Story by Kenneth Tan/Red Sports. Photos by Thomas Tan/Red Sports

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Pooja attempts to pin Natasha into submission. (Photo 1 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

International Convention Centre, Monday, August 16, 2010 — Singapore’s only female wrestling representative, Erna Natasha Puteri, bowed out at the first round of the Youth Olympic Games wrestling Freestyle competition held this afternoon.

Wrestling is an individual combat sport fought between two competitors. Each wrestler attempts to throw each other to the mat and pin their shoulders to the ground to register a fall.

The 16-year-old was pooled together with Bulgaria’s Dzanan Ahmed, India’s Pooja Dhanda and USA’s Jenna Rose Burkert in the 60kg category in Group A, and lost all three resulting bouts.

The first clash saw Pooja Dhanda take on Jenna Rose Burket with the Indian winning the bout 3-0.

Natasha was up next against Dzanan Ahmed. Taking on the 1.58m tall Dzanan, Natasha, who is nine centimetres taller, battled hard as she looked equal in the initial grappling duels but found her Bulgarian opponent a tough nut to crack later. Dzanan’s six years of experience in the game was shown as she finished off Natasha 3-0 with a takedown.

Dzanan continued her form as she beat Burket Jenna Rose 4-0 thereafter to qualify for the second round.

The next bout saw an all-Asian clash as Natasha took on India’s Pooja Dhanda. Pooja dominated right from the start and finished the game in the less than a couple of a minutes. She took the upper hand in the duel when she pinned Natasha down to the mat. Despite initial struggling and kicking, Natasha could not extricate from Pooja’s strong arms.

As a result, she lost 0-4 and had to bow out of the competition early while Pooja joined Dzanan for qualification to the second round.


“Natasha had only one year of experience,” said her coach Sergei Beloglazov. “At the international level, it is quite tough. She tried today and built the confidence she needed but just didn’t have the experience. She can do better definitely. She needs to be more calm as she told me she felt pressurized yesterday. India was definitely the toughest opponent, in fact I think it will be an India vs Russia final.”

When quizzed whether Natasha could win the final game against USA’s Burkert Jenna Rose, he said, “Yeah, probably. She’ll be more relaxed and the pressure is off, who knows?”

However it did not go as planned as Burket proved too strong for Natasha as well. The 1.63m American dominated with a series of pin attempts and managed to pin Natasha down to the mat. Although Natasha tried her best to resist, it was deja vu for her as she lost out 0-4.

“This is my first international competition. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Natasha. “I met the US girl in a training camp before, she definitely has more years of experience than me. In the second match, I froze and lost very fast. My pool was easier. I expect to win one game, then I’ll be happy. But it was a good experience, especially in the process of learning how to prepare.”

She revealed she was a bag of nerves before the competition.

“Yesterday night I cried. I talked to my room mate, a canoeist, who has so much experience and I told her it was only my fourth competition!”

Finishing bottom in Group A meant she had to go through the seventh-placing match with fellow wooden spoonist from Group B, New Zealand’s Tayla Ford who has eight years of experience.

Natasha put up her strongest fight in this bout as she fought tooth and nail with the 17-year-old New Zealander although she was pinned a couple of times. In the end, it was decided by a referee’s decision wth Tayla winning by a 3-0 scoreline.

“She’s really strong,” said Natasha when interviewed after the bout. “I did everything I could, I tried every technique but just couldn’t beat her.”

Both wrestlers were seen embracing each other after the bout and Natasha revealed the close ties between the two of them.

“She’s my good friend!” she said. “I’ve known her for two and a half weeks. We always go for breakfast together and hang out with each other.”

Tayla was also full of praise when asked on her thoughts of Natasha as an opponent.

“She’s the strongest opponent in my pool!” she said. “She just did not have enough oxygen in her brain.”

When quizzed about her future plans, Natasha, who was previously a judo athlete, looked uncertain.

“I don’t know. In the beginning when my coach asked me to switch to wrestling, I was reluctant but now I love it. It’s just the start for me,” she said.

During the bouts, loud cries of “Singapore!” and “Come on Natasha!” could be heard from the stands. Among them were her school mates from Assumption English and other friends from St Gabriel’s Secondary, Nanyang Junior College and Ngee Ann Polytechnic.

Her best friend Lily Anna and Esther Tam were proud of her despite her losses, saying “she was awesome”. As a final word of encouragement, they exclaimed, “We love Natasha!”

Fellow Singapore wrestler and sparring partner, Melvynna Tambunan, who did not participate in the Games, also shared her views on Natasha’s performances.

“She did quite well consdering this is her first international competition,” she said. “She put on a lot of effort, sacrificing school to train for this. She had only one year of training unlike Tayla who has eight to nine years. In the second match, maybe she panicked a little but I’m proud of her.”

With Natasha bowing out of the wrestling competition, it will go down to 16-year-old Kester Leung to fly the flag for Singapore tomorrow when he participates in the Men’s Freestyle 54kg Category.

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Singapore’s Erna Natasha Puteri (right) about to begin her match against India’s Pooja Dhanda. (Photo 2 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Pooja got the better of Natasha and lifted her clean off the mat, followed by a heavy slam. (Photo 3 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Natasha grapples with United States’ Jenna Burkert in her third match. (Photo 4 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Jenna appeared to be the more confident of the two and dominated the match with more attack attempts. (Photo 5 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Despite her best efforts, Natasha became trapped on the mat by Jenna’s holds … (Photo 6 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

… and was ultimately pinned down. (Photo 7 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Jenna Burkert declared the winner of the match by fall. (Photo 8 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

The match for the 7th place between Natasha and New Zealand’s Tayla Ford was a tactical, rather than aggressive, affair. Both players were careful and did not commit to daring attacks. (Photo 9 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)

YOG Women's Freestyle Wrestling

Natasha held down by an unconvincing pin by Tayla. Nevertheless Tayla was able to execute several such pins and won the match through points awarded. (Photo 10 © Thomas Tan/Red Sports)