Name: Vinesh Phogat
Discipline (sport): Wresting
Category: Freestyle wrestling
Qualification: Phogat sealed a spot for Rio by winning a gold medal at the second World Qualification tournament in Istanbul, Turkey.
Strengths: The young wrestler has been a rising star in the Indian wrestling circuit. She can make up for her lack of experience with her aggressive approach and her confident attitude on the mat.
Past Olympic performance: Debut.
Past record (best performances): In the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Vinesh represented India in the women's freestyle 48 kg category and won the gold medal.
- Vinesh also won the silver medal at the 2015 Asian Wrestling Championships in Doha, Qatar.
- She also won a bronze medal at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea.
The Rio Olympics qualifications were anything but a breeze for Vinesh Phogat. She was disqualified from the 1st World Olympic Qualifying event in Istanbul for weighing 400gm more than what was eligible for the 48kg category. This unexpected embarrassment was the reason why the she was moved to tears she finally got a spot to compete in Rio. Her time came when she struck gold at the 2nd World Qualification tournament in Istanbul, which also happened to be the last qualifying event for Rio.
The tech-savvy young athlete posted on Twitter after her qualification, “The aim is to keep climbing, do my best and get something home from Rio 2016.” Coming from a family deeply involved in the wrestling circuit in India, expectations certainly are high on Vinesh as well. Vinesh’s cousin Geeta was the first female Indian wrestler to qualify for Olympics, but was beaten in her opening fight in the 2012 London Olympics. Will Vinesh pick up where her sister left off?
Her recent qualification into the Olympics isn’t the only reason for Vinesh’s spike in popularity. The new Bollywood film “Dangal” starring Aamir Khan will follow the story of Vinesh and her cousins, who found their way to wrestling by the guidance and coaching of Vinesh’s uncle Mahavir Singh Phogat.
Vinesh also met Narendra Modi and Sachin Tendulkar recently, both of whom have extended their support and encouraged Vinesh on her journey to the Olympics. Sachin even shared a video cheering for Phogat on Facebook. The caption stated that, "Wrestling ek power ka game hai, aur sirf ladkon mein power hoti hai aisa nahi hai. Ladkiyon mein bhi bahut zyada power hoti hai." (Wrestling is a game about power, and it is false that only boys have power. Girls are also full of power.)
Speaking of Sachin, Vinesh is aware of how important a medal would be for the wrestling community in cricket-crazy India. Vinesh believes that though cricket is the predominant sport India, much has changed recently. "I know cricket dominates the scene in India but things have changed a lot in the last few years. Wrestling was a low-key sport but now everybody knows Sushil Kumar here," she said.
In terms of her chances in Rio, Phogat boldly states that she stands a chance. "I'm going to Rio thinking of the gold and nothing else," said the grappler, currently training in Lucknow with Rio-bound compatriots Sakshi Malik (58kg) and Babita Kumari (53kg). Phogat's confidence has been boosted by the fact that she won medals in six of the seven international tournaments she has participated in since July 2014. In another display of bravado, Vinesh added that, "No disrespect to anyone but I consider myself the best in my weight category. My leg attacks — both single and double — are difficult to defend against. Ask my rivals."
With inputs from agencies