Pooja Dhanda Interview: 'Made mistakes in opportune positions', Olympics medal hopeful reflects on loss in Ranking Series final
Pooja Dhanda had triumped over 2017 European champion Grace Jacob Bullen at the World Championships last year. But suffered a 5-0 defeat against her in the gold medal contest in Ranking Series tournament in Italy.
Pooja Dhanda carries India's hopes in 57kg freestyle category at Tokyo Olympics
Pooja Dhanda hopes to capitalise on learnings at United World Wrestling camp in Italy
Pooja Dhanda explains what changed from a win at World Championships to a loss at Ranking tournament over Grace Jacob Bullen
New Delhi: Indian wrestler Pooja Dhanda is considered a strong contender, who is expected to go deep into the draw at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. She showed her abilities at the World Championships last year when she became the first Indian female wrestler to win a medal (bronze) in six years and the fourth overall. She had also won a silver at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia.
Most recently, she won silver at the Sassari Ranking Series tournament. She went down 5-0 to Grace Jacob Bullen – who she had beaten at the Worlds for the bronze medal. Thereafter, she, along with other Indian wrestlers, trained in Italy.
With crucial period ahead of her featuring ranking tournaments and then the all-important Olympics qualifier at the World Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan in September, she talked about the aspects of her wrestling she's been working on, the loss in Italy and plans for the remainder of the season. Excerpts:
How would you rate your performance in Italy? Where do you need to improve?
Pooja Dhanda: It was important to win a medal in Italy in the Ranking Series. The target was to win the gold medal but I ended up with the silver. In the final I faced the wrestler from Norway (Grace Jacob Bullen), who I had also faced at the World Championship and beaten, so I was going with the hope of repeating that feat. But there were mistakes made in regards to letting go of opportune positions. After that I attended the camp that was organised by United World Wrestling (UWW) where I trained with a lot of the competitors who I had never faced before, had never seen them wrestle and train and they were all there. It was a great experience and hope it helps me in the future.
What was different about facing Bullen this time and how did it change?
PD: Wrestling is a sport where things change as per the situation. If the situation helps me, I capitalise on it and if it helps the opponent, then they make the most of it. So things go up and down. There's nothing that changed in the last few months; it was just that she got the chances this time to make use of her skills. Beyond that there was no difference.
What was the main focus in the training camp?
PD: The main focus there was for us was to work with partners. We were there to maintain our stamina. There were wrestlers from Canada, Sweden, Hungary etc and many of the wrestlers we had never competed against or trained with, so it gave us the opportunity to work with a lot of partners. There were groups for men, women and Greco-Roman wrestlers and as per schedule we observed them, learned from seeing them train and that was our point of focus.
What are your thoughts on Wrestling Federation of India making it mandatory for wrestlers to take written permission to train outside India when there is a national camp going on?
PD: Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) is trying its best to support us. If we want to train outside India and we have the opportunity, we can ask the federation. It is not that these things will not be allowed to us anymore. Where federation sees that there is merit in sending an athlete out, they will be sent for it. Even earlier we used to go with permission of the federation. It was never the case that we would make our plan and head outside without the approval of the federation. Now it is just that the permission is to taken in a written form.
What aspects of your game are you working on with the new coach (Fanel Carp)? You had mentioned defending is something you need to improve on.
PD: The weaknesses in my game are seen by the coach and a lot of them even I've started to understand and observe. If you reach this level, you know where you're making a mistake. Be it the ground defence or standing defence, if it is a positive skill, we need to work on making it better. At the same time, it is also important to improve on skills that are weak. The coach is not here at the moment and we've not worked together for long either. The plan is to learn as much from him when he gets back. Most of the corrections are pointed out during training because in wrestling, the things are small but significant – it can decide the outcome of a bout. If he observes something which needs to be changed or added, he tells us there and then.
What do you have to say on being recommended for the Arjuna Award?
PD: If I get the Arjuna Award, it would be a proud moment for me because it is a dream for any sportsperson. It is motivational for an athlete as well because you are being acknowledged by the government, by the country for your outstanding sports qualities.
Dhanda's next tournament will be a friendly in Spain and will be followed by a training camp. Her next competitive tournament will be at Istanbul, Turkey starting 11 July. She is represented by JSW Sports and trains at Inspire Institute of Sports.
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