NEW DELHI: “I am truly broken.” These were wrestler Vinesh Phogat’s words after the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was expected to win a medal for the country, but unexpectedly crashed out in the 53kg freestyle quarterfinals, losing by fall to Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus.
Her loss evoked a spate of criticism — from the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI), media, coaches, fans, etc. The federation even suspended her temporarily. Charges flew thick and fast, ranging from Vinesh refusing to stay with the Indian contingent to her not wearing the name of the official sponsor of the Indian team. The wrestler’s Hungarian coach was also accused of misusing government funds.
All this made Vinesh think about her wrestling future and she “contemplated retirement” from the sport. She also went on to write an article, stating how her struggles in Tokyo were accentuated due to the absence of her regular physio Poornima Ngomdir, who wasn’t given accreditation for the Tokyo Games by the Indian Olympic Association. Vinesh also admitted to “suffering from depression” in the past.
At the selection trials for the 2021 World Championships, Vinesh conceded a match due to “blurred vision and dizziness” – a recurring condition that stemmed from a concussion in 2017 that she had kept hidden for years.
A month after the Olympics, Vinesh underwent a surgery on her right elbow. Later she tweeted: “How many times I fall, I will rise again (sic).”
The surgery meant training was out of question for some months. Vinesh took baby steps towards returning to the mat earlier this year in January. Initially, she concentrated on helping out young girl wrestlers at the Sports School in Kharkhoda, Sonepat.
Gradually, Vinesh raised the intensity, but still had to skip the trials for the Asian Championships in March. It took time, but training alone, training differently, and making improvement on a weekly basis gave Vinesh the confidence to participate in the Commonwealth Games trials in May.
At the trials in Lucknow, there were 11 girls competing in her category. Never before had so many girls even thought of giving trials in the 53kg category. According to Vinesh, perhaps they thought she was vulnerable due to lack of match practice.
It didn’t bother her, and Vinesh defeated Antim in the final to seal a spot in the Indian team for 2022 CWG. She was trailing 0-3 but found a two-point scoring move to reduce the deficit. Antim got a bit defensive and tried to maintain distance. In this attempt, she retreated from the mat and Vinesh challenged the referee’s decision of not awarding a point. She won the challenge and since hers was the last scoring point, Vinesh won the trial.
The CWG can be the platform where Vinesh can get her confidence and rhythm back. She had won gold medals at the 2014 Glasgow Games as well as the 2018 Gold Coast Games. “It’s always special to carry the hopes of billions of people, including family members, when you go to a big event. I am looking forward to representing my country at the Birmingham Games in the hope of winning my third gold medal,” she said during a recent media interaction.
A good result will certainly boost her morale and give the belief that she can once again become the force her rivals across the globe were wary of.
Source By – The Times of India