Joy of winning: Vinesh Phogat's triumphant return at Wrestling Nationals
Vinesh Phogat believes that she has elimnated the doubt inside her mind due to long break and is ready to go for 2024 Paris Olympics.
Jaipur: When Vinesh Phogat returned to the wrestling mat after a gap of 16 months at the Senior Nationals it didn't look like she had gone away for much.
Playing in the non-Olympic category of 55 kg, Vinesh made the near-perfect return after winning the title in Railway Stadium, Jaipur.
While she is used to such victories, competing after a long period and letting go of the fear filled Vinesh's face with joy.
"I have returned after the operation and it was like a big test for me. I was fearing the mat but now I am feeling good. This is a good start to the year," said Vinesh after her win.
Talking about her takeaway from the win, Vinesh said, "I believe I am on the right track now. 2024 being an Olympic year, I hope to stay fit and healthy to give my best for the country."
While Vinesh featured in a less competitive category, she achieved her aim of getting some match practice.
"Wrestling ko fir se jee rahe hai (I am living wrestling once again). I gave my 50 percent today as I was cautious," said Vinesh.
2018 Asian Games medalist Vinesh didn't drop any points on her way to the title and won her semi-finals and finals by pinning the opponent. She looked fatigued in her quarter-final bout against Tamanna but used her experience to overcome a defensive bout.
However, Vinesh will be facing much tougher opponents once she gets down to 53 kg Olympics as Antim Panghal is a prime contender in the category, and 57 kg national champion Anju also getting ready to play in the same category.
Vinesh believes that she has done the first step of making her complete comeback in her preferred category.
"When you go to a competition after injury, doubts come to your mind. In training, you don’t have such doubts. After the operation, I didn’t miss a single session of training. So, I eliminated that doubt, and fear from my mind during training. I came here to test myself," said Vinesh.
Vinesh Phogat missed the Asian Games 2022 last year due to knee surgery. It took her six months to recover and do the proper rehabilitation. As per her husband Somveer Rathee, Vinesh started training in December.
The process of comeback wasn't easy as Vinesh was involved in things off the mat as she returned her Khel Ratna and Arjuna award in protest after Sanjay Singh, a loyalist of Brij Bhushan, was elected WFI president.
On her way forward in the year, Vinesh said," I will see how my body reacts to this. I will play more freely in the upcoming tournament."
Vinesh has less than five months to get in shape for the upcoming 2024 Paris Olympics while it is yet to be seen what will be the process select team for the event.
To continue her quest for Paris, Vinesh is adding more staff to her crew. "My coach is coming. Let’s see what planning will be done. The support staff is with me. There are so many people working behind the scenes. Not only me many junior wrestlers are getting support from private organizations," Vinesh said.
India has one quota for Paris with Antim Panghal winning it at the World Championships last year with a bronze medal in the 53 kg category.
The camaraderie with fellow wrestlers
When fellow Olympian Anshu Malik won her 59 kg title, Vinesh was the first one to go up to her and congratulate her.
When asked about the same, Vinesh said," It is an Olympic year and many senior athletes were injured. They were not on track. They are coming back to track now. Ravi (Dahiya) also competed and did well. I have won here; Anshu has won here. We will want other wrestlers to follow seniors and walk with us shoulder to shoulder. The bigger team we have in the Olympics, the better it is. So, we want as many of us can qualify."
Another good moment came when one of the prominent faces of the wrestler's protest along with Vinesh, Sakshi Malik came to felicitate her on the podium.
"She is very happy for me as we have fought together for the last year. This win is important for all of us," said Vinesh about the moment.
With Vinesh's wrestling getting back on the track and country's wrestling also getting back on track with a well-organized Senior national, wrestling fans can have some hope in the Olympic year.