Vinesh Phogat saved her best for last as she conjured a superb all-round display to beat Sweden's Joana Malmgren in repechage and win bronze at the Wrestling World Championships in Belgrade on Wednesday.
Vinesh, who won bronze in 2019, became the first Indian woman to win two medals at Wrestling World Championships.
The bronze was a boost after she began her campaign with a shock loss to Mongolia's Khulan Batkhuyag. In her first bout, she barely put up a fight as Batkhuyag won 7-0. Vinesh would later thank Batkhuyag as the Mongolian made it to the final, which meant Vinesh still had a shot at a bronze medal via repechage.
In her first repechage bout, Vinesh beat Kazakhstan's Zhuldyz Eshimova, a bronze winner at the 2022 Senior Asian Championships, in all of 74 seconds. She'd bagged her first points with a takedown move and then wrapped up the contest 20 seconds later by pinning her Kazakh opponent to the mat.
Vinesh then got a lucky break as Azerbaijan's Leyla Gurbanova pulled out of their second-round repechage match owing to injury. It cleared the path for Vinesh, who was now within sniffing distance of a second Worlds medal.
Vinesh Phogat's road to 🥉 at #WrestleBelgrade:
▪️ Loses to Khulan Batkhuyag
▪️ Beats Asian 🥉 medallist Zhuldyz Eshimova
▪️ Gets walkover from Leyla Gurbanova
▪️ Defeats 2021 Jr World Champion Joana Malmgren@Phogat_Vinesh: the first 🇮🇳 woman wrestler to win 2 Worlds medals. pic.twitter.com/eo0jNrp48X
- Shyam Vasudevan (@JesuisShyam) September 14, 2022
The Indian looked the aggressor from the get-go as she notched up an early 2-0 lead and took control of the bout. Malmgren, the 2021 Junior World Champion, was unable to clear out her left arm from Vinesh's grasp and the Indian dug in hard to scalp the takedown.
There was a bit of an injury scare as Vinesh seemed to have hurt her knee, but she shrugged it off. She played the waiting game and put up a solid defence.
Early in the second half, Vinesh got a verbal warning from the referee for being too passive and that spurred on the Indian: she launched into an explosive move and bagged two more points to expand her lead to 4-0. It showed that Vinesh could perhaps score at will. She deliberately slowed down the tempo again before rolling over Malmgren to take lead 6-0. It was a tactically sound bout from Vinesh, not giving her opponent many chances.
Vinesh scored two more from a takedown to wrap up the win and let out a sigh of relief, finally breaking into her trademark smile.
For someone who had lost the joy of wrestling and contemplated giving up the sport, the bronze means a lot. Last month, she had won her third consecutive Commonwealth Games gold medal but the field at Worlds is much stronger.
Nisha to wrestle for bronze
Earlier in the evening, Nisha Dahiya put up a gritty fight but lost to Japan's junior world champion Ami Ishii in the women's 68kg semifinal. Nishi will fight for the bronze medal on Thursday.
Ishii took the lead within the first 20 seconds and held on to lead at the interval. The hooter came as a saving grace for Nisha, who was in a real spot of bother as Ishii had her locked in a double ankle hold right when the buzzer went off.
Nisha earned two more points for exposure early into the second period and Ishii bagged one for a reversal as the Indian continued to lead 4-3. Nisha had led the bout for four minutes but the last two belonged to the Japanese wrestler.
Ishii clinched two points from a takedown to lead 5-4 and shut out Nishi thereon. The Indian coaches tried to spur her on by yelling "50 seconds reh gaye...30 seconds reh gaye...niklega! (50 seconds to go...30 seconds to go...you will find the opening)" but it was not meant to be as Nishi failed to break Ishii's defence.