Olympic-bound star grappler Vinesh Phogat led India’s charge in women’s wrestling, as she won her first ever Asian Championship gold medal after she pinned her rival in the summit clash in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Friday.

Anshu Malik (57kg) and Divya Kakran (72kg) also won gold medals in their categories as Indian women dominated proceedings even if it was in a depleted field. China and Japan are not part of the event due to Covid-19-related reasons. The final tally in women’s wrestling stood at four gold medals for India, as Sarita Mor had won the final with a sensational comeback in the 59kg on Thursday.

Sarita and Divya have now won back-to-back gold medals in the event, the first two Indians to do so.

On Friday, there was no stopping Vinesh in the absence of the her primary rivals as she cruised to the title in the 53kg category. Vinesh, who had won a bronze in the Delhi edition of the Continental Championship last year, moved 6-0 up in the final and finished the bout in style by pinning her rival in the first period.

“The main aim was to wrestle the Japan and China wrestlers, but they are not here,” Vinesh had said before the final, according to United World Wrestling.

“It’s not in my hands. If there is a gold medal on the offering, I will take it. I learnt a lot of things despite the tough opponents not here. The most important part is the recovery. I think my recovery between the bouts is not the best right now,” she had added.

Vinesh has notched up seven podium finishes at the Asian meet over the years, including three silver medals before this edition. Earlier in the day, she won by technical superiority against Mongolia’s Otgonjargal Ganbaatar and Taipei’s Meng Hsuan Hsieh while an injured Hyunyoung Oh from Korea did not turn up for the semi-final.

Vinesh Phogat in (senior) Asian Championship:

2013 (51kg): Bronze
2014 (48kg): No medal
2015 (48kg): Silver
2016 (53kg): Bronze
2017 (53kg): Silver
2018 (50kg): Silver
2019 (53kg): Bronze
2020 (53kg): Bronze
2021 (53kg): Gold

Continuing her impressive rise, Anshu, who booked an Olympic quota for herself only few days back at the same venue, reached the summit clash with ease in 57kg.

The 19-year-old won a tightly contested final 3-0 Battsetseg Altantsetseg. The Indian started aggressively but was forced on the defensive for the last couple of minutes and she hung on.

She had won her first two bouts by technical superiority against Uzbekistan’s Sevara Eshmuratova and Kyrguzstan’s Nazira Marsbek Kyzy to reach the semifinal. Her quick moves and tremendous energy had her rivals gasping for breath.

Up against Mongolia’s Altantsetseg earlier in the day, she was leading 9-1 when the referee awarded a ‘victory by caution’ to the Indian. The Mongolian was cautioned thrice.

Also reaching the final was Sakshi Malik, who is competing in 65kg, having missed her claim in her pet 62kg category. She finished with a silver medal after a defeat by fall in the final Mongolia’s Bolortungalag Zorigt, in what was the only disappointment of the day for India in the finals session.

Competing much better than she was in the trials, the Rio Games bronze medallist won her first two bouts by technical superiority and was leading 3-0 against Hanbit Lee when the Korean suffered a knee injury and opted out of the contest.

Also doing well was Divya Kakran, who was competing in the 72kg category. She stunned reigning Asian Champion Zhamila Bakbergenova from Kazakhstan 8-5 en route the third round where she did not have to wrestle as her first two wins in the group stage was enough to guarantee gold.

“I have not been wrestling well for sometime now,” she had said after her wins earlier in the day. “The trials in India were one of my worst performances. So I was not thinking of participating in 72kg, but my father asked me to.

“I was thinking that if I didn’t wrestle good in 68kg, how will I win the trials in 72kg? But I managed to and I have wrestled well here. The difference here is that I am wrestling without pressure. In India, I am wrestling with a lot of expectations from myself.”