DOHA, October 16, 2019 – A month and a half after emerging champion at the African Games in Rabat, Morocco on a mat, Nigeria’s Blessing Joy Onyebuchi has also exerted her superiority on sand on her beach wrestling debut at the inaugural ANOC World Beach Games in Doha, Qatar, capturing gold in the women’s +75kg category on Tuesday to add to her growing medal collection.
Cheered by a handful of Nigerians at Katara Beach, including her Doha-based sister and the Nigeria women’s beach volleyball team, the 35-year-old did not lose any of her six fights en route to proudly stepping on the top of the podium, after defeating Hungarian Zsanett Nemeth 3-2 in the final. Nemeth was also unbeaten prior to their intense gold medal encounter that left spectators on the edge of their seats.
The final saw Onyebuchi 2-0 up in no time, and it looked as though she was running away with the victory. She just needed one more point to seal the win, but Nemeth had other ideas. With about a minute left out of three, the score was tied at 2-2 as both wrestlers tried to take advantage of each other’s mistakes to make the winning move. Then came the moment when Onyebuchi successfully grabbed Nemeth’s legs off the ground. Mission accomplished. She quickly ran towards her coach, Victor Kodei, with her hands aloft and he lifted her up in celebration.
To reach the final, the Commonwealth Games silver medallist eased past Ecuador’s Genesis Rosangela Reasco Valdez (3-0), Romania’s Catalina Axente (3-1), Turkey’s Aysegul Ozbege (4-0), and Brazil’s Aline Ferreira (3-0) in Group A. Then as the group leader, she advanced to the semi-finals to face Ukraine’s Iryna Pasichnyk, who was placed second in Group B. It was Pasichnyk who first proved to be a tough nut for Onyebuchi in a really close contest that ended 3-2 in favour of the Nigerian.
The semi-final also saw Onyebuchi battling sand in her left eye for a second time, as she needed water to wash her face before she continued the match. The first time was in her second fight against Axente, where she also needed an eye drops.
What a golden year it has been for Blessing, who also won the coveted gold medal at the African Wrestling Championships held in Tunisia early this year in March.
Her teammate, Mercy Genesis, who settled for silver in the -50kg category at the World Beach Games the day before, could not be happier. As the Nigerian anthem blasted through the speakers inside the beach wrestling arena at Katara Beach, Genesis soaked up every moment with joy.
“I am very happy to see my teammate winning gold. I am very happy, honestly. This is the first time we are competing in beach wrestling and we are not going back empty handed. So I am very proud of us, our coaches, our fans, everybody. I should say a big thanks to them,” Genesis said.
Genesis was inconsolable around the same time the day before, after a mistake cost her the gold medal in her weight class. She was leading 2-0 against Kamila Barbosa Vito Da Silva, whom she had initially beaten in the group stage. However, the Brazilian took advantage of a loophole in Mercy’s posture to land a merciless 3-point takedown.
“I was very disappointed because I was expecting the gold,” she confessed to AIPS. “Initially, my mindset was that I had won, and that was what I was thinking but it came to a point that I didn’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened to me. Maybe I lost focus.” Then she added: “I’m okay now. You know in sports, it’s not everytime that you win. You will definitley lose some. When you lose then you’ll know your mistake and you work on it.”
Having made her beach wrestling debut in Doha as well, Genesis noted the difference between wrestling on sand and on a mat. “If it is mat you can be able to move as much as you can but here (she pointed to the sand) it is very difficult. There is a way your leg would just pin and you cannot remove it because of the sand. I’m not used to it.”
But how did Kamila mastermind her comeback in the final? “In the group stage, I made a wrong move and she (Mercy) took advantage of it. I think I fought better in the final… I could say I made a mistake at the right time. In the final, I was losing and she made a mistake. That was my time to take advantage and I did. I got a 3-point takedown and won.
“It was a huge emotion seeing my country’s flag being raised to the highest place, listening to my country’s national anthem. I believe I win everyday in my training sessions. This tournament is just a party and I have come to enjoy. I work hard everyday and this is worth it,” she enthused