Natalia Vorobieva relives her day of glory
Russian wrestler Natalia Vorobieva looks back on her impressive gold medal win in the women’s 72kg category at London 2012.
Natalia Vorobieva had two world junior 72kg titles under her belt by the time she made her Olympic debut at London 2012. The 21-year-old from the Siberian region of Irkutsk showed she belonged in the rarefied surroundings of the ExCel Centre, comfortably disposing of her rivals en route to the final, winning by falls against Kazakhstan’s Guzel Manyurova in the quarter-finals and defending champion Wang Jiao of China in the semis.
Vorobieva’s opponent in the gold-medal match was Beijing 2008 silver medallist Stanka Zlateva of Bulgaria, a five-time world champion and eight years her senior. Recalling the moments leading up to the bout, the Russian says: “When I was walking out, my coaches said to me: ‘You already got silver. You have nothing to lose, so go and fight’! But I realised that my whole career was now at stake. So the fight was not only for every point, but also for every grab. Of course, Stanka Zlateva, came to win too, but I wasn’t there to lose.”
Intent on opening up an early lead, Vorobieva made an aggressive start, but incurred a penalty point when she stepped off the mat, leaving her trailing 1-0 at the end of the first round. “When I approached the coaches, they were in a horrible panic,” she recalls. “One was screaming something, arguing, and the other was fanning me, and wiping me with a towel… Then I turned to them and said: ‘Now everything will be fine’. And I left to return to the mat. Somehow I was sure that in the second round I could win because I wasn’t feeling tired after the first round and I had nothing to lose.”
Undaunted, Vorobieva vowed to stay on the offensive: “I thought somewhere deep inside I would find the moment for a successful attack. I have a fighting style that implies that I compete with clean finishes. That’s how I wanted to finish the final of the Olympic Games. I wanted to make a beautiful move. I wanted to win this Olympic Games in a beautiful way.”
The Russian’s adventurous approach paid off. With 39 seconds on the clock in round two, she had her opponent pinned down on the mat, prompting the referee to signal the end of the bout. “Here is the action that gave me goose bumps,” says Vorobieva, reliving the moment she struck gold. “And after a few years later I still get the goose bumps. I was screaming and the entire world from London to Irkutsk heard me for sure.”
Vorobieva was still taking it all in by the time she returned to the scene of her triumph for the medal ceremony, only comprehending the enormity of her achievement when she began to climb the podium. “I realised that here it is: the top of the Olympus, above my head the Russian flag, the anthem of my country is playing. I thought I can tick a point on my list: ‘Mission complete’,” she says, casting her mind back to the high point of her career to date. “I was standing there, listening to the anthem. I was singing in my mind and it seemed that I could feel every single word. Now, each time I hear the national anthem… I always associate it with that particular moment: 9 August 2012.”