Indian grappler Pooja Gehlot (53kg) made headlines when she silenced Turkey’s Zeynep Yetgil in the semifinals of the UWW Under-23 World Championships on Thursday in Budapest, Hungary. Pooja wrestled her way into the final where no Indian — man or woman — has ever won a gold in the last three editions of the championship. However, in the summit clash on Friday Pooja faced-off Haruno Okuno of Japan and went down 1-12 fighting till the last striking attack. India’s wait to find its first gold medallist at the Wrestling Under-23 World Championships has ended with Pooja losing to two-time senior world champion Haruno Okuno in a bout that lasted for one minute and 12 seconds.

She got the better of 2018 Junior European Wrestling Championships gold medallist Zeynep Yetgil of Turkey 8-4 to advance to Friday’s summit showdown. Pooja was the second Indian to make it to the final of this edition of the championships following men’s freestyle expert, Ravinder (61kg), who won silver on Wednesday.

Key Takeaways:

  • Wrestler Pooja Gehlot (53kg) lost to Haruno Okuno of Japan in the summit class on Friday and with that India’s wait to find its first gold medallist at the Wrestling Under-23 World Championships is over.
  • Pooja lost to two-time senior world champion Haruno Okuno in a bout that lasted for one minute and 12 seconds. She settles for silver.
  • She made headlines on Thursday when silenced Turkey’s Zeynep Yetgil in the semi-finals of the UWW Under-23 World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Pooja wrestled her way into the final where no Indian — man or woman — has ever won gold in the last three editions of the championship.

The Sonipat wrestler’s performance termed India’s best result at the U-23 World Championships since 2017 when Ritu Phogat won the same medal in Poland. “Her (Gehlot’s) strength is speed, but the attack wasn’t effective to upset the Japanese and she lost,” said coach Mandeep Saini, Hindustan Times reported.

He further added, “The training for the World Championships wasn’t 100 per cent yet she gave it her all on the mat. Winning silver is a big thing.”

22-year-old Pooja became the junior national champion in 2015 before clinching gold in 51kg category at the Asian Junior Wrestling Championship in Taichung, Taiwan in 2017. She then shifted her base to Rohtak to train under Rio Olympics bronze medallist Sakshi Malik’s coach, Mandeep Singh.

Fighting a star wrestler like Okuno, who has already won two senior world titles — in the 55 kg in 2017 and in the 53 kg in 2018, was not easy. So what worked for Pooja? “Initially, when I knew that I had to train with boys I was reluctant. But I wanted to be a wrestler and my father always motivated me to not think about such things. Training with Greco-Roman wrestlers helped make by defence rock-solid,” Pooja says, The Indian Express reported.

READ: Navjot Kaur – First Indian Woman Wrestler To Clinch Asian Gold

Pooja’s father Vijender Singh and family rent accommodation in Rohtak where she trains at an all boy’s akhada. “We knew coach Anand but the only problem we faced was that there were no girls at his akhada. But he agreed to train Pooja. At times, our neighbours in the village would say it is not right to let a girl train with boys. But we knew that wrestling is her passion and today’s medal is the biggest reward for us,” said Singh, who works as a lab assistant at a Sarvodya Bal Vidyalaya in Delhi.

“There is no dearth of women sparring partners in Rohtak. Moreover, her younger brother Ankit also trains with her.” said the father.

Pooja, who was initially interested in volleyball, but her height, was an issue. So, she followed her uncle Dharamvir Singh’s (also a wrestler) footstep and got enrolled under Dahiya who worked day and night to transform Pooja into a dominant wrestler. “We worked upon her strength and stance and it helped her game. It also helped her try the moves like Kalajang and Dhobi pat,” coach Dahiya recalls. She then opted for the guidance of coach Mandeep Singh.

Pooja has also suffered from a shoulder injury. “The only thing, which hampered her was a recurring shoulder injury. But we focussed on increasing her leg strength and working on the core of the body. If she remains injury free, she can be a formidable wrestler,” Mandeep says.

After recovering from the injury, Pooja won a dangal in Bhiwani and contributed the Rs 10 lakh prize money to her elder sister’s wedding. Pooja’s all-time inspiration and idol is Vinesh Phogat.

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