After two days of wrestling in Gold Coast, India, considered to be a powerhouse in wrestling among Commonwealth nations, had not won a single gold medal in women’s wrestling. Vinesh Phogat was the last hope for coach Kuldeep Malik.
Four years ago in her final bout of the 48kg category in Glasgow, Vinesh was in control of the proceedings before her opponent Yana Rattigan made a comeback. Vinesh managed to hold her off and win 11-8. This time Kuldeep wanted no close bouts. He asked Vinesh to finish it off as soon as possible.
“For the last six months we have been preparing in a specific way and I wanted her to perform those techniques and moves on the mat at a big event. Today was the day. And look she has a gold medal,” Malik recalls.
Before Vinesh, five Indian female wrestlers failed to win the gold medal, two of them falling in the finals. Three others ended up winning bronze medals. So when Vinesh was wrestling against Jessica MacDonald of Canada for a gold medal in the 50kg category, she was aiming to break India’s drought and was also trying to become India’s first woman wrestler to win two gold medals at Commonwealth Games.
Vinesh took just 15 seconds to launch her first attack. A double leg attack on the Canadian and then a takedown would have given Vinesh two points but instead, she went for a four-point throw by lifting MacDonald over her shoulders and slamming her on her back. Malik wanted Vinesh to use her power during the final and the wrestler was not holding back. A minute later, Vinesh was at it again. She went for the double leg attack and got another four-point throw by bringing her opponent down on her shoulders.
“This is what we needed. A takedown would have given her two points and there is always a chance of the opponent coming back. Now, there is no comeback. Two consecutive four-point moves ensured that it would have been very tough for her opponent to make a comeback,” Malik says.
With new weight categories introduced by United World Wrestling, the lightest class in women’s wrestling is 50kg, two kilograms more than what existed earlier. The rejigging of the weight class has given Vinesh an advantage. Earlier, she would go on a liquid diet a week before competition to reduce weight and make the 48kg category. Now with 50kg, she has to cut down on three kilos instead of the five she had to. Vinesh’s weight hovers around 53 kilograms.
In her previous two bouts of the day, Vinesh had a technical superiority-win over Australia’s Rupinder Kaur and a very close 6-5 win over Nigeria’s Miesinnei Genesis. But those two wins were enough for her to top the group. MacDonald was the other wrestler with two wins and a wrestle-off between the two would decide the winner.
With an 8-0 lead at the break, Vinesh’s sights were set on the gold medal. She conceded two points in a scramble but it took her only 90 seconds in the second period to wrap up an 11-3 win against the 2012 World Champion and two-time world bronze medallist. “She is a very good wrestler from Canada but Vinesh has been the best at this weight in Commonwealth. She pulled a 4-point throw in her Asian Championships semi-final as well despite begin in a dangerous position. There is the increase in power which is very important,” Malik says. “It was that kind of day where Vinesh could have beaten anyone. You see the spring in her steps and the movement on the mat. It feels great as a coach.”