Monaco: Vinesh Phogat is in a great mood ahead of the red carpet ceremony of this year's Laureus World Sports Awards. She became the first Indian to be nominated in the prestigious awards thanks to her stellar performances in 2018 where she won gold at the Commonwealth Games, a silver in the Asian Championships in Bishkek and another gold at the Asian Games in Jakarta.
She has been nominated for the Laureus Sports Comeback of the Year award where she will be competing with golf great Tiger Woods, Canadian snowboarder Mark McMorris, American alpine ski racer Lindsey Vonn, Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Manyu, and Dutch para-snowboarding star Bibian Mentel-Spee.
In Monaco, she spoke to Firstpost about her nomination, training under coach Woller Akos, the difference between foreign and Indian coaches, preparations for the Tokyo Olympics and more.
You are the first Indian to be nominated for the Laureus Sports Awards. How do you feel about that?
I’m very happy to be nominated for the Laureus Sports Comeback of the Year award. In a way, I’m representing India and the wrestling world here in Monaco. When I got to know that I’m nominated for this award, I had no idea about Laureus. I read about it and then got to know how prestigious it is to be nominated.
Bajrang Punia has recently played in the German league. Do you have any plans to participate in a European league?
For the next two years, I don’t have any such plans and my focus at this point is only on the Tokyo Olympics. After the awards ceremony. I’m heading to Bulgaria to participate in the ranking series tournament because the points will be useful for my campaign at the World Championships later this year.
You’re among top favourites from India to win a medal in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In the past we have seen how top contenders from India failed to perform in the Olympics, maybe the pressure got to them because Olympics is a whole new level. Are you already feeling the pressure?
Of course, there is a lot of pressure. When you take India, we don’t always have many athletes who can bring medals in Olympics. So, the pressure on a few of them is a lot when it comes to the Olympics. Even athletes put pressure on themselves because they think a lot is expected out of them. This is where experience will play a role in dealing with such things. Now I feel I’m better equipped to deal with pressure. I learned a lot from my experience at the Rio Olympics.
Since Rio 2016, we have had some good wrestlers emerge who are contenders for Tokyo 2020, be it Bajrang, Pooja Dhanda, or yourself. Do you think India have better depth in wrestling contingent now?
Currently, I think Indian wrestling contingent in strong when compared to days before the Rio Olympics. It also helps individually if we have a good squad ahead of the Olympics because it will certainly boost wrestler’s confidence. I feel India can win two-three medals in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
You train with Hungary's Woller Akos. What sort of difference do you see in the guidance he provides, as opposed to the national coach?
I didn’t personally know him, but I heard a lot about him and his training methods. I trained under him before the 2018 Asian Games and I got the result I wanted. I felt I was getting the right training under him. Before coming here, I trained under him only for 10 days, but I feel like I already got what I wanted for the Olympics. I get individual attention under him and that’s hugely beneficial to me. Under national coaches, it’s difficult to get personal attention, like analysing our opponents before any big tournaments, picking out the weak spots in their game and such things are only possible when you have a foreign coach like him.
Can you tell about a specific suggestion Woller gave you once he came around?
He feels I can improve my upper body strength. He felt my upper body requires some work before I get ready for the big tournament. He also worked on my speed and we are trying to bring more variety to my technique as well.
Bajrang's coach Shako Bentinidis recently said that Indian wrestlers have been training wrong for decades. His contention was that Indian wrestlers wake up too early to train at a time like 5 or 6 am, your body's organs are not even properly awake. So you end up doing more damage.
Yes, what he said is absolutely right. Like when we get up early and do our training from 6 to 9, it becomes tough for our body to recover in the day time. The body recovery happens better in the night because there are fewer disturbances. We push our body by getting up early in the morning and that’s not advisable because it can lead to injuries. I feel if our body and mind are not ready, then no matter how hard you try, it’s difficult to succeed.
So this is a big difference between an Indian and a foreign coach?
Yes, this is one of the major differences I see in foreign coaches and the Indian ones. The Indian coaches are finding it little hard to change their way of coaching. The good thing is Indian wrestlers are not afraid to change their training regime if they feel something’s not right.
The Wrestling Federation of India recently hired a foreign coach for women, Andrew Cook. Your thoughts on that?
I didn’t train much under the new coach. But now that I have a personal coach, I will work more with him, because again it will be the case of not getting much personal attention under a national coach and I don’t want that.
The author is in Monaco at the invitation of Laureus.
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Updated Date: Apr 05, 2019 21:57:39 IST