nesh Phogat ke saath kushti hogi to uska bhi sochenge” – Pooja Gehlot said after becoming the new 53kg champion at the national championships. What makes it even more special is that she is a gold medalist in her idol’s weight category.
When Pooja Gehlot took up wrestling, she faced a dilemma most women wrestlers in India face at the akhada – whether to grapple with boys. Mixed training places are a common sight in the akhada’s but for someone who gets introduced to it the first time, it can be a cultural shock. However, once Pooja Gehlot made up her mind, there was no turning back.
“I have always done mat wrestling which is very good because end of the day it is there we get tested. Training with boys, especially Greco Roman wrestlers has helped me improve my defence and strengthen my upper body,” she says.
All of this was on display in the final of 53kg against Swati Shinde of Maharasthra. Swati, who is one of the most technical wrestlers, had a lead of 5 points with less than two minutes to the bout. But Pooja Gehlot kept her composure and made a spectacular comeback to score 10 points on the trot.
She survived a leg lace by Swati– one of the most effective moves to score points – with a solid defence. Pooja Gehlot countered it with a brilliant gut-wrench against the Maharashtrian wrestler to win the gold medal match by 15-10.
“Bhaarandaaz dav (gut-wrench) is my strong weapon. I have a good upper-body strength and it helps me execute the move well. When she (Swati) caught me in Fitle (leg lace), I did not think much as my body was beginning to warm up well. So, I just concentrated on not letting her finish the move,” the U23 world medalist says.
Bharandaaz was made famous by Sushil Kumar. It was one of the major weapons that helped him end India’s 56-year wait for another Olympic medal at KD Jadhav in 1952. He defeated Leonid Spiridonov to win bronze in the 66kg category.
It also helped Bajrang Punia win the 2019 Asian Championship gold in China – the only gold medal for India at the tournament.
But what is this lethal move?
To define it in words, the wrestler puts one or both hands beneath the abdomen of his opponent to swing him around for a takedown as the limbs touch the match. It helps score multiple opponents in succession.
However, unlike Sushil Kumar and Bajrang Punia, wrestling came about accidentally to Pooja Gehlot.
Pooja Gehlot ready to challenge her idol Vinesh Phogat
She had initially gravitated towards volleyball but her lack of height meant she had to look for other options. Her uncle Dharamvir Singh was a wrestler and encouraged to try it out.
Pooja Gehlot became the junior national champion in 2015 before extending her success at the Asian level two years later. The teenage wrestler then shifted her base to Rohtak to train under Rio Olympics bronze medalist Sakshi Malik’s coach, Mandeep Singh.
Incidentally, at the Nationals, five of the 10 gold medalists in women’s wrestling train were under Mandeep Singh.
“It was a good competition for us. The girls did well. She will now be up against Vinesh Phogat. We will plan for it to when the time comes. Our focus her been on increasing her leg strength and working on the core of the body. If she can remain injury free, she is a formidable wrestler,” says Mandeep.
Pooja Gehlot made a comeback to wrestling two years later. She last competed at the U23 world championships in 2019 where she won silver. Women’s Head coach Kuldeep Malik was impressed by Pooja Gehlot’s performance and said he can see her in the Indian team soon.
“She knows how to take advantage of the situation and is very good with ground wrestling. Her leg attack is also good. I can assure you she will be in the senior team soon,” he says.
Pooja Gehlot sets sights on the Asian and Commonwealth Games and hopes to follow in the footsteps of Vinesh Phogat, who’s her inspiration.
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