It’s perhaps the most dramatic sporting sequence ever played out on the silver screen. Rocky Balboa, in his revenge ‘match’ against Apollo Creed, catches his opponent off-guard with an orthodox stance and then switches to southpaw in the final round. Vinesh Phogat’s switch wasn’t as dramatic or exaggerated as in the movie.
— India@AsianGames2018 (@India_AllSports) August 20, 2018
But the impact it left on her opponent was no less significant. Vinesh has always used her right leg as the base to launch attacks, but it made her predictable and vulnerable. So on Monday, she planted her left leg forward. The subtle tweak rattled Japan’s Yuki Irie and landed Vinesh the gold. “The move totally surprised the opponent. It was the main reason she won,” Vinesh’s Hungarian coach Woller Akos says.
Coming from India’s first family of women wrestlers, it was only a matter of time before Vinesh Phogat would prove to be one of the very best in the business. Having won medals in six of her seven international tournaments since July 2014, the highly consistent Vinesh is one of India’s strongest medal bets from her sport.
1. Vinesh was born on 25 August 1994 in the Balali village of Haryana. She lost her father Rajpal at the tender age of nine and was brought up by her uncle, Mahavir Singh Phogat, who is the father of champion wrestlers Geeta and Babita.
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2. Mahavir and his brother had to face a lot of pressure from their patriarchal village when they wanted their girls to take up wrestling and were even ostracised. It was ultimately the success of the Phogat sisters that changed everything and today, they are the pride of the entire village.
Under the strict supervision of Mahavir, Vinesh, like her sisters, grew up wrestling more with boys. Her talent was soon recognised and after Geeta’s 2010 Commonwealth Games gold win, Vinesh was singled out as the one who would carry the family legacy even further.
3. Despite her immense talent, she was initially reluctant to give wrestling so much space in her life. But as the results started showing, it would ultimately take up all her time. In 2013, she proved her mettle at the Asian Wrestling Championships and the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships where she won the 51kg bronze and silver medals respectively.
Haryana: The family of wrestler Vinesh Phogat who won a gold medal in 50 kg freestyle wrestling at #AsianGames2018 today, celebrate at their home in Charkhi Dadri. Her uncle Mahavir Singh Phogat says 'She will win a gold medal in 2020 Olympics too.' pic.twitter.com/QQAE0PCL9D
— ANI (@ANI) August 20, 2018
4. 2014 was the year in which Vinesh burst into the spotlight. At the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, a 19-year-old Vinesh captured the gold medal in the women’s freestyle 48kg in her very first appearance at this event. Days later, the youngster followed it up with a bronze medal at the Incheon Asian Games to fully establish herself as one of the brightest stars in Indian women’s wrestling.
5. Vinesh continued her impressive run of form as she clinched the silver medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships the very next year. In 2016, even though it was not her usual weight category of 48kg, she still ended up with the bronze medal in the 53kg competition.
6. The 1st World Olympic Qualifying event in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia turned out to be a major shock for Vinesh as she was deemed overweight by 400gm and was eventually disqualified.
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No matter how much demoralizing that was, she bounced back from that setback in two weeks time by clinching a Rio berth at the next Olympic qualifier in Istanbul. She outshone everybody else at that tournament and defeated the 2014 World Championships silver medalist Iwona Matkowska en route to the gold medal.
She thus became the first Indian woman grappler to qualify for the Rio Olympics and was later joined by Sakshi Malik and her own cousin Babita Kumari.
7. The spirited 21-year-old has oozed confidence ahead of her Olympic debut. She has promised that she will settle for nothing less than a gold medal in Brazil, adding that she considers herself the best in her own weight category.
“I’m going to Rio thinking of the gold and nothing else,” revealed Vinesh.
“No disrespect to anyone but I consider myself the best in my weight category. My leg attacks — both single and double — are difficult to defend against. Ask my rivals.”
8. At the inaugural Pro Wrestling League held last year, she was appointed the captain of her team, Dilli Veer and she remained undefeated, winning all five of her bouts.
9. Vinesh, who is supported by JSW Sports under their Sports Excellence Programme, is a huge fan of tennis and wanted to play tennis ever since she was a kid.
#VineshPhogat created history on the wrestling mat as she became the first Indian woman to win a gold medal in wrestling at the Asian Games. The 23-year old beat Japan’s Yuki Irie 6-2 in the final in women’s 50 kg freestyle #AsianGames2018 #Asiangames pic.twitter.com/fSH2VJcjMq
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10. A new Aamir Khan Bollywood film called ‘Dangal’ will be released in December based on the life of Mahavir and the Phogat sisters. Vinesh believes that such a film will help inspire more Phogat sisters in India.
“It is good that Bollywood is doing its bit to bring sports like these to the forefront. Tauji’s (Mahavir’s) life is worth documenting and such a film will help more women take up wrestling and other sports, and inspire more Phogat sisters in India.”