Geeta Phogat: Lost focus due to injury, movie

Indian wrestler Geeta Phogat says the razzmatazz of a Bollywood blockbuster on her life and a prolonged injury break took away her focus from the sport.

Geeta Phogat ran into trouble ahead of the 2018 Asian Games over alleged disciplinary issues.   -  R.V. Moorthy

Indian wrestler Geeta Phogat says the razzmatazz of a Bollywood blockbuster on her life and a prolonged injury break took away her focus from the sport.

Geeta and her sister Babita Phogat, both Commonwealth Games medallists, became household names after Dangal, a sports drama based on their lives, hit the silver screen in 2016.

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“I think staying away from wrestling for two years with injury and the movie made me lose my focus. Now I am concentrating just on wrestling,” Geeta said.

She claimed gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi. The 29-year-old then scripted history by becoming the first Indian woman wrestler to qualify for the Olympics in 2012. 

She ran into trouble ahead of the 2018 Asian Games over alleged disciplinary issues. Administrators axed her from the national camp ahead of the event. “My comeback on the mat hasn’t been good. I am training hard to get back into the team. No sport is easy. If you spend time away, it will be difficult to make a comeback,” she said.

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Asked about Indian wrestlers’ Asian Games campaign, Geeta said she expects women grapplers to return with more medals than last time.

“Women wrestlers got only two (medals) last time but their performance has been good. I observed them in the national camps. Vinesh, Sakshi, and Pooja seemed confident. This time they will get more medals."

The 14-member Indian wrestling contingent will be spearheaded by Commonwealth gold-medallist Vinesh Phogat and Olympic bronze-medalist Sakshi Malik.

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“The team has prepared well, both the women and men have performed well at recent tournaments. The confidence level of the team is also very high.” 

Indian wrestlers will look to replicate their performance at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where all 12 grapplers returned home with medals.

Bajrang Punia, who won gold medals at the CWG, Tbilisi Grand Prix and Yasar Dogu International, and two-time Olympic-medalist and Sushil Kumar will also look to bag the top honours.

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“Bajrang can definitely win gold. He beat good wrestlers during his wins at Spain and Turkey,” Geeta said.

“Sushil is an experienced player, a big player. He may not be in good form now but sometimes we can’t judge the potential from a single tournament. He has two Olympic medals and three golds in CWG. He has the confidence I am sure he will do well,” she added.

Geeta also lavished praise on sister Vinesh, who is in tremendous form, having won gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and Grand Prix of Spain ahead of the Asiad.

“Her confidence level is the highest among all wrestlers. She is very focused on training. She makes videos of herself training, analyses them and her opponents. Recently in Spain, not only did she win, she beat her opponent 10-0,” she said.

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Wrestling has gained popularity in India over the past decade. Asked what prompted this change, Geeta said it’s the performances that are driving the shift. 

"The mindset has changed now everyone goes with the aim of winning a medal, they believe they can win, earlier that wasn’t the case," she said. "We have regularly won medals at all tournaments and I think after ‘Dangal’, the craze for wrestling increased among the girls. Then Sakshi’s medal definitely boosted the confidence."