Wrestling-'Mature' after Rio heartbreak, India's Phogat eyes Tokyo redemption

NEW DELHI, April 24 (Reuters) - India’s Vinesh Phogat believes she has mentally toughened up since her injury at the 2016 Rio Olympics and is confident of putting behind the heartbreak with a medal in Tokyo this year.

The top ranked wrestler in the women’s 53 kg category, Phogat’s Rio hopes were dashed when she sustained a knee injury during her quarter-final bout with a Chinese opponent.

Since then, the 26-year-old has worked hard to become tactically smarter and emerge as a medal hope for India.

“The up-and-down journey has made me stronger and mature,” Phogat said on Friday in a virtual news conference arranged by the Sports Authority of India.

“Earlier, I’d be shattered even after a minor injury and wonder ‘why me?’ Now I handle such setbacks better.

“I’ve grown mentally tough and it’s because I have faced all these tough times. The Rio incident has taught me a lot.”

Phogat said she was no more an ultra-aggressive, one-dimensional wrestler, who could not handle defeat.

“I wrestle very smooth now and it is visible. I move better, I use my hands better.

“I am not in hurry to score points now. I time my attacks well now. There is a strategy in place for every single opponent.”

She contracted COVID-19 last year but since her recovery, Phogat has won three gold medals in three tournaments this year, including the Asian Championship earlier this month.

The wrestler described her fitness level at “85%” now but felt confident she would reach her peak in Tokyo.

There will be a massive burden of expectation on her shoulders in Tokyo but Phogat was unfazed.

“People have expectations from me, and I know I’m capable of fulfilling that. It gives me a push. I don’t see it as a burden.”

Asked about her switch from the 50kg to 53kg weight class, the reigning Asian and Commonwealth Games gold medallist said, “At least I can eat a full meal now without having to worry about gaining weight.” (Editing by Jacqueline Wong)