Before boarding the flight to Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan, Vinesh Phogat sought cousin Geeta for some advice. The 2010 Commonwealth Games gold medallist did not tell her anything in particular, only asking Vinesh if she was well prepared for the Asian Championships. Vinesh gave a cryptic reply: “watch my bouts.”
Geeta knew then that her sibling will return with a medal, most likely a gold. After her own achievements for India, it was now time to see others carry the family legacy forward. Vinesh was aware that her toughest opponent in Bishkek will be Japan’s Yuki Irie. The Japanese are the gold standard in Asian women’s wrestling, and a victory over a grappler from that country would go a long way in securing a gold medal.
As it turned out, Vinesh did manage to beat Yuki in the semi-finals on Thursday, but came up short against China’s Lei Chun in the 50kg gold medal contest. Geeta, however, knows the importance of getting one over the Japanese and believes big things are on the cards for her cousin.
“It’s never easy to beat a Japanese wrestler and this win shows that Vinesh is ready for any competition. If she continues to improve and work hard, there is no stopping her at the Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and even the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” Geeta says.
It was not the only piece of good news for the Phogat clan on the day. A few minutes later, Geeta’s youngest sister Sangeeta also claimed a bronze medal in the 59kg category.
“It feels great to see younger sisters win medals and along with the country, they make us proud too,” Geeta tweeted after Vinesh’s achievement. Thursday’s medal was Vinesh’s fourth at the Asian Championships in five attempts.
Last year, Vinesh was expected to win the gold in New Delhi. But she lost to Japan’s 18-year-old sensation Yui Susaki in the final. This time, she was up against Yuki, a 2015 Asian champion who had beaten Susaki in the Japan Nationals two months ago. Though the opponent was different, beating a Japanese wrestler on a big stage was redemption of sorts for Vinesh. Her preparation, according to chief coach Kuldeep Malik, began during the national camp in Lucknow.
“We knew how the Japanese girls wrestle in the lightweight category. They go for leg attacks so we tried to block that. From the camp itself, we were training to stop any attack a Japanese wrestler may use. Vinesh was very successful in doing that today. Leg defence and counterattack was the strategy,” Malik says.
While Vinesh and her family rejoice over another Asian medal, Malik is looking at the bigger picture. “I don’t think any Indian girl has defeated a Japanese wrestler at this level. Vinesh’s win is very big and it will not only boost her confidence but will also rub off on other girls. This may set a new trend in India (of beating Japanese wrestlers),” the coach says.
If that does happen, another Phogat will be a trendsetter in the country.
Geeta and Babita made women’s wrestling big in India, and now Vinesh may well be credited for making India’s female grapplers world beaters. If Babita can win a medal in the 53kg category on Friday, the inspiring story of the Phogat sisters will add another chapter.
Road to the medal
Vinesh Phogat settled for a silver medal at the Asian Wrestling Championship after going down
to China’s Lei Chun in the final. Here’s her journey to the podium.
Beat Korea’s Hyungjoo Kim 6-0.
n Kim is the bronze medallist at 2017 Asian Championships.
Beat Kazakh Marina
Marina won bronze at 2015 Cadet World Championship
Beat Japan’s Yuki Irie (4-4).
Yuki is the only wrestler to beat three-time Cadet and Paris World Champion Yui Susaki.
Vinesh lost 2-3 to China’s Lei Chun in the summit clash.
Chun has clinched gold at Poland Open 2017.