Updated: October 26, 2018 9:56:47 am
On Thursday evening, as 24-year-old Pooja Dhanda faced Norway’s Grace Jacob Bhullen in the 57 kg bronze medal match in the World Wrestling Championship in Budapest, Hungary; her father Ajmer Singh was watching the match nervously in Hisar. As the Norwegian wrestler, who was the 2014 Youth Olympic Champion, tried to launch a leg attack, Singh was a touch nervous.
However, Dhanda not only quelled her opponent’s move but counter-attacked and won four points, which gave her some breathing space. With the 10-7 win, the Indian clinched a bronze medal. Pooja opened up a 4-1 lead with a throw, which she found on counter attack. She consolidated it with a roll and took a 6-1 lead after the end of first period. After conceding a point for a step out, Pooja stunned the Norwegian with another four-point throw, to zoom to a 10-2 lead.
It is second big medal for Pooja this season, having won a silver the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast. Only Alka Tomar (2006), Geeta (2012) and Babita Phogat (2012) have won bronze medals for India at the Worlds before Pooja’s memorable medal. It is India’s second medal at the ongoing championship after Bajrang Punia’s silver medal performance in the men’s freestyle 65kg category.
Finishing on the podium at the World Championship is a major feat but in Dhanda’s case it was even more commendable because she had missed two years owing to a knee injury which she first suffered in 2015. “She suffered the ACL injury during practice with Geeta Phogat in Lucknow in 2015 and underwent surgery. After the operation, she would practice moves while lying on the bed. She would always tell us that she will make a comeback. Today when Bhullen made the leg attack, we knew that opponents would try that but Pooja had told us that she had a counter move,” Ajmer said.
Pooja’s father is posted as a driver in the Haryana Animal Husbandry department in Hisar. Initially, Pooja joined judo closes as well wrestling under coach Subash Chander Soni at the Mahavir Stadium in Hisar in 2004. The youngster won a total of four gold medals in the judo in junior nationals apart from winning a bronze medal in Asian Cadet Judo Championship in Hyderabad in 2007. The following year Pooja won the gold medal in Asian Cadet Judo Championship in Yemen before winning her first international medal in wrestling in 2009, a bronze medal in Asian Cadet Championships. The youngster won the silver medal in the first edition of Youth Olympics Games in 2010. Wining the senior nationals gold medal in 2013 which saw her defeating Babita Phogat in the final was followed by a bronze medal in Asian Wrestling Championships in 2014 in Astana.
It was followed by the injury which also meant that she missed playing the role of Babita Phogat in the bollywood movie Dangal. “When she started wrestling, I had to do my job as a driver apart from waking up early to take her to the stadium by cycle which was five kilometres away. She would practice both judo and wrestling and she still tries some judo moves in wrestling,” Ajmer said.
Last year Pooja became the national champion once again, her first since 2013 before scoring wins over Olympic and World champion Helen Maroulis twice in the Pro Wrestling league in January early this year. This year, Pooja won the silver medal in Commonwealth Games.
Last year, Pooja had lost against China’s Rong Ningning 8-12 after taking a 8-0 lead. In Hungary too, Dhanda lost to the Chinese in the quarter-finals before defeating Alyona Kolensik of Azerbaijan in the repechage round before facing Bhullen in the bronze medal match.
“Winning the national title last year was a special feeling for her. We did not have own home and bought a plot with her prize money from the CWG. Now she has won a medal in World Championships, she would only think about a medal in 2020 Olympics,” says Ajmer.
As for mother Kamlesh Devi, she will be preparing Pooja’s favourite kheer churma to celebrate the medal. “Injury main bhi kheer churma khati thi aur ab medal le ke bhi yahi mangegi,” said Devi.
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