Vinesh, Anshu win titles in fine injury comebacks - Hindustan Times
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Vinesh, Anshu win titles in fine injury comebacks

ByAvishek Roy, Jaipur
Feb 05, 2024 12:47 AM IST

The senior wrestler, a face of last year's protests, and her young counterpart won their respective divisions at the Jaipur national meet

Soon after Anshu Malik won her 'revenge' bout against Sarita Mor and sealed a fine comeback from injury, she crossed to the other side of the stage where Vinesh Phogat was anxiously waiting for her final to start. Anshu hugged her and they had a hearty laugh. Bitterness, if any, seemed to have melted away. Indian wrestling once again looked united.

Vinesh Phogat clinched the 55kg gold medal.
Vinesh Phogat clinched the 55kg gold medal.

Differences had cropped up among wrestlers last year after Vinesh and Bajrang Punia were given direct entry for the Hangzhou Asian Games, without selection trials. Many teammates, including Anshu, had criticised that. But that’s all in the past now. This Olympic year, Indian wrestling needs the stalwarts and youngsters to join forces.

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Moments after Anshu’s victory (59kg) at the national championships, Vinesh scripted her own comeback in 55kg.

This was her first tournament in a year-and-a-half. She had spent the last five months in rehab after knee surgery. The path to Paris Olympics might be tough for Vinesh, but she is not bowing out without giving it a shot. And her uphill climb started at the Railways Stadium here on Sunday.

“It is an Olympic year and many senior athletes were injured. They were not on track. Good to see them coming back. Ravi (Dahiya) also competed and did well. Anshu has won here. I have won here. We want other wrestlers to follow the seniors and walk shoulder-to-shoulder with us. The bigger the team we can have in the Olympics, the better. So, we want as many of us to qualify,” said Vinesh.

The only Olympic quota India have secured so far is through Antim Panghal in 53kg. It is the division in which Vinesh competes and she will be back in her favourite class at the Asian Championships. She competed here in 55kg.

On Sunday, Vinesh came through four bouts untroubled. She pinned down two of her opponents, including Delhi's Jyoti in the final. Vinesh faced some tough moments only in the quarter-finals against Tamanna of Haryana, but firmly held on to win 3-0.

“I am coming back after surgery, so there was a bit of fear. It was like a test. I feel I am on the right track.

This is a good start to the Olympic year. Hopefully, I will stay fit and healthy and give my best for my country.

“I have given my 50 percent today. I was playing safe because I did not want to risk another injury. Sometimes even when you are 100 percent fit you may not be able to give your best. The important thing is I am competing again."

For Vinesh to compete in Paris, she will have to get past world championships medallist Antim Panghal in the selection trials. “Every opponent will give their best. You cannot concentrate on one. It is an Olympic year. You don’t know how everyone will prepare and look after their mental well being. I am happy that competition is increasing at domestic level too," she said.

“After operation, during the rehab phase for six months I didn’t miss a single training session. So, I had eliminated fear from my mind. But when you go to a competition after injury, doubts do surface. The way it has ended for me is a positive sign, especially since women’s competition at national level is good."

To expedite her comeback, Vinesh is looking for a coach and to train overseas.

She was confident of catching up with the world in five months. "In the next competition I will play more freely. The doubts are over," she said.

Tokyo Olympian and world championships medallist Anshu too buried a few ghosts. At the Asian Games trials last year, she lost to Sarita Mor – also a world championships medallist. Anshu had been struggling with a ligament tear since the Asian Championships last April.

“To win gold here after coming back from injuries is good. I had elbow surgery after CWG and then knee ligament tear. I was carrying an injury at the Asian Games trials. The nationals were important. There will be trials for Olympic qualification events and I wanted to see where I am lacking.”

The final against Sarita was the day's best bout. They were both fighting at 59kg here. Anshu looked tentative at the start with Sarita making an aggressive push. But Anshu was 2-0 up as Sarita was docked a point for finger locking and the challenge was unsuccessful. The intensity increased in the second period but Sarita’s attack was brilliantly countered by Anshu with a takedown and exposure. With an 8-3 lead, Anshu sailed through.

Anshu will begin her Olympics preparations abroad. “I am going to Japan for training, It is the best place for women’s wrestling. I chose 59kg here because I put on weight after injury. But I will now have to compete in 57kg.”

“At Tokyo Olympics. I lost a close bout. My aim now is to win a medal in the Paris Olympics.”

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