Vinesh Phogat is one of the biggest medal contenders for India at the Tokyo Olympics. Despite carrying the name of the famous "Phogat" family, Vinesh has managed to carve out an identity of her known; a name that has become synonymous with resilience and strength.
Post the 2016 Rio Olympics, where the 26-year-old suffered a freak knee injury, Vinesh Phogat has been scaling mountains. She is the first Indian women wrestler to win gold at the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games (2018).
Since 2018, the Indian wrestler has won medals in all the competitions she participated in. It includes eight gold, three silver, and as many bronze medals.
While heading to Tokyo, Vinesh Phogat will be one of the headliners for India, but it is a name that was never meant to be kept in the first place.
Story behind the name ‘Vinesh’ Phogat
Born in 1994, Vinesh Phogat is the daughter of Mahavir Phogat’s younger brother Rajpal. She is a cousin of famous wrestling sisters Geeta and Babita Phogat.
When she was born, her tauji (paternal-uncle) Mahavir named her Anita. However, an error in her birth certificate forced him to come up with a different name. The result was that a "Vinesh" Phogat was born.
“I was named Anita after birth. But then there was some error in the certificate. Tauji went to clarify and returned with an unusual name. Maybe because there is ‘win’ in it?,” Vinesh Phogat told the Indian Express.
Vinesh Phogat had to face a lot of mockery due to a name which is more common amongst boys. But a wrestler who has faced hardship since childhood always gave a befitting reply.
“People have made fun of me due to my name. My retort is that because my name is different, I do stuff different,” Vinesh Phogat added.
Stepping out of the ‘Phogat’ family shadow
The Phogat family is India’s most famous wrestling household, especially after Aamir Khan decided to make a Bollywood movie based on their lives. Post the release of 'Dangal', anyone who had "Phogat" as their title was thought to be related to Geeta and Babita.
It is true, Geeta can be called the "breaker of stereotypes" as it was she who broke the social norms related to the involvement of women in Indian wrestling. She set the foundation for the likes of Vinesh, Sakshi Malik, Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik to follow.
But it is Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik and world medalist Vinesh Phogat who have given young female wrestlers a dream to chase.
However, for Vinesh it was not easy to step out of the shadow and burden of the title "Phogat".
“They see the name at airports, and immediately ask me, ‘Oh, so you are a Phogat! Are you related to the sisters from Dangal?’ I simply say no. I appreciate the love and respect, but I don’t want to be known because of a movie. Sometimes, I tell them that I am a different Phogat,” she was quoted by Indian Express as saying.
Vinesh Phogat- An identity finally carved on the mat
While 2018 was a breakout year for Vinesh after she won gold at the CWG and Asian Games, it was what happened prior to that, which had begun a paradigm shift.
Vinesh Phogat had grown her hair to shoulder length, something which was uncommon amongst women wrestlers especially in the "Phogat" family. Mahavir would constantly make the sisters cut their hair frequently. But with historic performances in 2018, came the all-important permission to grow her pixie cut.
“We had to trim our hair regularly. I always wished to grow them and I finally got an opportunity during the six-month-long camp in 2015. They had grown to shoulder length. When I returned home I was scared. Tauji asked about it, but did not object,” she added.
Cut to July 2021, Vinesh Phogat has been in brilliant form. She has won three gold medals in three competitions this year. The Haryana-born wrestler is the top seed for the Tokyo Olympics in her category and is one of the favorites to win a medal in 53kg.
It will be a chance for Vinesh Phogat to redeem herself and do what she missed out on at the 2016 Rio Games – step on the podium to watch the hoisting of the Indian flag.