Andrew Cook did not train Vinesh Phogat but he certainly observed her closely during his time with the Indian women's team at Lucknow SAI Center. The American wrestling coach will be cheering for USA and India from his home in Aberdeen, Washington.
Cook took up the India job in early 2019. During his time, Indian women’s wrestling flourished immensely. His work with youngsters like Divya Kakran, Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik reaped fruit at the 2020 Asian Championships last year. During his stint, India won eight medals in women's wrestling.
Despite the success, his contract with the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) ended unexpectedly in June last year.
Although 'shocked and disappointed' he still feels a connection to Indian wrestling. Cook, has in fact named his small training arena as ‘Kushti Cave Akhada”.
He is now coaching members of the US team that will participate in the Junior World's in Russia (August 16-22) and U23 World's in Serbia (November 01-07).
Sportskeeda caught up exclusively with Cook who travels three hours daily to train youngsters. He was asked about his take on Vinesh Phogat, Ravi Dahiya and other Indian wrestlers' chances at the Olympics. Here are a few excerpts:
1. What do you think about the current Indian team for the Olympics?
Cook: I’m excited to see this group compete. They all possess a great ability!
2) You trained Anshu and Sonam during your stint with the Indian women’s team. Can you tell what their strengths and weaknesses are?
Cook: With the young stars of Anshu and Sonam they will continue to improve and grow as they age, both are extremely clever and have a great attitude about learning and improving!
3) Although you haven’t trained with Vinesh, you have watched her closely. What makes her such a unique wrestler?
Cook: I did not spend as much time with Vinesh as I did with the other athletes. My observation is that she is ultra-competitive and has power, athleticism and a great wrestling instinct with coach (Woller) Akos. I see her making the adjustments to win it all!! I see her as the first Indian woman to become an Olympic gold medallist!
4) Last time we spoke, you said Ravi Dahiya is a complete wrestler and technically sound. Can you elaborate on why you think so?
Cook: It’s not that Ravi (Dahiya) is as technically sound as he is relentless and gritty and has a heart that is driving him to the top! His technique actually isn’t what gets him wins. It’s his ability to adjust and put nonstop pressure on his opponents. That is the difference maker for him.
5) Ground wrestling and leg defense are two things every Indian wrestler struggles with. What exactly is it and why do Indians face a problem in this area?
Cook: This is a problem because the competition is Indian based (only domestic competitors). It’s difficult to train for something that isn’t happening at home, if they were to travel outside and experience a different style of attacking it would serve them better. This is a difficult issue to solve.
6) Indian women’s wrestling has been a mixed bag ever since you left, would you like to comment on what went wrong?
Cook: Well, the COVID-19 is what went wrong and that was a major game changer for the world. As far as the team's performance and training, I wouldn't know since I’ve left. I’ve been focused on my next adventure.
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7) Your picks for medal winners in wrestling from India.
Cook: I hope all of them can win medals!