The 524-member Indian contingent at the Asian Games in Jakarta, Indonesia, has been fighting for glory and beating the 57-medal tally. In that contingent are six women, who the nation was confident had the potential to bring back the gold and one of them has done just that.
We are talking about none other than Vinesh Phogat who won the gold, the first for women’s wrestling in the Asian Games, after a match-winning move got her the advantage, causing Japan’s Yuki Irie to fold. Phogat showcased athletic brilliance and took the match, reports Financial Express.
It has been a long journey for Vinesh, and life, for her, has come full circle. She was suffering from a bout of poor form and recovering from a knee injury caused during the quarterfinals of the Rio Olympics in 2016. Phogat had left the wrestling mat on a stretcher, with tears streaming down her face. At the time, there were grave concerns whether she would ever step on a wrestling mat again.
At the Madrid Grand Prix last year, she conceded just one point in 5 bouts. At the Asiad, she dropped just 2 points and spent a little over 11 minutes on the mat, en route to the final. Through steady treatment and rehabilitation, she bounced back with a vengeance, surprising everyone by winning the gold in the women’s 50 kg freestyle wrestling event in this year’s Commonwealth Games.
Her Asian Games campaign began against Sun Yanan. Beating the Chinese wrestler 8-2 and following it up with wins against South Korea’s Kim Hyung-joo in the quarterfinals, she beat Uzbekistan’s Daulatbike Yakshimuratova in the semis. The finals were the icing on the cake, and she finished it with conviction, winning gold.
The wrestler has her coach to thank. Despite being in Budapest at the time of the Games, coach Woller Akos sent Vinesh Phogat a string of instructions via WhatsApp. The most crucial of these was to counter Japanese wrestling techniques in the match against Yuki Irie. Since Japanese wrestlers traditionally moved on the right side, the clever coach instructed Phogat to block her Japanese opponent’s right side, forcing the latter to switch techniques.
As the plan worked, the opponent grew unable to use her favourite tactics; and sensing her falter, Phogat launched a counter-attack, scoring a 4-point move.
Woller Akos is a former European Junior Championship Silver Medallist. He has also injured almost every part of his anatomy in professional wrestling. His wife is a former World Championship and European Games gold medallist.
Phogat spent time coaching with Akos, whose aimed to polish her techniques and improve her strength. His last-minute instruction on WhatsApp shows just how clued in a coach is to his ward’s performance, no matter where they are.
Slowly and steadily, post her setback in 2016, Phogat climbed back right to the top, and capped it off with a historic gold in the Asian Games!
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)