Grappling with tears, joy and pain, Vinesh comes full circle

V Krishnaswamy Jakarta | Updated on August 21, 2018 Published on August 20, 2018

Vinesh Phogat savouring her victory in Jakarta PTI   -  PTI

Beats Yuki Irie of Japan 6-2 in women’s freestyle 50kg category

Two years ago at Rio Olympics, wrestler Vinesh Phogat could not control her tears. She was not just in pain because of a knee that wrenched away, but also because the chance of becoming India’s first-ever woman to win a wrestling medal at the Olympic Games was snatched away from her.

Two years on, almost to the day —– she got injured on August 17 in Rio during the Olympic Games. Now, she has found redemption in the form a gold medal in far-off Jakarta. She was crying again. This time, they were tears of joy as she beat Yuki Irie of Japan.

After getting past Sun Yanan in the 1/8 final, she moved past veteran 34-year-old Kim Hyung-joo with a 11-0 win by technical superiority. That was followed by another intense performance that ended in a 10-0 win by technical superiority over Uzbekistan’s Yakshimuratova Dauletbike.

In the final, Vinesh beat Yuki Irie on points. The Indian was up 4-0 in the first period, but the Japanese fought hard in the second and closed the gap to 2-6. But Vinesh held on to the lead as if her life depended on it. It probably did and with it came the gold.

Legacy created

From being unsure about getting to the wrestling mat to standing on top of the podium with a gold medal from 50 kg freestyle strung around her neck it has been a story of grit and determination. The reward is in the legacy she created — she is now India’s first-ever woman gold medallist in wrestling at the Asian Games.

On Monday, even before she got into the medal rounds, she was up against Sun Yanan, who had sent her into a circle of darkness. Vinesh moved from darkness to light with a classy display and everything else seemed a walk in the park.

Vinesh admitted to a pressure against Sun Yanan. “In sports, winning and losing is a part of the game, but I had lost a few times to her. I knew I could beat her, and I wanted to do that very much. It was nice to do that here and go on to win a gold.”

She also revealed that she had ‘too many’ silver and bronze. “Every time it seemed silver or bronze and I wanted gold here, so it was very important.”

Back in August 2016, it was in the quarter-final bout against Sun Yanan, that Vinesh’s hopes of an Olympic medal evaporated in a matter of seconds. Sun had accidentally crashed into the central abdomen region of Vinesh and the Indian sank to her knees in uncontrollable agony and in a heap. She was stretchered off with a dislocated and it turned out to be an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear. She was out of action for the next few months, till January 2017.

Those four months between the injury and the time she got back into action were dark, but she could also see a light, which others could not. Those four months were the longest she had been away from a wrestling mat, since she took to the sport at the age of seven.

Taking to social media in that period, she wrote then, “It’s been four months since my knee was operated upon. These 120 days have perhaps been the toughest days of my life. It’s been 15 years since I started wrestling and I don’t think I have ever stayed away from the mat for so long.”

“Wrestling is something that defines me, makes me the person I am and is something that is my biggest passion...There were times when I doubted myself, been scared and imagined whether I would be able to bring the same intensity once I go back on to the mat.”

On Monday she did.

The big one

Vinesh has never been short on medals. But it was the big ones that she craved for. She won the gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in 48kg in Glasgow and added another gold in 50 kg at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games earlier this year.

Vinesh, who had a bronze in 48kg at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014, has now moved to gold in 50kg. She has also won medals in each of the last six Asian Championships — three silver medals (2015, 2017, 2018) and three bronze (2013, 2014, 2016).

While Vinesh was celebrating her gold, Sakshi Malik, the first Indian to win an Olympic medal in women’s wrestling at Rio — Sakshi got the bronze in 58kg category on the same day Vinesh got injured — was with fighting for a bronze. Sakshi lost a close battle and a medal in the 62kg category. So did Pooja Dhanda in a bronze play-off in 57kg. But for now, Vinesh’s gold was enough to send the contingent into raptures.

Vinesh is back. The Phogats, Vinesh along with her cousins, Geeta and Babita, also international medallists, have inspired a film, too. One would think the boxes have all been ticked with this latest gold.

Not for Vinesh – she wants to get to Tokyo in 2020 for the Olympics, where she has some unfinished business to deal with.

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Published on August 20, 2018
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