It’s still a good two years away but recently-crowned Commonwealth Games champion wrestler Vinesh Phogat can’t stop herself from obsessing over the Olympics as she is not just chasing a medal to make up for the Rio heartbreak but also a little piece of history for herself.
Vinesh was touted as the brightest medal prospect for India in the 2016 Rio Olympics but her campaign ended in tears after she was stretchered off the mat owing to a career-threatening knee injury in her quarterfinal bout.
But the 23-year-old grappler from the famous “Phogat” family didn’t give up and battled her way to recovery to claim her second CWG gold in Gold Coast recently.
“From next year the Olympic qualifiers will start and then preparations for the Olympics. There is still time for the Olympics, but my focus is already at Tokyo,” Vinesh told PTI in an interview.
Her confidence restored by the CWG gold, Vinesh now wants to become India’s first Olympic gold-medallist in wrestling.
“We have got bronze, we have got silver medals in wrestling in the Olympics but gold is still pending. So, whoever can bring the gold will be the nation’s hero,” Vinesh said.
Wrestling might be popular in India but the country has won only four medals in the ancient sport in the Olympics so far, which includes two from Sushil Kumar — a bronze and silver.
“It (the CWG) was my first big Games after the Olympics. People expected a lot from me in the Olympics but I got injured and bowed out. After recovering from such an injury when you finish on the podium, it gives inspiration to other athletes. It was not an athlete’s win, India’s win,” she said of her gold in 50kg women’s wrestling in Gold Coast.
Vinesh first shot to limelight in 2013 during the Asian Wrestling Championships, when she bagged a bronze medal. Her rise to fame continued when she won the women’s freestyle 48kg gold at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games.
Since then she has won at least one medal every year, including bronze at the 2014 Asian Games, silver at the 2015 Doha Asian Championships followed by a bronze in Bangkok in the same competition in 2016 and then again a silver in New Delhi in 2017.
Asked Vinesh about her future plans, sounded realistic.
“Now my complete focus is on the Asian Games. Before that, we are expected to play two more competitions and then the World Championships. I will try to give my best in all,” she said.
“The level of competition in the Asian Games will be much higher than the Commonwealth Games but I hope to claim the gold there too.”
In any big event, the level of pressure on Indian sportspersons is quite high now. Often, big sporting stars buckle under pressure but Vinesh says she thrives in situations like that.
“I take pressure as people’s love towards me. If 125 crore Indians expect you to win than it means there is something in me. I always enjoy and excel under pressure situations because I feel I have it in me,” she said.
Born into a wrestling family, Vinesh was introduced to the sport at a very young age.
“I didn’t have time to think about any other alternatives. I was too small but I knew that I am destined for something big. I had the gut feeling that I will do something big in life,” said Vinesh when asked was there ever anything else she wanted to pick as a profession.