Vinesh Phogat's wait for a gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships just grew longer. The Indian, who had two silver medals and three bronze medals before the 2020 edition in New Delhi, had to be content with bronze once more this time around.
Any hope of competing for gold was extinguished in the first round itself, where Vinesh lost to Japan's Mayu Mukaida, who's been something of a nemesis to the Indian. The pair have wrestled thrice -- all in the opening stages of a tournament in the 53kg category -- and Vinesh has lost on all three occasions. In their first bout, at last year's Asian Championships, the Indian was blown away 10-0. A few months later, at the World Championships, Vinesh was beaten 7-0 by the Japanese, who went on to win silver. This time, Vinesh finally got on the scoreboard in a 6-2 loss.
With a host of pullouts, the bout between Mukaida and Vinesh was the most high-profile, awaited one of the day. Vinesh began cautiously, unwilling to let the Japanese get off to a big lead in the way she had in the previous two contests. Vinesh made three attempts to attack Mukaida's left leg but the Japanese was quick to wriggle out. It was Vinesh's leg that was seized by Mukaida and while she was taken down, she denied Mukaida's attempts to execute a gut-wrench. The Indian succeeded in levelling the scores in the second period but couldn't add to it. Mukaida kept her cool, unleashed her gut-wrench to perfection and secured the win.
The Japanese will be a leading contender at the Tokyo Olympics and a massive obstacle for the Indian's aspirations of an Olympic podium finish. Perhaps the only consolation Vinesh can draw from her bout against Mukaida on Friday is the reduced margin of defeat. And that was exactly the outlook Vinesh had following the competition. "In my first match against Mukaida I lost 10-0, then it was 7-0, today for the first time I scored against her and it shows that I am in the right direction," she said.
The bronze medal was secured with ease following a 10-0 technical superiority win over Vietnam's Thi Li Kiew in the repechage rounds, but the loss against Mukaida was the only thing Vinesh spoke about.
She admitted that while she had improved, there was still some way to go before she could beat the Japanese. "I am improving a lot but in a sport like wrestling no matter how much you improve, it is still not sufficient," she said.
Phogat said Mukaida is an experienced wrestler and it is difficult to beat her as "she knows my style of play because we have competed against each other on three occasions."
There are just about five months to go to the Olympics and while Vinesh has managed to bridge the gap between the two somewhat, it remains to be seen whether, come the time for the competition in Tokyo, the Indian can go the distance. Vinesh remains hopeful, though. "Right now the gap between us is about 80 to a 100. But when I first wrestled against her it was like 10 to a 100. So I know that I am on the right track," she said.