Indian wrestler scripts heroic return from Olympic agony

Indian Vinesh Phogat comes from a family whose heroic fights inspired one of Bollywood’s most beloved films. Now she has the chance to write an epic new chapter at the Tokyo Olympics.

The top-ranked 53 kilogram freestyle wrestler suffered heartache in Rio in 2016 when she was carried off the mat on a stretcher with a career-threatening knee injury in the quarterfinals.

Instead of the medal that Phogat was sure to win, she returned to India in a wheelchair and needed surgery and five months of rehabilitation.

But she made an impressive comeback, winning gold medals at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games in 2018 and finishing third at the 2019 world championships.

And the 26-year-old is coming to the Olympics in searing form after winning all four competitions she has competed in this year, including a first gold at the Asian Championships.

“I now have the experience of playing just one Olympics. I know what to expect, how to prepare and how to conduct myself, ”Phogat told The Times of India newspaper.

“All of these setbacks have helped me get stronger and I feel like coming into Tokyo as a much stronger mentally athlete. I want to finish what I started.”

The beginning of the story was well documented in the movie “Dangal”, about the rise of her cousins ​​Geeta and Babita Kumari Phogat, both former Commonwealth champions, from obscurity to wrestling glory.

Starring Aamir Khan as Vinesh’s uncle Mahavir Singh Phogat, who coached the couple and put Vinesh on the path to success, the 2016 film is one of the highest grossing Indian films of all. time.

Vinesh, who was adopted by her uncle after her father died, did not appear in the film, but thanks her family and the Indian Federation for helping her recover from Rio’s nightmare.

“It’s tough, but if you have to perform as a top athlete you have to be mentally strong,” Phogat said in an online conversation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi before leaving for Tokyo.

“Family has a big role to play in pushing you to this next level. The federation and everyone worked together, so I think it is our duty not to disappoint them. “

Phogat added: “There is a responsibility because I have to finish the work that the family started.

“The dream that started with an Olympic medal will only end when it is realized. The hopes of the nation and the family are there. “

Mahavir Phogat said he values ​​his niece more than his own daughters as a wrestler.

India supports the young athlete as the nation longs for an Olympic hero. Boxer Akhil Kumar, who won gold at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, is confident she can deliver.

“She worked really hard and deserves to win,” he said.

At the end of his conversation with Phogat, the austere Indian Prime Minister joked: “Should I also expect a movie about you?

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