Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat and footballer Anwar Ali were awarded the Sportstar Aces Award for the Comeback of the Year at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai on Monday.
“I would like to thank The Hindu group and Sportstar for giving me this award. They keep bringing us, athletes, together once every year, and that’s a great opportunity to get inspired by each other since we are all from different disciplines,” said Phogat. “You keep showering your love on us and we will keep getting those medals,” she added. Anwar echoed Phogat’s sentiments and thanked Sportstar for bestowing him with the honour.
Valiant comebacks have been the life story of Vinesh Phogat. A knee injury ended her run in the quarterfinals at the Rio Olympics, then she suffered from concussion in 2017 and had to undergo an elbow surgery after the Tokyo Games.
In 2021, she lost to former World champion Vanesa Kaladzinskaya ‘by fall’ in the women’s 53kg quarterfinals at the 2021 Rio Olympics. Five years back, Vinesh was stretchered off from the ring in Rio after she injured her knee in the last-eight encounter against China’s Sun Yanan.
After losing out on a medal in Tokyo, a dejected Vinesh had decided to turn away from wrestling and said: “My body is not broken, but I truly am. As an athlete, the mental pressure is so much that we’re always on a thin line. When it crosses, we are done.”
She was subsequently hounded by Wrestling Federation of India officials and was threatened with suspension.
She, however, refused to bow down to the pressure and decided to continue her fight.
“In 2014, the CWG was like the Olympics for me. In 2018, the CWG was like the best moment of my life. I rate it higher than Asian gold because it was harder for me. If I win here [Birmingham], I know how happy I will be because I’ve come back from a lot of mental torture. And how long it took to get over it.
Every time I compete, every time I win, the sadness goes away a little bit. It’s still there in the back of my mind, but I think that I have already hit the bottom. Now, the only way is up,” Vinesh had told Sportstar ahead of the 2022 CWG Games, where she clinched the women’s 53kg title and reaffirmed her status as one of India’s best wrestlers.
Vinesh also won a bronze medal at the World Championship in Belgrade in 2022 while dealing with her menstrual cycle during the tournament.
For Anwar, the battle started in 2019. The defender – who had played in the FIFA under-17 men’s World Cup in 2017 – was grounded by the All India Football Federation, after being diagnosed with a congenital heart condition - Hypertrophic Cardio Myopathy.
Anwar was given the green signal to play in August 2021 and has been on his way to making a comeback into the sport since.
In 2022, he scored in the opening minute of the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers against Hong Kong for the Blue Tigers, marking his comeback in style.
The former Indian Arrows product continues to shine with FC Goa, having played 30 times for the ISL side. Just 22 now, he is on course to becoming one of the stars of Indian football – a brilliant central defender who can shoot with deadly accuracy with both legs.
Legendary India cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, former India hockey captain M. M. Somaya, chess great Viswanathan Anand, former India football skipper Bhaichung Bhutia, Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and Olympians Anjali Bhagwat and Aparna Popat are the members of the Sportstar Aces 2023 jury.
The event is supported by IDFC First Bank, Indian Oil, India Cements, United India, Ramaiah University, Experimenta Science Center GD Naidu Charity, Finolex Pipes, LIC, BPCL, Samsonite, Big Basket, Nippon Paint, CRICHQ, Wordswork, NewsX and Casagrand.