Ladies first in wrestling family
Former state wrestler Mahavir Singh Phogat left his Haryana State Electricity Board job in early 2000 to live his dream of bringing glory to the country through his daughters.
During the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, two of his daughters, Geeta and Babita, won gold and silver, respectively. Two years later, Geeta created history by becoming the country’s first woman wrestler to compete in the London Olympic Games. The same year, both sisters clinched a bronze each in the World Championships. Now in Glasgow, Babita and Vinesh (the daughter of his deceased younger brother) clinched gold in the 48kg and 55kg categories, respectively.
Inspired by the success of Geeta and Babita, Mahavir’s youngest daughter, Ritu, and the daughters of his brother — Priyanka (22) and Vinesh (20) — too joined the sport. Following the death of his brother, all five girls live and train together, making Mahavir proud.
Mahavir is one of the country’s few coaches, who can truly claim to have given the country nearly half-a-dozen international-level wrestlers, unlike many other coaches whose only claim to fame is riding piggyback on the success of their wards or spouses.
Ironically, Mahavir’s efforts continue to be ignored by the sports ministry, despite the coach submitting his application for the Dronacharya for the last five years.
“I am happy that Babita and Vinesh have won gold. But my target is something else. Till the time one of them doesn’t win a medal in the Olympics, I will not be satisfied,” says Mahavir, who has rejected the marriage proposals for his eldest daughter Geeta so that she can concentrate on the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
“Initially, Geeta and Babita used to train at a mud akhara, but later, the local government college where they are studying, provided them with wresting mats,” says Mahavir.
When the girls are not in the national camp, their day starts at 4:30am and the first session lasts till 7:30am. The evening session too is of 3-4 hours.
Asked if he felt dejected at not receiving the Dronacharya, Mahavir says, “My mission is to produce champions. If I get the Drona along the way, I’ll accept it. If not, my mission will still go on.”
Mahavir’s mission began more than a decade ago, when the Phogat family introduced Geeta to wrestling.
The father remembers how the Balali village was up in arms, with elders revolting at the idea of a local girl slugging it out in the mud.
Success in the 2010 CWG turned the tide in his favour and now, winning medals is a routine affair.
“Whenever the girls win a medal, the entire village gathers to celebrate,” says Mahavir.