A 36-second win, a minute-long pin, a chokehold. Vinesh Phogat did it all, with finesse, to clinch the women’s 53kg title at the 2022 Commonwealth Games at the Coventry Stadium & Indoor Arena on Saturday.
Vinesh, the defending champion, was always the overwhelming favourite in the four-woman draw that featured Canada’s Samantha Stewart, Nigeria’s Mercy Adekuoroye and Sri Lanka’s Chamodya Maduravalage Don. The contest was played out in a Nordic system.
If you’re wondering what the Nordic system is – it is applied if a weight category has less than six participants. Each of the wrestlers will face each other once [three bouts for each wrestler, in Vinesh’s case.]
How does one win in a Nordic system? At the end of the bouts, the wrestler with the most wins is determined as the winner. If two wrestlers have an equal number of wins, then the result of their match will be used to establish the winner.
Chamodya, a CWG debutant, came into the bout with Vinesh on the back of two losses. The 18-year-old, who finished sixth at the 2022 Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series, was no match for the Indian.
Vinesh seemed to be in a hurry to pocket the gold: she launched into a takedown with a little over 30 seconds into the bout and maintained a vice-like grip on Chamodya. The Sri Lankan had no reply as he tried to find a way out Vinesh’s grasp but there was no out. A minute later, the bout was done. Vinesh – three-time CWG champ.
While it appeared a fairly easy draw for Vinesh, there were concerns surrounding Vinesh’s form. Mentally and physically. Her early ouster from the Tokyo Olympics [she finished ninth] and the apathy extended to her by the Wrestling Federation of India had taken a massive toll on her well-being.
She took a four-month break to heal and recover and competed in her first international event post-Tokyo at the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series in February this year. Vinesh was not at her best and finished fifth.
The Commonwealth Games was her chance to bounce back, and the easy draw was the cherry on the top.
Samantha was deemed as Vinesh’s biggest threat but it was a bit of a no-contest as the Indian closed out the bout in a mere 26 seconds. She pinned Samantha to snap up the win via fall. It was her second successive win over Samantha – she had beaten the Canadian in the semifinal of the 2021 Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series.
Vinesh is the first Indian to win a gold at the Asian Games and Commonwealth Games, and she was determined for a third CWG gold on the trot.
Up next was Mercy and Vinesh showed no mercy. She scored an early takedown and then latched into an impenetrable hold. Mercy found no way to wriggle out of Vinesh’s hold, and remained stuck in that position, with her back to the mat, for a good minute before the contest was awarded to Vinesh.
It had been 421 days [Poland Open, June 11, 2021] since Vinesh last won a gold medal. She has not had many reasons to celebrate since then – the early exit in Tokyo forced her into a dark corner and she contemplated giving up the sport.
But on Saturday, the trademark Vinesh smile was on full display. She was where she belonged: on top of the podium. The Vinesh Phogat was back.