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Pooja Dhanda interview: World Championships bronze medallist says Indians need to get better at ground wrestling

Vijayanagara: With just a minute left in her 57kg semi-final against China’s Ningning Rong at last month’s Asian Wrestling Championships, Pooja Dhanda was strolling away to victory, with a 4-1 lead in her favour.

Yet, two gut wrenches shattered the illusion and the world champion from China rode away to an 8-4 victory.

It was a stunning reversal, but one which reiterated the fact that Dhanda had known for a while.

“We Indians are very weak when it comes to ground wrestling,” Dhanda told Firstpost last week when she was at the Inspire Institute of Sports for a few days of testing. “You must have seen (in the semi-final at the Asian Championships) how even though I was leading the Chinese girl, who was not so good in standing position, made the most of a chance and beat me. Today's wrestling is about grabbing the chance on the ground. Our coaches have noticed this trend and our focus is shifting towards ground wrestling. Now we are giving importance to ground wrestling.”

Dhanda said that culturally Indians were trained how to grapple while standing. However, foreign wrestlers paid equal attention to both standing as well as ground wrestling, which gave them the edge in bouts.

“Since the time I started wrestling, I focused primarily on wrestling from the standing position. In the past one or two years, I have started paying attention to wrestling while on the ground. It is not so easy to defend or attack from such a position. This is the plus point for a foreign wrestler. They are good at ground wrestling, whereas Indians are good in wrestling in standing position.

“We have never done sessions on ground work. In foreign countries they have two sessions in a week focused only on ground work. In India, wrestling in standing position gets priority. Now ground wrestling gets a lot of the importance (all over).”

Dhanda and Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik have been training for the past two months with their personal coach Fanel Carp. Dhanda says the Romanian has been teaching the duo to ‘wrestle smartly’.

“He is teaching us some smart things,” Dhanda said. “Like, suppose you are leading with two minutes to go against good athletes from China or Japan. He’s teaching us how you can see off those two minutes. He’s showing us in which zone we can be safe.

“He’s also taught us that if our opponent is strong in terms of technique, and is on top, and if we are close to the red zone, then we should try and get out of bounds and concede only one point and give ourselves a better chance to fight back.”

 Pooja Dhanda interview: World Championships bronze medallist says Indians need to get better at ground wrestling

Pooja Dhanda at the Inspire Institute of Sports' Sports Science Lab with Dr Kevin Caillaud (second from left) and her personal physio (right). Amit Kamath/Firstpost

Dhanda added that Carp was specifically working on improving her leg defence.

A bronze medallist at the 2018 World Championships, Dhanda is looking to upgrade to a better shade in September when this year’s World Championships are held in Astana. It will also be the first event to offer quotas for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

With that in mind, she already has her next few months planned.

“I will compete in a ranking series in Italy (Sassari) and there will be two camps before and after the event. After that we are planning to have a camp in France. The standards of camps there is good and since it's a hilly place, it will help us build our stamina. That will be followed by Yasar Dogu event (in Istanbul).”

The writer was at IIS Vijayanagara at the invitation of Inspire Institute of Sport.

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Updated Date: May 14, 2019 22:21:27 IST