Vinesh’s defiance of body, mind and time

Vinesh’s defiance of body, mind and time

There were some, not least in the former Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) administration, who believed Vinesh Phogat’s career as a wrestler was over. Her day out in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on Saturday showed she is far from it. If anything, her resolve is even stronger. After battling obstacles from body and mind while taking on the might of the powerful, Vinesh secured the 50-kg quota spot for India in the Paris Olympics by dominating her way into the final of the Asian Olympic Qualifiers. It’s a third straight Olympic quota for the two-time World Championships medallist — one that stands out in its volume of grit.

**EDS: IMAGE VIA @geeta_phogat** Jaipur: Asian Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat during her match at the Senior National Wrestling Championships, in Jaipur, Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Vinesh Phogat clinched the 55kg gold medal in the event. (PTI Photo) (PTI02_04_2024_000440B)(PTI)

For one, she spent the better part of last year away from the mat, on Delhi streets in a public protest against the then WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who has been accused of sexual harassment. The off-mat battle was lengthy and ugly, taking a toll on its leading faces. Sakshi Malik quit the sport while Bajrang Punia was a shadow of himself in the selection trials for these qualifiers.

Then, there was resistance from the body. In August last year, Vinesh underwent knee surgery. It delayed her return for another six months, and she finally made a comeback only at the National Championships in February. There was also the small matter of cutting weight, one of the most demanding tasks in wrestling. With an Olympic quota already secured in her usual 53-kg class, she competed in 55 kg at the Nationals and won the national trials in 50 kg. At age 29, dropping weight was fraught with risk, but Vinesh was unrelenting.

At Bishkek, in her first international competition in almost a year and a half, Vinesh ensured the job was done, defying physical and mental odds and the test of time. That’s no mean achievement. Paris awaits.

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