The most painful moment of her career was telecast live to millions around the world. Come Tokyo, Vinesh Phogat would hope that, this time, the cameras catch her at her happiest.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Phogat had to be stretchered out of her quarterfinal bout because of a knee injury. She left the arena in tears.
Five years later, Phogat is world number one, has won her three previous major tournaments and is seeded first in the 53kg category at Tokyo.
In a media interaction organized by the Sports Authority of India earlier this year, Phogat said: “I am more mature now. I do not take [expectations] as seriously anymore. I want to wrestle for myself, for fun.''
Though her recent run has been impressive, her gold at the Asian Championships in Kazakhstan in April was a little less shiny because of the absence of her strongest rivals—the Japanese Mayu Mukaida and Chinese Qianyu Pang. Phogat had wanted to gauge their preparation before the Olympics but was left with a depleted field en route to her first gold at the tournament. While she has beaten Pang in the past, Mukaida has won their past three face-offs.
Phogat said that she and her Hungarian coach, Woller Akos, have been working on Mukaida-specific strategies, including focusing on the ground game. “Earlier, I was always attacking and tended to make mistakes,” she said during her training with Akos. “Now I have learned how to time my attacks. I used to think only those who are afraid study their opponents. But I now know that you first have to read the wrestler. We are working on that for every opponent. I am smoother now, not in a hurry.”
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