What gives an athlete joy? World Championships medal? Yes. Olympic quota? Yes. Honours and cash rewards? Yes. However, when a young woman walked up to take an autograph from Vinesh Phogat, there was genuine delight in the star wrestler’s face.
That was just the right amount of boost she needed while spending the afternoon, speaking to the press upon her return from Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan on Monday in New Delhi.
Vinesh Phogat is a superstar, a household name in the country. If you had any doubts about it, you should have been at the launch of Zee Kushti Dangal in the capital city. A conference hall packed with her fans, media and stakeholders waiting for their turns to interact with the star wrestler would have told you the story.
Less than a week after winning her maiden World Championships bronze, Vinesh Phogat was in the capital city for the launch and the subsequent interaction with the press. Having sealed the Tokyo Olympics quota as early as September 2018, Vinesh is more than relieved.
“Nothing. All I plan to do now is go home and rest,” Vinesh Phogat tells reporters when they quiz her about her immediate plans.
Vinesh Phogat, though, isn’t immediately getting away from the fanfare and media attention. After all, there is a lot that has to be spoken about the World Championships bronze and the Olympic quota that gives her a shot at redemption.
It’s been a considerable amount of time since Vinesh started her interaction with the media but the queue of waiting journalists hasn’t seemed to have shrunk. Vinesh acknowledges it. She listens and responds to questions that come her way with a lot of sincerity.
At one point, Vinesh Phogat rises up from her seat and requests a cup of chai or coffee to keep herself going. It had been a tiring week in Nur-Sultan where she has had to deal with Olympic medalists, World No. 1 wrestlers en route to the podium finish. However, Vinesh Phogat knows her down time has not yet begun.
And when she finally sits down for India Today’s rapid fire round, Vinesh Phogat retains the same excitement she had an hour ago when the interactions began.
Vinesh Phogat at a promotional event in New Delhi (India Today Photo)
Vinesh Phogat suffered a career-threatening injury at the biggest match of her life – quarter-finals at Rio Olympics. The picture of Vinesh wincing in pain midway during her bout against China’s Sun Yanan was heartbreaking. Vinesh had to be stretchered off the mat. Her dreams came down crashing. Millions of Indians back home felt the pain.
However, 3 years later, Vinesh is back, stronger and meaner. She has clinched the 2020 Tokyo Olympics berth and raring to achieve what she couldn’t at Rio de Janeiro.
Vinesh has overcome some of the biggest hurdles in her nascent career, beaten some of the best in the circuit, changed weight categories and then beaten some of the best in her class. However, the thought of solving a mathematics problem in school still gives her nightmares.
She hasn’t found a lot of time to relax in the last 12 months and that is evident when she says Padmavat was the last movie she watched on the big screen.
What would she have become if not for a wrestler? A tennis player, she says while adding she loves watching the sport, in fact following a wide range of spot and keeping track of results — Vinesh certainly has a career in sports journalism if she wishes to pursue it anytime later.
Q: What would have become if not for a wrestler?
Vinesh: A tennis player
Q: What is Vinesh’s favourite pastime?
Vinesh: Listening to music
Q: What was the most recent movie you watched and loved?
Q: What sport do you like watching apart from wrestling?
Vinesh: A lot of them. In fact, I try and watch a lot of sports when I have free time. I try to keep myself updated about what’s happening across the sporting world. I love doing it.
Q: What subject did you hate in school?
Vinesh: Math. ZERO.
Q; What is Vinesh’s biggest fear?
Vinesh: I am scared of heights.
Q: Who is Vinesh’s favourite non-Indian athlete?
Vinesh: Kaori Icho