Vinesh Phogat: focused, determined and raring to go
Talk about Vinesh Phogat and it’s her quarterfinal bout at the 2016 Rio Olympics that is at the forefront of most people's memories.
Tipped as one of the favourites to land a medal for India at the Games of the 31st Olympiad, Phogat seemed on course to realise her dream when a freak injury cut her journey short.
Up against China’s Sun Yanan in her last-eight bout, the Indian grappler twisted her knee awkwardly in an attempt to get out of her opponent’s grasp, resulting in a serious injury that would force her to go under the knife later.
It was that cruel side of sports that often gets overlooked in the larger picture, leaving the athlete frustrated. Though it took a while, Vinesh was back on the mat doing what she loves the most - wrestling.
Eyes on the prize
While many would know her to be this energetic, carefree and lively 24-year-old, Vinesh has been a picture of concentration and determination ever since making her return at the Asian Championships in 2017.
While that meet saw her bag a silver medal, the wrestler from Balali, Haryana has continued to display steady progress ever since.
It’s never easy to step on to the mat and regain your confidence after a career-threating injury.
Not many can muster the courage to give the sport another try after having suffered what she did at the Carioca Arena in Rio.
But this is where the Indian wrestler is a bit different. Post her return, while Vinesh was soon comfortable in her preferred weight category (48kg), a rejig of the same in January 2018 (a move that saw the 48kg being scrapped) forced her to move to the 50 kg category.
While many thought this would make life difficult for her, Vinesh was once again determined to prove her critics wrong. And she did that in a manner she knows the best - producing results on the mat.
The 2018 season was by far Vinesh’s best year as a wrestler. Not only did she adjust to the challenges in the new weight category, but also dominated the competitions she entered.
She started her season with a silver medal at the Asian Championships only to go one better at the Commonwealth Games a few months later.
But the highlight of the season came at the Asian Games in Indonesia where she became the first Indian woman to win a wrestling gold at the Asiad.
Things have been no different this year as well.
The wrestler, trained by the famed Mahavir Singh Phogat, has moved another weight category to 53kg with an eye on reducing injury risk and to prolong her wrestling career. And so far, it seems she’s slowly getting used to her life at this level.
Vinesh has been among the medals in the competitions she’s entered this season so far, but her biggest challenge awaits at the World Championships in September. With the Kazakhstan Meet offering as many as six quota places for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the Indian will be eyeing to secure her place at the Tokyo Games at the earliest. After all, she has to prove her mettle when it comes to the Olympics.