Phogat is now country’s medal hope in Tokyo after winning bronze at the world championships. She became the first Indian woman wrestler to have earned the Olympic ticket.



New Delhi: In 2016 Rio Olympics, wrestler Vinesh Phogat lost a chance to win a medal for India. A helpless Phogat lay on the wrestling mat, writhing in pain. She had to be stretchered off following a career threatening knee injury during her 48kg quarter-final bout against China’s Sun Yanan.

The country lost a chance to add another medal to its tally through one of the biggest medal hopes back then.

Three years later, Phogat is back and is now country’s medal hope in Tokyo Olympics after winning bronze at the world championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. She became the first woman wrestler to have earned the Olympic ticket.

A confident Phogat still has trouble seeing past but realises the only way forward is hard work if she is to fulfill the void left at the Rio Olympics.

“When I got injured during the Rio Olympics, I never really thought that I would be able to make a comeback. But there was incompleteness and that became a driving force for me. I knew I had to do it despite losing my way,” the 25-year-old said on the sidelines of an event here.

Phogat understands the expectations people have from her now but her first priority will be to play all the bouts regardless of the results.

When asked how she deals with all the pressure, now that she has earned an Olympic quota, she said, “Yes, I used to get under pressure earlier but now I have made my peace with it. I believe I can do it. I know I have to perform well and I am giving my all. I hope I play all my bouts because I missed a lot in the Rio Olympics. I may even lose but playing all the bouts will be my first priority. I will move forward irrespective of the results.”

Nevertheless, a huge burden has been lifted off her shoulders and she is a relieved person now after having earned the right to have a second crack at world’s biggest sporting event.

Phogat, who changed her weight category from 50 kg to 53kg at the start of 2019, believes that it has improved her overall performance.

Going by the technical aspect of the game, reducing weight involves rigorous diet and exercise regime. So much so that the effort involved sometimes leads to weakness among athletes. Therefore they shift to high weight category to maintain their strength. Despite losing a shot at silver at world championships, Phogat looks in a good touch and is a strong contender for Tokyo Olympics. Her championship win comes in the backdrop of golds in Yasar Dogu tournament, Spain Grand Prix and Poland Open.

“I changed my weight category very recently but was unsure if I will able to do well. I decided to give my hundred percent in training and competition. I gave all my effort. It’s a relief that I have qualified for the Olympics.

“Changing weight was a good decision and a beneficial one because I won tournaments this year in my new category. I think this decision will save me from injuries as well,” the 2018 Commonwealth gold medallist said.

The Asian Games gold medallist suffered defeat at the hands of Japan’s Mayu Mukaida in the second round in Kazakhastan but still relishes the chance of beating Japanese in their own den.

“Japan is definitely a powerhouse. It would be a huge challenge to beat Japanese wrestlers in their own den. We would love to beat them in their country and win a gold medal for India,” Phogat said.

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