family defy traditions, and her cousins reach new highs in the sport. But she bettered their mark on Saturday by winning her second successive gold at the Games.

Her victory reaffirmed India’s status as a wrestling powerhouse, at least in the Commonwealth countries, on a day that didn’t quite go to script.

A lot had been expected of Rio bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, who was competing in the 62 kg category. Though Malik won her opening bout against Cameroon’s Berthe Etane Ngolle, she suffered back-to-back defeats against Michelle Fazzari (Canada) and Aminat Adeniyi (Nigeria) in the group stages. Only a narrow 6-5 win over New Zealand’s Tayla Ford in the bronze medal match ensured that Malik didn’t return empty-handed. Clearly rattled by her performance, Malik ended up in tears during the medal ceremony.

In the men’s section, Sumit won gold in the 125 kg category after his opponent, Sinivie Boltic of Nigeria, gave him a walkover and Somveer also had to settle for a bronze in the 86kg section.

But Vinesh's was the headlining act. Not just because she hails from the most famous wrestling family in India, but the way she was went about rebuilding herself and her career from the knee surgery.

The knee injury had come at the most inopportune time, and Vinesh, all of 21 then, had reacted but shutting out the outside world. The day her Rio Olympics was brought to a cruel end, she got off social media, hoping to keep away any distractions and negativity. Vinesh was out of the game for almost nine months due to injury and rehab.

She announced her comeback to competition by winning silver at the 2017 Asian Championships in New Delhi. At the same tournament this year, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, she defeated Japan’s Yuki Ire in the semifinal en route another silver finish.

“Whatever has happened, it is a thing of the past. The pain has somehow decreased now. I want to give my best. I hope to stand up to people’s expectations. What I could not achieve in Rio, I will try to achieve that in Tokyo, and the start of which will take shape from CWG,” Vinesh had said before setting off for Gold Coast. “I have worked on my moves. With the attacks in the 50kg category expected to be fast, I have also tried to improve my reaction speed.”

A compact bundle of muscles, Vinesh was at her sniping best at the Carrara Sports Arena. The Indian was given a run for her money by Nigeria’s Miesinnei Genesis in the opening match, which she won 6-5. But a quick 10-0 win over Australia’s India-born wrestler Rupinder Kaur gave her the momentum to raze this four-woman field.

Canada’s MacDonald, also unbeaten, had emerged from the locker room with her game face on for the gold-medal match. A three-time world championship medallist, including a gold in 2012 in 51kg, the 33-year-old had the pedigree to make it a competitive match but she couldn’t quite cope with the explosive power of the Indian. Vinesh was swift and precise in her attacks, and raced to an 8-0 lead before two minutes were on the clock.

Though the Canadian kept herself alive by pinning down Vinesh once, the Indian was quick to turn tables. The first three-minute period ended 10-3 in Vinesh’s favour, a bandaged Macdonald hanging on by the thread. But the Indian, her strong legs supporting her steel will, didn’t give her rival any more chances. Vinesh won the bout 13-3 on technical superiority to piece together another happy picture of triumph.

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Updated Date: Apr 14, 2018 18:07:52 IST