The 26-year-old became the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games.
After an injury dashed her dreams at the Rio Olympics, wrestler Vinesh Phogat is determined to make amends at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Vinesh qualified for the Tokyo Games after securing a bronze medal in 53kg freestyle at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships. Following this, the star wrestler became the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the upcoming Tokyo Games. However, her journey to secure an Olympic berth has been a roller coaster ride.
Vinesh is the first woman wrestler to win gold in both the Asian and Commonwealth Games. Hailing from the prolific Phogat family of wrestlers, she did not disappoint at all in her performances so far. She entered the Rio Olympics as one of the strongest medal contenders for the Indian contingent. However, a knee injury in the quarterfinals saw her stretchered out in tears. In addition, surgery followed. The prodigy made a fantastic comeback after 9 long months.
A Fantastic Comeback after Injury
She announced her comeback by winning Silver at the 2017 Asian Championships held in New Delhi. After this she secured a second Commonwealth gold. Later, in the same year, she scripted history by becoming the first woman wrestler to win gold at the Asian Games. No one must have expected Vinesh to make such a thrilling comeback after a career-threatening injury. However, the wrestler continued the same form in 2019 as well.
She decided to move up her weight category to 53kg early in 2019. Moreover, her quest for a World Championships medal ended at the 2019 World Championships at Nur-Sultan. Previously, she missed a World Championship medal three times. Within 10 months of changing her weight category, she clinched a bronze in the 53kg freestyle event. Notably, Vinesh is the only fifth Indian wrestler to claim a World medal after Alka Tomar (2006), Geeta Phogat (2012), Babita Phogat (2012), and Pooja Dhanda (2018).
In the process, Vinesh defeated two times World Championship bronze medalist, Maria Prevolaraki of Greece to win her maiden medal at the event. Notably, she became the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, courtesy of a top 6 finish at the World Championships.
Progressing to 2020, Vinesh won gold in Rome Ranking Series before sealing a bronze at the Asian Wrestling Championships a month later. Unfortunately, the rest of the year was something no athlete would have dreamed of. The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics came as a big blow for Vinesh due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If that wasn’t enough, she tested positive for the deadly virus which stopped her training for a month.
However, the 53kg wrestler is keen to ensure that she leaves no tables unturned with her preparation for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Once the International borders opened, Vinesh along with her coach, Woller Akos flew to Europe for her training. It was a 40-day camp sanctioned by the government’s Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS). The first half was in Budapest, Hungary, and the second half in Szczryk, Poland.
A solid start to the 2021 season
Vinesh, who is one of the brightest medal prospects of India also begun her 2021 season on a bright note. She overpowered Taipei’s Meng Hsuan Hsieh to win her maiden gold medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships. Previously, she had won three silvers and four bronze since 2013.
Moreover, this was her third straight gold of 2021 after clinching victories in Ukraine and at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome. Her previous result of defending her title at the Matteo Pellicone Memorial in Rome allowed the 26-year-old to climb to the no. 1 spot in the 53kg category. This is according to the United World Wrestling rankings.
In an interview to Olympic Channel Sakshi Malik affirmed saying that she is confident to see Vinesh on the Olympic podium. Likewise, Yogeshwar Dutt also expressed saying that Vinesh is one of the strongest medal contenders for the Tokyo Olympics. This was during the ‘Meet the Press’ program organized by the Sports Journalist’s Association of Nagpur.
So far six Indian wrestlers have booked their berth for the Tokyo Olympics. In the men’s freestyle, Ravi Dahiya (57kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), and Deepak Punia (86kg) made it through. Meanwhile, Vinesh Phogat (53kg), Anshu Malik (57kg), and Sonam Malik (62kg) qualified in the women’s category.