India's Navjot Kaur keeps her date with history and stardom after battling her way from career-threatening injury

The arc lights have always been on the Phogat sisters. The microphones have always sought a sound byte from Sakshi Malik. Away from the adulation and the media frenzy, Navjot Kaur has quietly worked her way up to become the latest pin up girl of women wrestling in India. The 28-year-old created history when she became the first Indian woman wrestler to win a gold at the Asian Championship.

“It feels great that I could become a part of Indian wrestling history just like Geeta Phogat was the first Indian woman to win a Commonwealth Games gold medal and Sakshi Malik became the first Indian woman to bag an Olympics medal,” said a beaming Navjot outside an ice cream shop in Bishkek, the capital city of Kyrgyz Republic, a day after winning the Asian Championship title. “I have decided to reward myself with a chocolate ice cream today.’’

 Indias Navjot Kaur keeps her date with history and stardom after battling her way from career-threatening injury

File image of Navjot Kaur. Image credit: Twitter/@DoC_GoI

Navjot pulled off a commanding display in the 65 kg final against Miya Imai of Japan to win the contest 9-1. Japan has been a powerhouse of women wrestling but the Indian wrestler was in command right from the start. With 30 second left in the contest, Navjot enjoyed a commanding 5-1 lead and then earned a four point through a brilliant throw to seal the issue. “My leg defense is my strength and Vinesh and my coaches repeatedly told me to watch out the Japanese girl who was looking for a leg takedown. The advice worked and the moment Miya tried to go for a leg takedown, I threw her down and earned those crucial four points,’’ explained Navjot.

For the wrestler from Tarn Taran, a small city near Amritsar, the last couple of years have been nightmarish. She suffered a serious back injury which took time to heal and her comeback was slow. Navjot missed out on a ticket to Olympics in 2016 and even this year she failed to make the cut for the Commonwealth Games. “The pain coupled with missing these opportunities hurt and it made me more determined to make a comeback," she added. “At one point, I was on the verge of giving up the sport. But then my family urged me not to give up. I had dreams of taking part in Olympics and winning a medal. I wanted to give it another shot. Even the coaches who I worked under, said I am blessed with great physical strength and I had couple of years ahead of me. And this victory has reignited my dreams of pushing myself harder and have another go at the Olympics,’’ she said.

Olympics was hardly in her mind when she first took to the sport. “I used to accompany my elder sister to the wrestling akharas. I was not particularly fond of the sport but I was gradually sucked into it watching my sister. Then my sister suffered a career threatening knee injury. I saw her dreams of making it big in the sport crush and I took it upon myself to realise her dreams,’’ explained Navjot as she took a walk down the memory lane.

“It was around 2004 and I was a 14-year-old who started taking wrestling very seriously. At that time, women taking part in wrestling was considered a taboo and I was scorned at. Gradually women wrestling gained acceptance and I began to perform at both domestic and international events,” explained Navjot. Her previous best performances in international meets included a bronze at the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Glasgow, silver at the 2013 Asian championship and a bronze at the 2011 Asian Championship.

“Sushil Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt were my role models. As a youngster, I used to follow them, waiting to collect their autographs and pictures. It feels good that women wrestling has gained acceptance even in small towns and villages. People come to our coaches enrolling their daughters for wrestling,’’ she said.

After her successful campaign in Kyrgyz Republic, Navjot will return to the Sports Authority of India’s training centre in Lucknow where she will train with the newly appointed foreign coach Farniev Irbek Valentinovich from Russia. Having missed out on the Commonwealth Games, Navjot’s next target will be the Asian Games in Jakarta in August followed by the World Championship in Budapest in October. She will also need to decide on which weight category she will compete in future tournaments. 69 kg has been her favourite weight category though she decided to take part in the 65 kg class in the Asian Championship as she felt she had a better chance of winning the trials in this weight class.

India have won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games but the competition at the Asian Games and Asian Championships have been daunting with the Chinese and Japanese wrestlers dominating the show. India women wrestlers have never won a gold medal at the Asian Games. Maybe Navjot’s victory will herald a turnaround in the fortunes of the Indian women wrestlers.

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Updated Date: Mar 04, 2018 12:12:55 IST