Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan): Vinesh Phogat became the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics after holding off world number one Sarah Ann Hildebrandt with some superlative defensive display in the World Championship here Wednesday.
At least, five times Sara had got hold of Vinesh’s right leg but with her immense upper-body strength, the Indian did not let her rival take advantage and won 8-2 in her second repechage round.
After being placed in an extremely tough 53kg draw, Vinesh had lost to reigning champion Mayu Mukaida in the second round.
In her first repechage round, she had easily dispatched Ukraine’s Yuliia Khavaldzhy Blahinya 5-0.
While it has been a spectacular career for Vinesh with gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games, none of her three attempts at the world championship resulted in a podium.
Competing in her fourth Worlds, she is one win away from her maiden medal and standing in her way is Greek wrestler, Maria Prevolaraki.
“I am happy and relieved that I am going to Tokyo but it’s not over yet. I have a medal bout and I don’t want to miss that,” Vinesh said as she walked into the training area.
Navjot Kaur gave her a hug and the Indian camp, which has endured tough initial days, was gleaming.
There were handshakes but coach Woller Akos was still not smiling. He was still seriously discussing something with Vinesh, probably what she needs to do in her next bout.
“Her motion was not at best but the defence was. We had asked Vinesh to move right and block Sarah’s right hand.
“What it did was that it put Vinesh further away from Sarah, not letting her attack. It also meant that Vinesh could go for her attacks,” explained Akos about they plotted the fall of the American world number one.
At the beginning itself, Vinesh put pressure on Sarah, taking 2-0 with a take-down on double leg attack. The American thrice attacked Vinesh’s right leg in the first period and twice in the second but the Indian kept her on the ground, using all her power.
That is what clinched it for Vinesh.
Whenever she got the opportunity, she converted attacks into take-down points.
Countering the wrestler from USA was not new for Vinesh, who had beaten Sarah at the beginning of the season at Dan-Kolov tournament in Bulgaria, immediately after switching to 53kg category from 50kg.
In the first repechage, the Ukrainian largely went for head-locks but Vinesh not only defended well but also timed her double-leg attacks to log take-down points.
Seema Bisla though missed Olympic qualification in 50kg after losing her second repechage round 3-11 to Russia’s Ekaterina Poleshchuk.
In the 76kg, Kiran had rattled her German opponent Aline Rotter to lead 4-0 but lost five points in a row in the second period to lose the opening bout 4-5.
She paid the price for being over-defensive.
Much was expected from Sarita Mor after her shock victory over 2018 World Championship bronze medallist Pooja Dhanda in the trials but she was far from her usual aggressive self.
Up against Moldova’s Anastasia Nichita, she remained defensive, losing the 57kg qualification bout 1-5.