Vinesh Phogat became the first Indian to win a medal at the 2019 UWW Wrestling World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, beating Greece’s Maria Prevolaraki to secure bronze in the 53kg category. In addition to the medal, she earned a berth for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the first Indian wrestler to qualify so far.
Vinesh belongs to the Phogat family, from Balali, Haryana, who defied all sorts of social pressures and made wrestling a sport widely played by women in Haryana. She is the third woman from the family, after cousins Geeta and Babita, to win a medal at the World Championships, and is among India’s most promising medal prospects at the Olympic Games in Tokyo next year.
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Vinesh had quite a remarkable journey at the Worlds. She began with a big scalp on September 11, beating Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sofia Mattsson of Sweden in her first bout. The scoreline of the bout, 13-0, a win by technical superiority, hinted at the ominous form Vinesh was.
However, in the next round, she succumbed to the 2018 World champion Mayu Mukaida of Japan. The 0-7 loss, Vinesh’s second against Mukaida after the Asian Championships earlier this year, seemed to have ended the Indian’s hope of sealing the Olympic berth in style from the Worlds.
However, Mukaida reached the final, giving the 25-year-old Indian another shot at a medal.
In the repechage, Vinesh made short work of Yuliia Blahinyay of Ukraine, before beating World No. 1 Sarah Hildebrandt to qualify for the bronze medal match, where she beat Prevolaraki via pinfall with a minute left in the bout.
Seeing Vinesh’s victories — especially the first round demolition of Mattson and the one over Hildebrandt in repechage — it is clear that the tough schedule and hard work put in, pushed by her personal coach, Hungarian Woller Akos, has paid off.
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She looked to have bulked up quite a bit, without slowing down much. However, her loss against Mukaida, who ended with a silver, highlighted a power deficit, which Vinesh had insisted she has been working on the past few months.
It would be back to the training hall for Vinesh post this victory. With the Olympic qualifying monkey off her back, she could now fully focus on a schedule that would revolve around peaking when it matters, in Tokyo a little less than a year from now.
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