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Vinesh Phogat up against old foe as she returns after 10-month hiatus

Vinesh Phogat will be back in action at the Polyak Imre and Varga Janos Memorial Ranking Series in Budapest from July 13. Her main adversary will be American Jacarra Winchester.

Vinesh Phogat up against old foe as she returns after 10-month hiatus

Vinesh Phogat. (FILE PHOTO: WFI)


Abon Gooptu

Updated: 11 July 2023 11:56 AM GMT

Vinesh Phogat, who was the epicentre of the months-long protest against Wrestling Federation of India President Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, is set to return to the wrestling mat at the Polyak Imre and Varga Janos Memorial Ranking Series in Budapest from July 13.

The Budapest event is the fourth and last ranking series of the year. Vinesh Phogat will be India’s sole representative at the event.

This will mark the two-time World Wrestling Championship bronze medallist’s first wrestling match in over ten months. Her last outing was in September last year, at the 2022 World Wrestling Championships in Serbia, where she bagged a bronze medal.

Analysing Vinesh's chances

Vinesh will be participating in the 55kg category. Her category consists of Li Deng (CHN), Roza Szenttamasi (HUN), Gerda Terek (HUN), Marina Sedneva (KAZ), Laura Stanelyte (LTU), Mariana Dragutan (MDA), Mariia Vynnyk (UKR), Jacarra Winchester (USA), Alisha Howk (USA) and Areana Villaescusa (USA).

The three-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist will not be familiar with the game of most of the wrestlers in her category. This will be a first-time encounter with most of the aforementioned athletes for Vinesh.

Expected to be rusty and down on confidence entering the competition, Vinesh would do well to guard against complacency against the new names.

However, America’s Jacarra Winchester will be a familiar face.

The two met at the semi-finals of the Yasar Dogu Ranking Series in Istanbul in February 2022. Here, Vinesh lost 3-7 to the American and former World Champion, being pinned by the American. Winchester would go on to win gold in Istanbul.

While vengeance might be on Vinesh’s mind, the head-to-head favours the in-form American.

Vinesh Phogat's participation was not guaranteed

Vinesh Phogat’s ticket was not achieved easily. There was a dilemma about whether to send Vinesh to Budapest as there were no official trials held. But Vinesh was eligible to enter the tournament because she was a medallist from last year’s World Wrestling Championships.

Additionally, most Indian wrestlers prioritised their preparation for the Asian Games trials over the opportunity to participate in the Polyak Imre and Varga Janos Memorial Ranking Series. A risk of last-minute injuries before the trials would undo months of hard work for these wrestlers.

The wrestling ad-hoc committee eventually successfully sent an entry for Vinesh after requesting the United World Wrestling to extend the last date of sending entries from June 14 to June 20.

The uncertain road ahead for Vinesh Phogat

The Olympic Council of Asia has granted the Indian Olympic Association an extension of only one week till July 22 to submit the names of participating wrestlers at the Hangzhou Asian Games in September. This was done to accommodate the six protesting wrestlers, including Vinesh Phogat, Bajrang Punia, and Sakshi Malik, under exceptional circumstances.

The IOA initially requested time till August 5 to ensure that the six protesting wrestlers had enough time for the Asian Games trials and World Championship trials.

READ | 'Yogeshwar leaked names of complainants': Vinesh Phogat lashes out

The IOA and WFI arrived at a controversial decision to allow the protesting wrestlers to skip the initial Asian Games trials. instead, they would have to compete against the winners of the initial trials in a one-bout comp to punch their ticket to Hangzhou. This decision has not been received very well by other Indian wrestlers and coaches who remain vocal in their demand for a 'fair trial.'

It is left to see if the IOA stands its ground and sticks to its decision to accommodate the protesting wrestlers. It is also uncertain if Vinesh Phogat and others have enough time to prepare and brush off any rustiness despite the extended trial deadline of July 22.

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