Vinesh Phogat became the first Indian wrestler to secure a quota place for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday, after she won bronze medal at the Nur-Sultan World Wrestling Championships on Wednesday.
Vinesh, who recently shifted to the 53kg weight class, was beaten by Japan’s Mayu Mukaida in her second round, but made it to the repechage round after the Japanese wrestler made it to the finals. She beat Ukraine's Yuliia Khavaldzhy Blahinya, USA’s Sarah Hildebrandt and Greece's Maria Prevolaraki in the repechage rounds to earn bronze.
Here’s a round-by-round breakdown of how Vinesh ensured a quota for India at next year’s Olympics and won bronze:
Round 1 against Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson
The stadium announcer was not even done announcing her name by the time Vinesh had Sweden’s Sofia Mattsson flat on her belly, one arm throttling the Swede’s neck, the other twisting her left leg in an ankle lock — a move that helped Vinesh put two points on the board with just 20 seconds gone.
The Swede has six World Championship medals to her credit, the last of which came in 2015. She also won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics and was a daunting prospect to face in the opening round for the Indian.
Tell that to Vinesh, though, who was four points up against Mattsson in the first minute and six points in the lead by the second minute. Vinesh showed just how strong her leg defence is in the opening few minutes, when Mattsson dove for her legs, and Vinesh instead turned it into points for herself in a flash. She repeatedly thwarted the Swede’s attempts to get her into a headlock to go into the break with the
scoreline reading 8-0.
The second period was smartly all about conserving energy for Vinesh, who realised there was little to be achieved by attacking with an 8-0 scoreline in her advantage. Instead, she hung back, content to keep Mattsson at a distance. With just under a minute left, the Swede briefly saw an opportunity to attack, grabbing Vinesh in a headlock on the edge of the mat. But the Indian countered with brute force, slamming her opponent on the mat with a throw. That earned her four more points to wrap up the bout with 37 seconds still left on the clock.
Round 2 against Japan’s Mayu Mukaida
Maybe it was the exhaustion from the previous game. Or maybe it was a tactical error. But Vinesh was too content to play the waiting approach against Mukaida. This led to her undoing.
The Japanese, who has moved down into the 53kg weight class from 55kg, is the reason Haruna Okuno, the reigning World Champion in this weight class is not at Nur-Sultan. Mukaida had beaten Okuno in their national trials to earn Japan’s solo spot at the Worlds in this weight class. Mukaida, the reigning World Champion in the 55kg category, had a silver at the Asian Championships in April and was always going to be an imposing presence in this weight class despite not being seeded.
Vinesh dropped her first point in this contest after being unable to score in the 30-second passivity period. Strangely, with the passivity clock running against her, Vinesh made no attacking moves in this 30-second period. Mukaida, on the other hand, tried to attack her legs.
Few seconds after the passivity clock stopped, Mukaida made a decisive move by getting behind Vinesh and repeatedly turning the Indian with her gut wrench. In those 15 seconds, the Japanese grappler turned her 1-0 lead to a 7-0 advantage. Her pace of attack frequently had Vinesh in knots and it was some gritty defence from the Indian that kept the score at 7-0 when the first period ended.
It was only with two minutes left on the clock that Vinesh mounted her first real attack of the game, going for her opponent’s legs. But Mukaida slipped out of the hold and made her way into the next round.
Repechage Round 1 against Ukraine's Yuliia Khavaldzhy Blahinya
After a testy start to the contest, Vinesh made her move in the second minute, grabbing Blahinya’s legs and scoring a takedown. The Ukrainian tried multiple times to assert dominance in the bout, but Vinesh was always too smart to escape and headed into the break with a 3-0 lead.
The start of the second period saw both grapplers attack full-tilt but without anyone scoring. The scoreline remained the same until there was a minute left on the clock. Vinesh then attacked the Ukranian's legs, effecting a takedown to add two more points to the tally.
With only 30 seconds left on the clock, Blahinya attacked Vinesh's right leg twice, but each time the Indian defended well to ward off the exhausted Ukranian and seal her victory.
Repechage Round 2 against USA’s Sarah Hildebrandt
The American is a silver medallist from the last World Championships at Budapest. She also has three other Worlds medals to her credit and started the tournament at the top seed in the weight class.
But Vinesh showed no respect to seedings or history, taking a 2-0 lead with an effortless takedown inside the first 20 seconds. Thrice Hildebrandt grabbed hold of the Indian’s right leg, but each time Vinesh would collapse on Hildebrandt and grab her ankle while ensuring her other foot stayed out of the American’s reach. Vinesh employed this same defensive manoeuvre multiple times in the second period as well. She went to the break with a 4-0 lead, having taken advantage of Hildebrandt’s desperation to attack.
The second period played out along the same lines, the American getting leg holds, Vinesh defending like she wrote the book on single leg defence. Vinesh’s opponents’ eagerness to attack her right leg could have come due to the fact that she had dislocated the knee in that leg at the Rio Olympics and she wore a blue protective sleeve over it in all her bouts at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships.
In the second period, after a few unsuccessful attacks, the American dove for both of Vinesh’s legs, to which the Indian replied by deftly manoeuvring behind her to effect a two-point takedown. The American then tried attacking her left leg thrice, with no avail.
Finally, with 15 seconds remaining and the contest more or less sealed in the Indian’s favour, her defence finally gave way as the American was able to turn Vinesh on her back for a two-point takedown. But Vinesh quickly made an attacking move of her own to get two more points, effectively ending the bout on her own terms and with an Olympic quota to boot.
Bronze medal playoff against Greece's Maria Prevolaraki
The start of the game was inauspicious for the Greek, who sustained a cut on her cheek at the start and required a medical stoppage. But as the bout restarted, she too like others before her tried attacking Vinesh's leg. But it brought her no points.
Unfortunately for Vinesh, she was shown the passivity clock for not attacking enough. She could not score in the 30-second period, leading to the Greek gaining her first point of the match. At the end of the first period, Vinesh manged to get on top of the Greek wrestler, and the referee awarded her two points. However, the judges overruled his decision, keeping the score to 1-0 heading into the break.
The cut on the cheek of Prevolaraki opened up again right when she was handed a passivity warning with 1:30 remaining on the clock. Vinesh made her tournament defining move with just over a minute left, throwing Prevolaraki on the mat over her shoulder for a four-point takedown.
The Greek struggled for a few seconds, trying to weasel out of Vinesh's hold. But the Indian was resolute with her pressure and finally managed to pin her opponent and win bronze!
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Updated Date: Sep 18, 2019 19:09:34 IST