Vinesh Phogat grabs gold at Ukraine meet to make winning return

The Tokyo-bound Indian wrestler, competing in the 53 kg category, beat European champion Vanesa Kaladzinskaya in the final.

By Ubaid Parkar

Vinesh Phogat marked a winning return to wrestling as she clinched gold in the 53kg category at the XXIV Outstanding Ukrainian Wrestlers and Coaches Memorial in Kyiv on Sunday.

Vinesh Phogat pinned down reigning European champion Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus while leading 10-8 in the final with 25 seconds left on the clock.

The final was closely contested. While Vinesh opened up a four-point lead, world No. 7 Kaladzinskay equalised moments later. The Indian initiated a take down to add two more points with the Belarusian responding with throw to bag four more points of her own.

The score read 8-6 in Kaladzinskay’s favour. It was here when Vinesh managed to enforce the pin.

This was the Indian wrestler’s first competition since winning bronze at the Asian championships in New Delhi in February 2020. Despite being out of action, Vinesh breezed past her opponents to win four bouts on the preceding day to make it to the final.

Vinesh had started her Ukrainian Memorial campaign on Saturday with a 3-1 win against two-time Asian championships bronze medallist Aktenge Keunimjaeva of Uzbekistan. She then beat Katsiaryna Pichkouskaya of Belarus 5-1 in the next round.

In the quarter-final, she got the better of Youth Olympic Games silver medallist Iulia Leorda of Moldova 2-0, scoring both points off passivity.

Vinesh continued her good form in the semi-final. Leading 7-0 against Andreea Ana of Romania, Vinesh pinned her opponent down with a little over two minutes left on the clock.

Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus, a two-time world champion, beat Iryna Husyak 10-0 in her semi-final match.

In Europe since late December and accompanied by Hungarian personal coach Woller Akos, Vinesh Phogat was part of a 40-day training camp in Hungary and Poland. She thus skipped the women’s senior national wrestling championships last month.

The 26-year-old Indian has already qualified for the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 53kg after winning bronze at the 2019 world championships.

Up next on Vinesh Phogat’s schedule is the Matteo Pellicone Rome Rankings - the first ranking event of the year - in Rome from March 4 to 7.