Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan): That Vinesh Phogat is her own person was proved yet again when she altered the strategy devised by the coaches for the key Olympic qualification match and came out trumps.
Ahead of her world championships’ Olympic qualifying bout, the precise tactics suggested by coach Woller Akos were to “stay away from Sarah Ann Hildebrandt, block her right arm and protect the legs”.
Vinesh said she did exactly the opposite.
“Coaches were suggesting something else but I felt something different on the mat and changed tactics accordingly. I felt she was getting in, but because I was not conceding point, it was exhausting her,” Vinesh said in an interview after claiming the 53kg category bronze and the Tokyo Olympics berth here.
“So, I thought let’s lure her into leg attacks more and stay solid in defense to completely wear her out. I let her come in but held her off. It worked for me. I knew how much strength she had compared to mine,” she said.
The American number one got hold off of Vinesh’s right leg in the second repechage bout five times but could not convert those moves into points.
“Even if she had scored a few points, she would have got tired because she would have used all her power,” Vinesh added.
The 25-year-old claims to be a person prone to mood swings even when it comes to smallest of matters like eating, sleeping, reading, and talking to people.
Some advised her that she should not get married because she might lose spark but she proved them wrong.
She knows what it means to win a big medal. She has not yet forgotton how the Rio Olympics injury confined her to a wheelchair for some weeks.
“My mother has almost stopped watching my bouts. She fears I may return with a broken leg again. Even if she watches, she will make it tough for others by shouting like –A rrey tang chhod de meri beti ki, tod na diyo (Leave the leg of my daughter, don’t break it),” she said.
While her mother keeps praying when her bout is on, her husband Sombir Rathee chips in with his inputs.
“He may not have won medals but has a sharp wrestling mind. He would come up saying the same things what my foreign coach would suggest,” she added.
The world championship medal was missing from her CV for long and now that she has ticked the box, Vinesh said it gives her the cushion of a few months to plan better for ‘Mission Tokyo’.
“It’s the first Olympic qualification tournament and a world championship too, so every athlete came here well-prepared and with a different mindset. Taking a medal from this group is definitely big for me,” she said. “It’s a relief because now I have a lot of time to prepare for the Olympics. And it’s a bronze only. I want to convert it to a gold and also win the Olympic medal.”
Vinesh is pleased with the way she trained her mind to overcome a few negative thoughts that plagued her mind when it came to switching her weight category.
“I used to think how will I beat a 53kg wrestler like Sofia Mattsson, who is so strong. But I changed the mind-set and beat her. So I am moving in the right direction. My better version is yet to come. I think you will see my best in Olympics, that’s the pinnacle,” she said.
After losing to Mayu Mukaida from Japan, Vinesh conceded just three points in next four bouts.
So, does she feel that it was Mukaida, who pushed her away from the top place on the podium?
“Anything can happen on the mat. You have seen the Korean girl (Yong Mi Pak) beat Mukaida 11-0 in the final and I have beaten that Korean girl twice,” she said.
“But yes, If I had won against the Japanese, the results would have been different. My category is such that five-six wrestlers can beat each other on any given day. Depends on the day and the body language,” she explained.
Vinesh is someone who commands respect from her opponents and the best in business. Does she get nervous?
“I was not nervous because I had to wrestle strong opponents. It is a World Championship and qualifying for the Olympics was very important for me, so that nervousness was there,” she said.
“If I lose to a strong opponent, I don’t mind that. Like I lost to Mukaida, she is good and I tried. Nervousness is good sometimes,” she added.
Vinesh said though she has started to do well in the 53kg category, it still is new category her and figuring out stronger wretslers like Mukaida will take some time.
Vinesh had lost to her at the Asian Championship also.
“To beat Japan, you have to have a strong strategy. During the Asian Championship, I tried different things and at the Worlds, something else but I have not been successful on both counts. We have to find out the way to break down Japan mentally,” she said.