Vinesh Phogat: Rome gold medal shows preparations on track for Olympics

Competing in the first Ranking Series event of the 2020 season, Vinesh downed two tough Chinese rivals on her way to the 53kg gold medal bout.

Vinesh Phogat moved up to the 53-kg category in March, 2019.   -  AP

Her ‘ground wrestling’ remains a work in progress but Vinesh Phogat on Saturday asserted that a gold medal-winning performance in Rome shows that she is on the right track in the Olympic year.

Competing in the first Ranking Series event of the 2020 season, Vinesh downed two tough Chinese rivals on her way to the 53kg gold medal bout, where she overpowered Ecuador's, Luisa Elizabeth Valverde.

“Competing at an international event tests our training. It tells us whether we are moving in the right direction or not? So this result shows we are on the right track since it’s a big year, it’ an Olympic year,” said Vinesh from Rome.

READ| Wrestling: Vinesh Phogat wins gold at Rome Ranking Series event

She won by technical superiority against Ukraine’s Khrystyna Bereza (10-0) and China’s Lannuan Luo (15-5) before getting the better of Qianyu Pang (4-2) in the semifinal.

“At this event, I competed with girls I had never wrestled before and against Pang, I was wrestling for the third time. It was important to know if her style has changed or not. These tournaments help in assessing yourself and the rivals too.”

READ| Vinesh Phogat: ‘New weight category has made the biggest difference’

Honing skills

Vinesh has been honing her ground wrestling under the watchful eyes of coach Woller Akos. “We worked on strength and stamina in three months of the off-season. The mat training began only in January. I mostly score points from standing wrestling and not much from ground wrestling. It’s not easy to change but compared to last January, I am much better, so the coaches are happy,” she said.

“In India, I do score points from ground wrestling easily and against anyone but at this level, it’s difficult. The more I compete in these competitions, the better it is for me. The training camps outside have helped me. Everything has changed since I switched the category.

“The training, the food, the technique, the style, everything has undergone a huge change. The body takes time to adapt though mind accepts. But both mind and body have to come together,” the only woman wrestler to win a medal at the 2019 World Championship, said.

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Change of category

It’s been a year now since Vinesh started competing in the 53kg category after dominating the 50kg weight division. “In 50kg, I knew each and every rival. Now in 53kg too, I have a fair idea against whom I have to use power and where I need to wrestle smartly. I can say that 60 to 70 per cent I am there.”

If her win against Bereza was about spectacular double leg attacks, the quarterfinal win over Luo was tougher than what the score-line suggested.

Luo was a strong opponent, who led 5-2 at the end of the first period but Vinesh turned it around with smart point-scoring moves in the second period. Twice she threw Luo with moves from between the legs when the Chinese was holding her from the back.

“The Ukraine girl (Bereza) was good, I had trained with her before coming here. The Chinese wrestlers were also good. But Luo was still scoring points off me. I wanted to compete against them because I had never grappled with them.

“The Ecuador girl was also good. When you see them practise it’s different but on the mat it’s different. I needed to get a feel of all contenders, who I might be facing in Tokyo.”

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