PWL: Meet Epp Mae, the flag-bearer of women's wrestling in Estonia

Becoming a path-breaker may not be commonplace, but for World championships medal winner Epp Mae, the ‘only internationally active woman wrestler from Estonia,’ playing the role of a trend-setter has been an enjoyable experience.

Featuring for UP Dangal, Epp Mae, has been one of the prominent faces of PWL.   -  Special Arrangement

Becoming a path-breaker may not be commonplace, but for World championships medal winner Epp Mae, the ‘only internationally active woman wrestler from Estonia,’ playing the role of a trend-setter has been an enjoyable experience.

Estonia produced legendary wrestlers such as Kristjan Palusalu, Johannes Kotkas, Voldemar Vali and August Neo in the 1920s and 30s and then Olympic silver medallist Heiki Nabi in 2012.

Wrestling suffered, due to wars and the proliferation of other sports, in the intervening period before prospering again.

However, the small European nation never produced a world class woman wrestler until Epp made her mark by winning bronze medals in the 2015 World championships and 2017 European championships.

Epp is delighted to see younger Estonian girls following in her footsteps. “I am only the senior who is internationally active. We have wrestlers but they mostly wrestle inside Estonia. We have younger girls who have already got European championship medals and are close to World championship medals in cadets. It's becoming better and better. I am the kind of person who leads the way for them to follow me because before me there was no one. I am very happy that we have young girls coming,” Epp, who made her Pro Wrestling League (PWL) debut this season for UP Dangal, told Sportstar.

“I have always done something I have loved. So I don't take it as my responsibility. It's my pleasure to be the first woman to make those goals so that the younger girls can try to catch me.”

Coming from a family of wrestlers, it was never difficult for Epp to develop a liking for the sport. “My grandfather was a wrestler. My father and my brother were my training partners. So it runs in the family.”

Since there were fewer competitions for girls in wrestling in Estonia, Epp played other sports, including judo and sumo, to stay in competitive mode. “When I was young, female wrestling was not a thing in my country. I didn't have enough competitions. I thank my father because he put me into in many different sports. So I always had the experience of competition all the time. If I do three or four wrestling competitions in the country, then that is not enough. So I did all this different sports just to get these competitions to prepare yourself mentally. This has helped me a lot.”

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Epp, a 76kg wrestler, trains with reigning 65kg World champion Petra Olli in Finland as she gets good training facilities across the Gulf of Finland and hopes to be the first woman wrestler from Estonia to win an Olympic medal next year.

“Of course (I want to become the first woman from the country to win an Olympic medal). The preparation is going on and I am looking forward to this World championships, the first qualifier.

“My family (having two brothers, two sisters and parents) is supporting me a lot. Am far away and they don't come often to my competitions, which is good for me. But they are always following me and watching my competitions and we are very much involved.”

On being part of the PWL, Epp said, “It has been a really interesting experience. First, we are wrestling in a team. Normally, I am representing my country and wrestling alone. Now I am part of a team, do everything for my team. Even if you are blocked, you go and wrestle with others and prepare them for the match.”

Epp may not have got much time to explore the country due to the tight PWL schedule, but relishes the experience of witnessing Indian style of wrestling from close proximity.