Why I am supporting Vinesh Phogat at the Tokyo Olympics
Vinesh Phogat has competed in four different international tournaments in the year and has returned with gold medals in each of the four events.
The very first image that pops up in my mind when someone mentions Vinesh Phogat is her down on the wrestling mat holding her knee as millions of hearts in India skipped a beat. A lot of people surrounded her, the doctor, her coach, her opponent and the match referee as the broadcasters telecasted a top-angle view of a young Vinesh wrenching in pain.
It has been five years since that fateful day in Rio de Janeiro, and the 26-year-old has come a long way. She has since won gold medals at the Asian Championships, Asian Games, and Commonwealth Games and also has a World Championships bronze against her name. But somehow, my brain refuses to discard that particular incident from its memory.
Born to a famous wrestling family in the north Indian state of Haryana, Vinesh took up the sport pretty early in life. Under the guidance of her uncle Mahavir Phogat, she soon rose through the ranks and established herself as one of the premier grapplers in the country.
She rose to fame in 2013 when she clinched a silver medal in the Youth Wrestling Championships and backed it with a bronze at the Asian Championships in Delhi. There has been no looking back since for Vinesh Phogat, who is now considered to be one of India's biggest medal prospects for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Red hot form ahead of the Tokyo Olympics
Vinesh Phogat has displayed some terrific form in the 2021 season. The Haryana girl has competed in four different international tournaments in the year and has returned with gold medals in each of the four events.
Her first medal of the year came in February at the Outstanding Ukraine Coaches and Wrestlers Memorial, wherein she defeated former World Champion Vanesa Kaladzinskaya of Belarus 10-8 in a closely fought final in Kyiv.
She then proceeded to win the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series, registering an easy 4-0 win over Canadian Diana Helen to move to the top of world rankings in women's 53kg weight division.
This was followed with her first-ever Asian Championships gold medal, albeit in a depleted field, as Vinesh pinned Chinese Taipei's Meng Hsuan Hsieh to earn a victory by fall in the final to be crowned the Asian Champion in April.
Competing in the Poland Open at Warsaw Vinesh absolutely demolished Ukrainian Khrystyna Bereza 8-0 in the final, to clinch her fourth consecutive gold medal of the year.
With such thumping dominance against some of the best wrestlers in the world, it is hard to ignore Vinesh Phogat's chances at the Tokyo Olympics.
Vinesh will enter Tokyo Olympics as World Number 1
Thanks to her consistent performances during the course of the year, Vinesh Phogat will enter the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as the world number 1 in the women's 53kg weight division. She took the pole spot in the world rankings during the month of March when she clinched the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in Rome.
Besides, she will be the top seed in the 53kg division during the Tokyo Olympics. This would mean relatively easier draws for Vinesh in the starting round of the Olympics, further improving her chances. One of her major nemeses, the Japanese, Mayu Mukaida, will be seeded second in the event, which drastically reduces the chances of the two going head to head in the early part of the tournament.
Vinesh is better prepared mentally than she was during her last Olympics
In a media interaction a couple of months back, Vinesh Phogat explained in length about how she is mentally better prepared than what she was during the Rio Olympics.
"The Rio debacle helped me become strong mentally. It was one of the lowest points of my career; there was a lot of negativity from within. But, I was able to come out of it, and in hindsight, it has helped me become mentally strong. Yes, I was not able to win a medal in Rio, but that would not affect my performance in Tokyo one bit. I now have the experience of playing one Olympics; I know what to expect, how to prepare and how to conduct myself. So, it is rather a plus point to me. All these setbacks helped me become stronger, and I feel I would enter Tokyo as a much stronger athlete mentally," she had said.
Perhaps after such an impressive display of wrestling in recent times, a photo of Vinesh at the podium in Tokyo is what I need to completely discard the scary footage of her being taken out of the mat in a stretcher at Rio from my mind.