The 29-year-old recently secured her maiden Olympics berth.

Seema Bisla has swiftly become the most discussed name in the Indian wrestling scenario. This upturn in fortunes is due to her securing a Tokyo Olympics berth after winning Gold in the World Wrestling Qualifiers in Sofia, Bulgaria. She became the fourth Indian woman wrestler to seal her place in the upcoming Games, fulfilling a lifelong dream in the process.

We take a look at Seema Bisla’s rise from the humble beginnings to qualifying for the greatest show on earth. Here are five interesting things about her life:

5. Wrestling is in her blood

Born in a family of wrestlers, Seema Bisla was destined to pick up the sport. She is the youngest of four sisters. Bisla grew up in Gudhan village in the Rohtak district of Haryana. Her father and uncle were wrestlers, with her father Azad Singh encouraging her to play the sport from a very young age. She grew up listening to the fables from her father’s wrestling days, which sowed the seeds for her love of the sport.

Even at an early age, Bisla’s talent was there for everyone to see. She won the gold medal at the Cadet National Wrestling Championships. A bronze medal soon followed in her first international tournament, the 2008 Asian Championship.

4. Sister and brother-in-law, pillars behind her success

Coming from a humble family, Bisla’s father found it tough to meet her expenses. This is where her elder sister Sushila Devi and brother-in-law Nafe Singh stepped in. They looked after her at their home in Rohtak ever since she was a little child. Nafe, an assistant sub-inspector with the Haryana Police, managed all her expenses after witnessing her passion for wrestling.

Bisla grew in the sport with Sushila and Nafe by her side. She added another bronze medal at the Asian Cadet Championships in Pune in 2009. The Gold medal at the Sassari International and a silver at the Grand Prix of Spain followed. After that, she earned one of the most significant victories in her career. European junior champion Veronika Gurskaya and former World bronze medalist Evin Demirhan were beaten on the way to winning the prestigious Yasar Dogu tournament.

Further triumphs were achieved recently, but one thing has been constant throughout – the support from Sushila Devi and Nafe Singh. They are now preparing themselves for the gruelling Olympics training that lies ahead.

3. Struggling to find the right weight category

The suitable weight category to participate in has been a constant struggle for Seema Bisla. A neck injury suffered by her during her initial days also took its toll on her. Having competed in the 46kg weight category in the 2009 Asian Cadet Championships, she shifted to the 67kg category within three years. This is something unusual in a wrestler’s career.

She tried out several weight divisions. Due to this uncertainty, she didn’t get the chance to participate in a single senior tournament for four years. Her career was at a crossroads. No national title as a senior was achieved by then, which made her really question herself as she went into soul searching mode.

Bisla soon got a job in the Indian Railways. With it, she had the comfort of an assured salary, and now she had enough incentive to quit the sport. Railways coach Paramjit Singh advised her to hold off her decision. She started training under him and went on to win her first senior title in the 53kg division in 2017 and again in 2018. But the real watershed moment would come the year after, due to rule changes made by the international body.

Until 2018, wrestlers would have to weigh in the day before their bouts. This meant that athletes would have enough time to rehydrate. The new rule changed that as now, wrestlers would have to weigh in on the morning of their contest, limiting the amount of time for a weight cut. This had a direct impact on Vinesh Phogat, who now moved up from the 50kg to the 53kg category.

It was like a helping hand from the heavens. After constant struggles, Bisla could finally compete in the weight category that suited her and she could now solely focus on her game.

2. Like a fine wine

Paramjit Singh had once reckoned it would take until the 2024 Olympics for Bisla to grind out all her flaws, but her improvement has been far more rapid.

As Bisla continued to grow older, her competitors continued to get better. However, since settling into the 50kg weight category, she has found success more swiftly. Losses at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships and 2021 Asian Olympics Qualification would serve to be a part of the learning curve. Each defeat gave her the opportunity to erase her flaws and she did just that. Earlier this year, she claimed the bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

And then came the tournament which would change her life forever! The World Wrestling Qualifiers in Sofia, Bulgaria is where Bisla would show her true colours. A gold medal win just goes onto show how far she has come.

Of the eight wrestlers that would represent India at the Tokyo Olympics, 29-year-old Seema Bisla is the oldest of them all. She had to work her way up to the top after several challenges along the way, but it has been worth the wait for the Rohtak girl.

1. From the shadows to the spotlight

Seema Bisla always found herself in the shadows of her compatriots due to not having enough wins at major tournaments. The cynosure of all eyes in Indian women’s wrestling is on the likes of Vinesh Phogat and Sakshi Malik, whereas teenagers Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik have created a lot of buzzes recently.

Not many fancied Bisla’s chances in Bulgaria but she has been able to prove all her doubters wrong. In Sofia, Bisla defeated Anastasiya Yanotava of Belarus 8-0 and 2018 Youth Olympics champion Emma Jonna Malmgren of Sweden 10-2 in the quarterfinals to reach the last four. Poland’s Anna Lukasiak was seen off in the semi-finals, before earning gold by beating Ecuadorian Lucia Guzman, who conceded the match due to injury.

Currently ranked world no.7 in her weight category, Bisla has been an underdog for years. However, she was never to back away and her persistence has finally paid off. She suddenly finds herself in the spotlight. Now, Bisla is all set to be a part of the travelling Indian contingent in Tokyo. But, maybe the best is yet to come.

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