Canadian Linda Morais rallies to win gold at world wrestling championships

Linda Morais of Canada reacts as she won the gold match of the women's 59kg category against Liubov Ovcharova of Russia during the Wrestling World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Anvar Ilyasov)

NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan - An early deficit nearly proved costly for Canadian wrestler Linda Morais at the world championships on Thursday. Some words of encouragement from her corner helped her reset on the way to winning a gold medal.

Russia's Liubov Ovcharova had jumped out to a 6-1 advantage when Morais' coach, David Zilberman, shouted out that it was OK and there was plenty of time left.

"That really calmed me down," Morais said. "I took a breath. There was six minutes in the match. I still had a lot of time. So I was staying focused on that. Just one point at a time."

The two-time world university champion from Tecumseh, Ont., picked the right moment to be aggressive, fighting back to get the pin and the 59-kilogram title.

"She went in for an attack and I felt that she was off balance," Morais said. "So I thought this was my chance to just go for it. I kind of threw her to her back and held her there."

Morais, 26, became Canada's 12th women's wrestling world champion. She won world bronze three years ago at 60 kilograms.

"It's given me confidence for sure leading up to (Tokyo in) 2020," she said. "You never really know if you're at this level until you reach it. I'm just going to feed off this win and go into those Olympic trials and have more confidence in myself and my abilities."

The 59-kg division is not an Olympic class. Morais has competed at 62 kg, an Olympic division, in the past. She could move up in weight for the Olympic trials in December.

A top-six finish at the world championships qualifies a quota spot for Canada in that weight class in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. An athlete who finishes in the top six gets a bye to the finals at the trials in December.

Morais credits her mental training for her success.

"I'm still working on it, but I find that that's the biggest challenge at this level," she said. "It's not so much the physical. We're all here, we all have great technique, all of my opponents are extremely strong and difficult.

"At the end of the day, it's really the mental (side) and who can stay focused on what needs to be done."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 19, 2019.

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