NEW DELHI: The memories of the Commonwealth Games 2010 glory are still fresh for Geeta Phogat. Geeta had won India’s first-ever gold medal in women’s wrestling at the CWG, defeating Australia’s Emily Bensted in the final in New Delhi, 12 years ago.
With the Indian wrestlers hitting the mats at the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Friday onwards, Geeta, who is eyeing an international comeback after having her first child, is confident India will win the highest number of wrestling medals at the Games this time. Geeta also feels a CWG medal for cousin Vinesh Phogat will give Vinesh, a medal favourite, a lot of confidence for the Paris Olympics.
Expectations will be high at CWG 2022 from Olympic silver medallist Ravi Dahiya, Olympic bronze winners Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik, and Vinesh Phogat.
In the 2018 CWG at Gold Coast in Australia, Indian wrestlers won 12 medals – 5 gold, 3 silver, and 4 bronze.
This time, in Birmingham, especially with no shooting, Team India will be banking on the wrestlers to boost its medal count.
With the wrestling action beginning at CWG 2022, TimesofIndia.com caught up with veteran wrestler Geeta to talk about India’s medal count in wrestling, Vinesh’s comeback, Olympic pressure, and much more…
(The Phogat sisters Geeta, left, and Babita – TOI photo)
How difficult is it for a female wrestler to make a comeback after motherhood?
When I was pregnant, I always used to think of the comeback. I wanted to play again and win a medal for my country. After I had Arjun (Geeta’s son), I had to work a lot on myself. I had to sweat out a lot to regain my fitness. When I got the chance in the Nationals, I gave my best and won a silver medal. I analysed myself. I realised I need to work a lot on my speed and mat work.
At the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, you won a gold medal. Take us on a trip down memory lane…
That was a wonderful time. We didn’t have many facilities in comparison to what wrestlers get today. Be it facilities, coaches, training, camps, food, sponsors, or anything, today wrestlers get everything. They just have to put in their own hard work to reach that level. I get excited when I think of those Commonwealth Games. That moment (winning the gold) still gives me goosebumps.
I got 99 problems but I’m going to the gym and ignoring all of them.✌🏽💯🙌🏽 https://t.co/pgMNqfKIRb— geeta phogat (@geeta_phogat) 1658918510000
The Phogat sisters’ medal cabinet is missing an Olympics medal…
My father (coach Mahavir Singh Phogat) will not be satisfied till he sees an Olympic medal in our cabinet. Babita has almost left wrestling. Sangeeta is there. We have high hopes from Vinesh. We are confident that Vinesh will get an Olympic medal for the Phogat family.
She is in Birmingham currently. She is working hard towards her Olympic dreams. My father is running a wrestling academy in my village. He has recently prepared two girls who have won gold medals at Cadet Championships and Junior Asian Championships. He is still very passionate about this sport.
Vinesh winning a medal at CWG 2022 would surely boost her confidence for a medal at the Olympics…
We are confident that Vinesh will return with a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games. Injury pushes an athlete to fight harder. Vinesh too has gone through this phase. She won, then she got injured and then made a comeback. She got injured again and then again made a comeback. It’s not easy at all. When an athlete gets injured, he or she has to put in double the hard work to hit the mat again.
(Vinesh Phogat – TOI Photo)
Vinesh is very strong, mentally and physically. She is young and her age is an advantage. She has a lot of time. I am sure she will do well in Paris (2024 Olympics) and win a medal for India. She is young. She is mentally strong. She is fit and fresh right now. CWG 2022 is a big opportunity for her after the Tokyo Olympics setback. I just want to give her my blessings and hope that she does well and brings back a medal for India. In fact, I also want to make it to the Paris Olympics (smiles).
Either Vinesh, Sangeeta or I will surely win an Olympic medal for India. I suffered a ligament injury in February and I had to undergo surgery. I am sure I can make an international comeback. Koshish karne waalo ki kabhi haar nahi hoti (those who keep trying never lose).
At CWG 2022, approximately how many medals will Indian wrestlers win, you think?
The Indian wrestling team looks solid. I believe each and every wrestler is capable of returning with a medal around his or her neck. I just want to wish every wrestler the best of luck. There are a lot of changes in wrestling now. Wrestling is not the same as it was before.
Life is not easy, perfect or exactly how we imagine but we must choose to be Happy and Grateful for all that we hav… https://t.co/IZUMSBVkJS— geeta phogat (@geeta_phogat) 1648106173000
Last year, when I was at the national camp, the Khelo India camp was also on. The Government had provided world-class physios and coaches and facilities to Under-16, Under-18, and Under-20 kids. They were given world-class mats, AC halls, and food. These facilities were not there 10 years back. Be it Vinesh, Ravi or Bajrang, everyone had foreign coaches during the Olympics. These things and facilities benefit athletes a lot.
There are many athletes who perform well at the CWG, Asian Games and World Championships, but fail at the Olympics. Can this be put down to Olympic pressure?
You are right. It is because of Olympic pressure. The Olympics is the biggest platform and there is a lot of pressure there. There are a lot of expectations of winning a medal. There is the mental pressure of how to handle things after the Olympic medal. There are also thoughts that run through an athlete’s mind about what people will say if he or she doesn’t win a medal there etc.
Staying focussed is the only way to overcome this fear. The medal shouldn’t be on the athlete’s mind. He or she should just focus 100 percent on performance. We have to live in the present and not think about winning a medal in the future.