Vinesh Phogat: Khel Ratna is big, now I have to prove myself

The 25-year-old wrestler, who has secured an Olympic quota place in women’s 53kg, wants to start the preparations from scratch to peak closer to the event.

Vinesh Phogat is thrilled to be recommended for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

World championships bronze medallist and Asian Games and Commonwealth Games champion wrestler Vinesh Phogat is thrilled to be recommended for the prestigious Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award and feels that the national honour will motivate her to shine in the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

The 25-year-old, who has secured an Olympic quota place in women’s 53kg, shared her happiness with Sportstar as she spoke about her life during the lockdown and the road ahead.

Excerpts:

What does the Khel Ratna award mean to you? How will it motivate you in the run-up to the Olympics?

It is a big award. When you work hard and people appreciate your effort and you get an award which stays with you forever, it gives a lot of happiness. When the government gives you such an award, actually it is the whole of India which is recognising you and it means a lot. It tells how much appreciation we will get when we perform well at the biggest stage. Such things motivate and make the athletes work hard for years. Such an award adds to the responsibility. Now, I have to prove myself and not let down the honour bestowed on me.

How did you spend time during the lockdown?

For one month I was restricted to home and trained indoors. I never ever faced such a situation and I had no clue what to do. But one has to get back to normal life as this kind of life cannot go on forever. For an athlete, if you stay at home and train less, then you are bound to get frustrated. I understand that competitions are not happening, but the least I can do is training. If the Olympics happens and I stay indoors for six-seven months, then can I achieve my dream in the Olympics? This thought got me out of my house and helped me start my training at Kharkhoda. I always kept good hygiene while training.

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You spoke about frustration. How did you handle that?

Sport teaches you a lot. After a few days of staying indoors, I began to find solutions to tackle the situation and resumed my training. There are not too many cases of coronavirus where I stay. That’s a big relief and we don’t panic much about it. We just follow a few precautions.

Where did you train?

There is a school (in Kharkhoda of Sonepat district) – Pratap Singh Memorial Senior Secondary School – which belongs to (my husband) Somveer’s sister. They have got good facilities for sports. They have six mats. We bought some gym equipment. All this is good enough for training. I train with my sister (Vidyabati) and we are sure that it is quite safe.

What’s the lesson you learnt from the pandemic and lockdown?

Nothing is permanent, every situation can change and it is in the hands of God. The universe can spring surprises anytime and if you don’t have a strong mind, then you can’t handle it well. Such circumstances tell you about your weaknesses and one must work on these. One can also face such a situation on a wrestling mat.

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Why don’t you want to join the national camp, which is resuming in Lucknow next month?

Two years ago I had a stomach infection and sometimes I get problems because of it. If I don’t take care of my food and water then it recurs and affects the training as well. That’s why I remain cautious. Now if I go to Lucknow, then I cannot step out of the centre to buy something for me. Even I buy bottled water because I fear having the RO water. Corona is always there. These concerns can disturb me and I cannot focus on my training. I have spoken to the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) and let’s see what happens.

Vinesh Phogat (in red) after defeating Thi Ly Kieu of Vietnam during the 53kg category match of the Senior Asian Wrestling Championships in New Delhi earlier this year.   -  Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

 

Your husband Somveer is also a wrestler. How does he help you in your training?

Somveer knows what’s going inside my mind and comes up with solutions. If I am stressed or unhappy for something, then he advises me to have a positive mindset. It is a plus point. If he is around, then I don’t have to bother about anything. He handles everything. He helps in training. He knows my strengths and weaknesses and where my opponent is strong or weak. I follow his advice because his reading of the game is so good.

Which areas of your game need improvement and what are you doing to get better?

In 50kg, I used to finish off the bouts in a minute or two. But now my bouts (in 53kg) last for full six minutes. I have improved in that and always try to carry on the bout for six minutes. If the opponent is strong, then I need to strengthen my attack and defence. I have improved in that. I am working on single leg attack and trying to improve my technique on that.

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Don’t you think lasting for six minutes is more about the mental side of the game?

Absolutely, it is the mental side. When I used to finish off bouts early, I used to have a good lead. Now I don’t know whether I am leading or the opponent is leading in the first three minutes. In the last one year, I have learnt and improved how to have a strong defence and continue the bout.

How are you re-strategising your build-up to the Olympics?

The training was high intensity and the idea was to peak at the right time (for 2020 Games). But now (after postponement) I have to start from the beginning again. Slowly, I am using my techniques, when competitions will come there will be more bouts. The coach (Hungarian Woller Akos) plans all this and I trust him. I just tell him that you include this technique in today’s training session as I want to work on this.

Unlike many elite sportspersons, you stayed off social media and did not feature in too many articles across mainline media in the last few months. What was the reason?

I am with my family now. Since there are no competitions and the situation is not suitable for that, I did not want to get into that mindset. If those things come to mind again and again, I get disturbed. Also, I don’t feel good when I know that people are facing so many problems due to lockdown. I don’t want to feel guilty because of something.

Have you done anything for the needy people in this crisis?

I didn’t do anything (to show) on social media. For my satisfaction, I reach out to the people staying closer to me and those who really need help. I have tried to help those during this time. If people start helping the needy in their neighbourhood, then there is no need to raise any fund.