Life imitates art as Indian wins women's wrestling gold

Faisal KAMAL
India's Vinesh Phogat (R) holds up her national flag as she celebrates with his coach after beating Japan's Yuki Irie for the women's wrestling freestyle 50kg gold medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta

Vinesh Phogat became India's first women's wrestling champion at the Asian Games on Monday to extend a family legacy in the sport which was immortalised in a celebrated Bollywood film.

Phogat outclassed Japan's Yuki Irie 6-2 to win the 50kg final in Jakarta and was then hoisted on the shoulders of team staff draped in the Indian flag.

The 23-year-old is a cousin of former Commonwealth champions Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat, whose rise from obscurity to wrestling fame was captured in 2016's 'Dangal', an international hit.

"I had targeted gold. I had three-four silvers at the Asia level. My body responded well, I had trained well and God was being kind," Phogat told reporters.

"I am rough and tough and a risk-taker. I take risks in life and they pay off. I have lot of self-belief that there is nothing that I can't do," she said.

The omens were good for the 2014 bronze medallist when she began the competition with a win over China's Sun Yanan, against whom she had suffered a leg injury at the 2016 Olympics.

"Injuries are a part of a sportsperson's life. And I have heard somewhere that injuries only strengthens an athlete. I have come back stronger from that Rio heartache," she beamed.

"There was pressure but it was to prove that I am actually stronger than her (Sun). I wanted to prove this today because I lost thrice to her before," Phogat added.

Phogat remains India's only second gold-medal winner of the 18th Asian Games so far after Bajrang Punia won the men's 65kg title on Sunday.

She initially trained under her uncle Mahavir Singh Phogat, who coached his daughters Geeta and Babita, but said she idolises India's two-time Olympic medallist Sushil Kumar.

"I listen to Sushil-ji a lot. Whatever he suggests, I take note," she said of Kumar, who lost his opening bout in the 74kg category on Sunday.

"In 2014 when I won bronze in Incheon he said, don't worry, whatever happens, happens for good. Maybe you have something bigger in store," she said.

The rest of the Indian women fell by the wayside on Monday, including Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik who lost her 62kg bronze 2-12 to Rim Jong Sim of North Korea.

North Korea ruled the 53kg and 57kg women's bouts as Pak Yong Mi and Jong Myong Suk won gold in their respective categories.

Pak demolished Kazakhstan's Zhuldyz Eshimova 11-0, while Jong edged out China's Pei Xingru 5-4.

Orkhon Purevdorj of Mongolia had an easy final outing to claim gold in the 62kg category after thrashing Kyrgyzstan's Aisuluu Tynybekova 11-0.

In the men's 125kg, Iran's Parviz Hadibasmanj defeated Deng Zhiwei of China 7-0 in a lop-sided final.