Vinesh Phogat, Sakshi Malik seal Rio Olympic quotas at final Olympic qualifier

Vinesh PhogatIstanbul: In a splendid day for Indian wrestling, JSW athletes Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik secured quotas for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in the 48 kg and 58 kg category respectively. Vinesh (48 kg) and Sakshi (58 kg), both supported by the JSW Sports Excellence Program, reached the finals of their respective weight categories at the second World Olympic Qualifier in Istanbul, Turkey to secure quotas in August's Summer Olympics at the last Olympic Qualifying event for the sport.

Vinesh defeated Turkey's Evin Demirhan by Technical Fall (TF) with a final score of 12-2 becoming the first Indian woman freestyle wrestler to qualify for the Rio Olympics. Sakshi, in her matches, endured a tough semifinal outing in the 58 kg category, getting past China's Lan Zhang with a 10-10 tie.

The 21-year-old Vinesh began her campaign in aggressive fashion, brushing aside Ukraine's Nataliya Pulkovska 10-0 in the preliminaries of the 48 kg before dismantling Julie Martine Sabatie of France 11-0 in the round-of-16. She later scalped South Korea's Yumi Lee 11-1 in the quarterfinals to set up a semifinal date with home favorite Evin Demirhan. Having won all her earlier encounters by Technical Fall (TF), Vinesh added another, demolishing the Turk 12-2 to set up a final with Poland's Iwona Matkowska.

Vinesh Phogat, was overjoyed at having finally clinched the coveted quota for the Olympic games. "Going to the Olympics has been my dream right from the day I started wrestling. I am glad that I could achieve that today. It wasn't an easy journey. I had to quickly cast aside whatever happened in Mongolia and concentrate on the task at hand. I knew this was my last chance and I think I just put everything I had into making sure that I sealed that quota and proved myself. I had faith in my training and the support that my coaches and the JSW Sports Excellence Program has given me." she said.

Sakshi Malik, the 23-year-old Rohtak native, was also in fine form as she took apart Irene Garrido of Spain in the round-of-16, battering the Spaniard 10-0. In the next round, up against Romania's Kateryna Zhydachevska, Sakshi was all over her opponent, winning the bout by Technical Fall (12-2) to move into the semifinals. In the all-important bout and with the Rio quota at stake, Sakshi took a 6-3 lead at the end of the first period against 2012 World Champion Lan Zhang. The Chinese wrestler fought back in the second period but a crucial take-down by Sakshi saw her gain four points and even though the tie ended with the score level at 10-10, the bout was awarded to the Indian wrestler on the basis of her having picked up four points in one single move. Sakshi will now compete for the Gold medal against Russia's Valeria Zholobova.

Having missed out on the qualifier in Mongolia, Sakshi Malik represented India in the 58 kg category. Confident of doing well, Sakshi Malik shared, "We had been training quite intensively in Bulgaria and I was making sure that I was mentally prepared for the pressure that this competition brought. I was in good rhythm after my opening bout and I just continued to do what I was doing. It was a matter of keeping my composure in the last minute of my semifinal bout against the Chinese wrestler. I am happy that I managed to hold on." concluded the JSW Sports Excellence program athlete.