It has been 6 days and I still cannot get over Vinesh Phogat's heartache
For most of the last couple of days, everyone has been talking about Sakshi, Sindhu, and Dipa. How three girls from diverse backgrounds, stepped up to the plate and made the country proud. The fact is that everyone wants to win a medal for the country. Right after the glory, athletes seem to have it all. But sports have a dark side too. Sometimes we see our favorite heroes fall from grace, not by their own doing, but by unfortunate circumstances.
Vinesh Phogat is a prime example. While the wrestler from the famous 'Phogat family' wanted to bring glory to the nation, an injury brought her campaign to a premature end. The 21-year-old's dreams of Olympic greatness got dashed by a horrific knee injury but the brutal agony of watching her on the mat due to nothing more than bad luck was painful. More so because she was one of India's best bets for a medal.
It was a scene straight out of a classy Hollywood flick, a moment of genuine emotional overload unfolding before silenced and sympathetic fans back home.
She began her campaign in style overpowering Romania's Emilia Alina Vuc 11-0 in the first match. The girl from Haryana was dominant from the very beginning at the Carioca Arena 2 - Mat A. In the quarter-finals, disaster struck as Vinesh twisted her leg badly while attempting a hold on China's Sun Yanan. Vinesh, one of the favorites for the competition, was screaming in pain, with coach Kuldeep Malik and medical staff rushing to her aid before she was taken off the stage. The injury was not only excruciatingly painful but also wrecked her chances of winning a medal in her Olympic debut. Sun, who was leading 2-1, was declared the winner by injury.
A knee injury is a fairly inconsequential sports injury, but its impact becomes a whole lot bigger during an Olympic event. Vinesh Phogat came into Rio de Janiero as India's best hopes of a medal. It looked as if she would clinch a medal after her 11-0 thrashing of Vuc in the pre-quarter finals.
What these statistics can’t show, however, is the emotional toll an Olympic injury can take on an athlete, who’s dedicated four years to train for that one moment.
She was a strong contender to get a medal in the Summer Games. Sakshi even accepted the same when I met her in Lucknow. But everything changed in a matter of sixty seconds. As she left the mat teary-eyed, it became clear that her debut Olympics is over.
When I saw the footage last night for the nth time, I went through the exact same emotion. Ouch! I can take blood and guts, just something about broken bones and dislocations make me queasy. The way Vinesh twisted her knee was terrifying. She tried to move it but could not. When the stretcher arrived, we knew it was bad.
Challenging next four years. Her shot of going back to 2016.
When somebody glued to the television during Olympics twists his or her knee on the way to get refreshments, it probably won’t change their career path in the same devastating way as it can for an Olympic athlete. The heartache because of how much she has sacrificed, and for that to just disappear between her fingers to injury, Vinesh might be like "Why should I put myself through this again?"
She will be a different person four years later. Chances are she'll be a different player, too. She will have a new perspective on life and the sport. Maybe she will bring the same attitude and leadership as before, but she will be 25 and since her mind has been through a lot now, she will have to be smarter.
The human body is a beautiful and sometimes horrifying thing, and the Olympics is the ultimate testament to that. Sport injuries can hurt to watch more than most injuries, mainly because Olympic athletes sacrifice so much to get their bodies prepared for global competition.
Vinesh’s comeback attempt, wherever it goes from here, matters. It matters because she has been down. And with her, we’ve all been down. We’ve all had hopes dashed by bad luck, and we’ve all searched for the strength necessary to do whatever it takes in pursuit of our dreams, whether we ultimately succeed or not.
On that level, her story will be truly inspiring, and the effort to overcome mentally, in this case, will be more important than the outcome for Tokyo 2020.