Vinesh Phogat would often used to ponder why the destiny was hell bent on devastating her. Not any more. She has learnt to put her faith in the ‘Universe plans’.
Now she is grateful that she could confront those challenges that eventually made her mentally stronger and more mature.
She was one of India’s brightest hopes during the 2016 Rio Olympic Games but returned on a stretcher, suffering a knee injury against China’s Sun Yanan in her quarterfinal bout.
The 26-year-old though came back stronger, ironed out flaws in the next three years, went on to become one of the best in the business and qualified for the 2020 edition with a maiden World Championship medal.
If that was enough, she herself contracted the dreaded virus but recovered, regrouped and yet again announced a strong arrival by winning titles at Matteo Pellicone (Rome) and Asian Championship (Almaty) this season.
But given the prevailing pandemic situation, question marks are still hanging if Tokyo will be able to host the Games.
Does she think, why it happens only with her that whenever she is ready, aiming for Olympic glory, some or other thing stops her?
“Yes, I used to think on those lines. But perhaps Universe wants you to be stronger. It all happened with me because the nature wanted me to be stronger,” a philosophical Vinesh said during a media interaction, facilitated by the Sports Authority of India.
“The up and downs has made me stronger, mature. If I am considered mentally tough today, it’s because I have faced all these tough times. The Rio (injury incident) has taught me a lot,” she added.
‘Wrestling will not be over even if Tokyo Olympics doesn’t happen’
Does this fear grip her that the Games won’t happen when she is a favourite from India?
“It did cross my mind last year but not any more,” she was clear in her answer.
“Even If I win a medal in Tokyo, it’s not that I will stop wrestling after that. Earlier, I used to think what people would say, if I lose. Now, I have realised that after-effect of victory or defeat remains for two days. People tend to forget after that. Rio changed me. I play for myself now, for the fun of wrestling.”
For Vinesh, the be all and end all of wrestling is no longer an Olympic medal. The journey and the process is more important for her.
“Wrestling will not be over even if it does not happen. I must keep at it and take whatever I get during this journey. All I am, concerned now If I did what needed to do in a particular situation,” she added.
Further shedding light on her growth since 2016, Vinesh said that she has become a much calmer person both on and off the mat.
“I used to break down emotionally, If I lose. Taking defeat or even a minor injury in my stride used to be difficult. But now I am matured, I can handle defeats. I know that defeat only means that I need to improve.
“My anger is perhaps under control. I was also aggressive on the match but now I remain focussed on mat.”
Vinesh said working with her Belgian coach Woller Akos has also helped her immensely.
“I wrestle very smooth now and one can see it from the outside. My motion has got better, I use my hands better. I am not in hurry now. I time my attacks well now. There is a strategy in place for every single rival,” she said.
The Haryana wrestler also admitted that though she enjoyed great results at recent championships — Rome and Almaty — it did not gave her right assessment ahead of Tokyo Games in the absence of stronger rivals.
She did not concede a single point in these two events, winning most of her bouts by fall.
“I did not go there, aiming to win an Asian gold. First we knew that Korea has pulled out, then China pulled out, then after reaching there, we realised Japan is also not there,” she said.
The Asian Games gold medallist said she still faces recovery issues but it has nothing to do with COVID-19.
“My salt levels drop at times. It causes me dizziness and I can’t see. By the time I competed at Asian Championship, the co-ordination between mind and body got better.”
Asked what advantage she got after moving from 50kg to 53kg category, Vinesh said with a big sime, “I can fill my stomach and eat whatever I want.”