Vinesh qualifies for Olympics; Pooja in line for second successive medal at Worlds

Securing Olympic quota
Vinesh Phogat qualified for the 2020 Olympics after beating fancied American Sarah Hildebrandt. File photo: AFP

Nur-Sultan (Kazakhstan): Vinesh Phogat became the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics while Pooja Dhanda gave herself a chance to become the country's only female grappler to win two World Championships medals, here on Wednesday.

Vinesh held off world No.1 Sarah Ann Hildebrandt with some superlative defense in her second repechage round.

At least five times, Sara got hold of Vinesh's right leg, but with her immense upper-body strength, the Indian did not let her rival take advantage and won 8-2.

After being placed in an extremely tough 53kg draw, Vinesh had lost to reigning champion Mayu Mukaida in the second round.

In her first repechage round, she had easily dispatched Ukraine's Yuliia Khavaldzhy Blahinya 5-0.

Pooja added to the elation of the Indian camp by reaching the semifinals in 59kg, which is non-Olympic category.

Pooja, who won a bronze at the 2018 Worlds in Budapest, turned it around remarkably against Japan's Yuzuka Inagaki after trailing 0-5.

She got back in the bout, but was still behind 4-7. From there, the Indian pulled off a sensational move, slipping from under the Japanese to go behind for a take-down.

With just 40 seconds left, Pooja was still trailing, but soon pulled off a four-point move to take the lead and then held on to that to ensure her passage into semifinals.

She had beaten Belarus' Katsiaryna Hanchar by technical superiority in her pre-quarterfinal and now faces Russian Liubov Ovcharova, the 2017 European champion.

Pooja had become only the fourth Indian to win a Worlds medal at Budapest last year and now can become the first female wrestler to win two.

Only Bajrang Punia has two medals to show at Worlds.

While it has been a spectacular career for Vinesh with gold medals at the CWG and the Asian Games, none of her three attempts at the World Championship resulted in a podium finish.

Now competing in her fourth Worlds, she is one win away from her maiden medal and standing in her way is Greek wrestler Maria Prevolaraki.

"I am happy and relieved that I am going to Tokyo but it's not over yet. I have a medal bout and I don't want to miss that," Vinesh said as she walked into the training area.

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