New Delhi: Vinesh Phogat won a bronze at the World Championships earlier this month and sealed a spot for herself at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It is a far cry from a time when she wondered if she would ever be able to participate at the Olympics ever again.
Vinesh was one of India's biggest hopes going into the 2016 Rio Olympics. But she had to end her campaign in tears in the quarter-finals when a career-threatening knee injury forced her to be stretchered off the mat.
"I never thought that I would recover and reach the Olympics again," Vinesh told IANS. "At the time I was injured I was wondering if I would ever be able to take part in another Olympics or not. This entire year was very difficult for me mentally. I was thinking about whether I did the right thing or not by changing my weight class so close to the Olympics."
Vinesh changed her weight category twice since Rio 2016, where she was participating in the 48-kg category. Since then, she changed to the 50-kg weight category and won gold at the 2018 Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and a silver at the 2018 Asian Championships. In March 2019, she decided to move up to the 53-kg category with an eye on avoiding injuries.
Vinesh said that winning the Olympic quota at the Word Championships was important as it gives her more time to focus on Tokyo 2020.
"I was always thinking that I want to regain the opportunity to win a medal that I lost in Rio no matter what it takes. Even when I would get tired in training I would think about the Olympic medal that I want and motivate myself to keep going. I used the frustration of the last Olympics and when I won the quota it was a big weight off my shoulder. Now I have to work on my unfulfilled dream," she said.
The bronze at the Worlds is Vinesh's sixth honour in her new weight category but she believes that she still has a lot to improve upon. "It's still a new weight category for me so there is still a lot of work left to do. I have won a medal at the World Championships but even then I have to improve upon a lot of mistakes that I committed because you don't get any second chances at the Olympics. If you make a mistake, you are out.
"Here if I had not made any mistakes then I could have won gold or a silver instead of bronze. So I don't want to make them again at the Olympics and hence, winning the quota was very important," she said.
"I made a lot of technical mistakes which come with competing in a new weight category. I have to work on my strengths and be a little smarter with my game."
Vinesh knows that she will be going into the Olympics with expectations riding on her but she is not letting them bog her down. "I am very positive. Olympics is a big name and any athlete will feel the pressure. But people will have expectations from you only if they believe in you. I take this belief as a blessing," she said.
She has returned home as a World Championship medallist and the first Indian female wrestler to qualify for two Olympics but Vinesh has maintained a low profile. "I have silently returned home. I want to rest for a few days. A lot of people have congratulated me through messages and I am replying to them. But I don't want to meet anyone right now. I am not keeping well too so I just want to rest for some time. The last one year has been a very tiring one. Now that I am through with it I want to take some time out. I'll make a new start after this and this time it will solely be for an Olympic medal," she said.