Judoka Phupu Lhamu Khatri was counting on her international experience to do well in her Olympic Games debut when she faces Cuba’s Maricet Espinosa in the women’s below-63kg weight category on Tuesday.
The 12th South Asian Games gold medallist, Khatri was drawn against Cuban heavyweight Espinosa in the elimination round of 32 bout. The 21-year-old Khatri is participating in the first Olympic Games through wildcard entry and she was confident of putting a tough fight.
“I am not scared of anyone,” Khatri told The Himalayan Times. “I have participated in so many international tournament that I will not get nervous while entering the mat,” she added. “My seniors have not been able to stay for longer period on the mat in previous participations and I will try to beat that,” said Khatri. “My aim here is to stay on the mat for full four minutes.”
Khatri was not concerned about the strength of her opponent. “Cuba is a strong nation in Judo but that does not bother me as I will play my own game and give my best,” said Khatri. “I am also an experienced player and I have taken it with ease. I used to get nervous earlier but the case is different this time around,” she added. Cuba’s Espinosa is Pan-America Championship gold medallist and has also won golds in World Cups in individual and team events. In six events she took part in 2016, Espinosa has won two gold, one silver and four bronze medals. She is also the four-time Grand Prix champion since 2013.
Coach Debu Thapa was hopeful that Khatri would go neck-to-neck with her Cuban opponent. “After the draw was out, I watched her games in youtube. She has a different playing style and I am trying to teach Khatri about the ways of staying longer period on the mat,” said the 2008 Olympian. “The style and rules have changed a lot and players can compete for longer period these days,” she added. “I believe in her and I am confident she that she will give her best.”
Khatri started playing judo at the age of 13 and won medal in her maiden international participation three years later. Khatri bagged the bronze medal in the Asian Junior Championship in Bangkok in 2010. She has never looked back since then. She added another bronze to her kitty in the same year — Rajiv Gandhi Judo Championship in India. Khatri then won silver in the South Asian Junior Judo Championship in Pakistan in 2011 and bagged the second place in the next edition of the tournament on home soil. She won a silver and a bronze in 2015 before bagging the gold medal in the 12th SA Games in India earlier this year. She won gold medal in the Hungary Open Junior Judo Championship and bagged bronze in the senior tournament. She has participated in the World Judo Championship twice and also took part in Asian Judo Championship and represented the country in the Incheon Asian Games.