Vinesh Phogat, who has remained unbeaten in the three international competitions she entered this year, including gold at the recently concluded Asian Championships in Almaty, Kazakhstan, is in a happy spot. Not because of the gold medals. Those victories don't matter, she says. The 26-year-old wrestler, who competes in the 53kg division, is happy with where she stands as far as form is concerned with just three months to go for the only competition that matters for her this year -- the Tokyo Olympics.
“The Asian gold is great,” she adds. “It tells me where I stand as far as preparations are concerned. The target has always been the Olympics. But these victories are important to build towards that. To give confidence. To understand where I need to improve, get better or tweak. In that regard, things are going according to plan. Last year, with lockdown and no competitions, it was bad. It is great to be back, and great to win.”
The victory at the Asian Championships, however, cannot exactly be used as an indicator of her prospects in Tokyo. Under normal circumstances, an Asian champion in women’s wrestling in an Olympic year would be one of the frontrunners for a medal. But with Japan, Korea and China staying away from the continental event, Vinesh did have it a little easier. Vinesh acknowledges that and says these are things which are not in her control.
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“The feeling one gets from competitions, the pressure, the experience, the atmosphere, it is the same regardless of who your opponent is. It was an Asian meet, and there is always pressure when you represent India,” says Vinesh, who qualified for the Games with a quota spot after winning bronze at the 2019 World Championships.
“I wish the stronger opponents were there,” she adds. “They stayed away because of the Olympics. I guess they did not want to expose themselves too much. Many who are readying themselves for the Olympics kept away. Their main target is the Games. Mine too. Just that these competitions are important as far as my plan is concerned.”
Vinesh is on the road again next month -- Bulgaria, Poland and then Hungary, taking part in various competitions. It is a tricky proposition -- to travel when the pandemic is raging. That too when many countries are imposing travel restrictions on India. She was infected and overcame Covid-19 last year but reinfection is still a possibility and would keep her away from training. Also, there is the risk of being stuck on foreign shores in quarantine. The Indian wrestling contingent is prepared mentally for such eventualities, says Vinesh.
These are additional variables that she has to deal with while constantly keeping focus on what she has to do to attain peak in July-August. Vinesh, with experience from Rio Olympics (though the outing was disappointing as she had to pull out with a knee injury), seems to have the right idea and plan in mind for peaking.
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“At the moment, I feel I am on the right track,” she says. “There is a lot of time left to peak…
“I am not in peak form but almost 85 percent there, I would say,” she adds. “Our target is to hit peak as the Games near. There is no hurry at all. If we hit peak now things will go down. So we are taking it slow. We are on track and I was on the exact level I wanted to be at the time of the Asian meet.”
Vinesh then went on to list the areas that she needs to improve.
For now, in the competitions I wrestled [since coming out of lockdown], in the first one [in Rome in January] my body was stiff and lacked coordination during intense bouts,” she says. “In the second tournament [at the Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series in March], it was much better. I was more at ease.
“I could feel the confidence return too,” she adds. “At the Asian meet this month, we realised that my recovery was an issue. Post bout but more importantly after the weight cut. If I end up fighting a strong opponent at the start itself I would be in trouble. So we will figure out how to solve this problem. We are planning changes in diet etc to ensure that this does not happen,” she adds.
Also, I am a little less aggressive now. I am not up to the level I would want to be. I would want to attack more. Chain wrestling is what we call it, making transitions from one move to another if one technique doesn't work,” she says, revealing that in the next three competitions, the focus would be to get these in place and cover all the bases.
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