The Ranking Series win was a major validation of Vinesh Phogat’s decision to move up to the 53kg division and a barometer to assess her Tokyo 2020 preparedness.
Vinesh Phogat's 2019 season got off to a golden start on Friday, as she successfully outdueled Luisa Elizabeth Valverde of Ecuador 4-0 to win the 53kg category of the Matteo Pellicone Memorial, a Ranking Series event.
The 25-year-old got going with a dominant 12-0 win against Khrystyna Bereza, as Vinesh’s masterful double leg attacks had left the Ukrainian guessing.
The quarter-final duel against Lannuan Luo was more of a challenge, as the first period ended 5-2 in favour of the Chinese wrestler. However, Vinesh Phogat soon turned the tables, throwing Luo twice before winning 15-5.
She then went on to take down Luo’s fellow countrywoman Qianyu Pang in the semi-final before eventually sealing up the win against Valverde.
It was the kind of valuable experience Vinesh Phogat craved heading into the event — facing and sizing up opponents who she would encounter down the road in Tokyo later in the year.
“At this event, I competed with girls I had never wrestled before and against Pang, I was wrestling for the third time. It was important to know if her style has changed or not. These tournaments help in assessing yourself and the rivals too,” Vinesh told PTI.
“The Ukraine girl (Bereza) was good, I had trained with her before coming here. The Chinese wrestlers were also good. But Luo was still scoring points off me. I so wanted to compete against them because I had never grappled with them.”
It was the first major validation of her decision to move up to the 53kg weight division a year ago after enjoying immense success in 50kg. “In 50kg, I knew each and every rival. Now in 53kg also, I have a fair idea against whom I have to use power and where I need to wrestle smartly. I can say that 60 to 70 per cent I am there,” noted Vinesh Phogat.
Being an Olympic year, participating in high-calibre events like the Matteo Pellicone Memorial is particularly important as they serve as helpful indicators to gauge an athlete's preparedness for the ultimate test.
“Competing at an international event tests our training. It tells us whether we are moving in the right direction or not. So, this result shows we are on the right track since it's a big year, it’s an Olympic year,” said Vinesh Phogat, who is one of India's biggest medal hopes at Tokyo 2020.
Although it has been a constant work-in-progress alongside her coach Woller Akos, if there is still an Achilles Heel that nags her, it's that she has some ways to go when it comes to scoring from ground positions.
"We worked on strength and stamina in three months of the off-season. The mat training began only in January. I mostly score points from standing wrestling and not much from ground wrestling. It's not easy to change, but compared to last year's January, I am much better, so the coaches are happy," she said.
Following her successful foray at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial, Vinesh Phogat will next compete at the Asian Championships scheduled to be held in New Delhi from February 18-23.