No Indian woman wrestler could get past the Japanese in the ongoing Asian Championships and Olympic bronze-medallist Sakshi Malik feels the giants from far east would be impossible to beat at least in this lifetime. Sakshi, Vinesh Phogat, and Divya Kakran lost to Japanese wrestlers in the gold-medal bouts of their respective weight divisions to settle for silver medals in the ongoing Asian Championship. It was the Rio Olympics gold medallist of 63kg category, Risako Kawai, who outplayed Sakshi in the final of 60kg, while another Rio Games champion Sara Dosho defeated Divya Kakran in women’s 69kg. Neither Sakshi nor Divya could sustain for the entire duration of six minutes during their bouts, and although Vinesh gave a good fight to her rival Sae Nanjo, she also proved no match in the final analysis.
“It is very difficult to beat the Japanese girls. It will be tough to match them in this lifetime or even the next. We would have to take rebirths in order to beat them. They are simply too good,” Sakshi, who became the first Indian woman wrestler to bag an Olympic medal, told PTI. Asked to point out the areas in which the Japanese score over others, Sakshi said: “It is a combination of a lot of things. The facilities provided to them, the way their coaches take note of even the minor mistakes they make during a bout. They are very systematic and methodical in their approach.
“Moreover, they are much more superior even when it comes to their skills and technique,” explained the 24-year-old. Vinesh feels that it is their speed and agility that sets the Japanese apart from the rest. “They are extremely agile and move very fast on the mat. It is their speed that we are unable to match most of the times. We will have to increase our speed immensely in order to pose a competition to them,” said Vinesh.
The 19-year-old rookie Divya agreed with both her senior colleagues, saying be it speed, skills or the technique, the Japanese are better in every way. “I was applying all tactics in my book during my gold medal bout against Sara but she was simply far more superior. It was tough to catch up with her,” she said. Besides the conventional training methods, there’s also a lot of cross-training that the Japanese go through. The wrestlers and judokas train together and that improves their overall reflexes and skills.
The Indian women’s team wrestling coach Kuldeep Malik attributed their success to physical fitness and training. “Their base is very strong. Since childhood, the emphasis is on their physical fitness. They are trained so well during their growing up years that when they are put into any sport, they are bound to do well. “Moreover, Japanese girls were exposed to wrestling some 20 years back, while we started coming out only in the last 6 -7 years, so we will take time to catch up with them,” explained the Dhyanchand awardee.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) claims that all attempts at bringing the Japanese coaches to mentor the Indian wrestlers have failed so far. “We tried talking to the Japanese coaches and bring them on board but they don’t seem too positive. They like to live in a cocoon,” WFI assistant secretary Vinod Tomar told PTI. Tomar said even the girls are not available for training. “We have asked them to allow our girls to train in Japan but they do not encourage such proposals. Even here at the Asian Championship, they stick to their training arenas and are not too keen on practicing with wrestlers of other countries,” he said.
Tomar recalled that it was just once before the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games that the then WFI president GS Mander managed to convince the Japanese to allow the Indian girls to train there, as Japan had no stake in that event. “Our girls benefitted immensely by training in Japan before the 2010 Commonwealth Games and that showed in the results. We finished with as many as six medals in women’s wrestling, including three gold, two silver and a bronze,” said Tomar.