After missing three years of wrestling due to a recurring knee injury, Sangeeta Phogat made a brilliant comeback last month at the selection trials for the World Championships.
Without even thinking twice, Sangeeta Phogat gave credit for a successful return to her father Mahavir Phogat and husband Bajrang Punia (Olympic bronze medalist). She said that both of them kept her mentally strong, especially during times when she had self-doubt.
“My father kept calling me every day to tell me I have been making a comeback after injuries. This time will be no different. You have nothing to lose, just give your 100%. Win or lose, it is all part of the game,” said Sangeeta Phogat.
Bajrang, on the other hand, donned the coach’s hat during the selection trials for the world championships held in New Delhi last month.
Unlike full-time coaches, though, the Olympic bronze medalist was not animated at all. Instead, he kept his calm and let his wife Sangeeta Phogat execute the game plan.
“Bajrang played a big role in the trials. He kept me calm. He would just say that since you're returning after so long, just focus on your game,” she said.
Bajrang has without a doubt played a crucial role in Sangeeta Phogat’s return to the women’s national team in the 62 kg category.
When Sangeeta wanted to compete in the trials held to pick the Indian team for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers, he advised her against it. The reason was that she had not regained complete fitness after undergoing surgeries on both knees.
Even at the selection trials, Sangeeta Phogat says, when she was leaking points in the final against Manisha, Bajrang’s crucial instructions helped her seal the spot for the Worlds.
“When I was giving away points, he was telling me to keep my hand inside,” she said.
While it may seem like a small piece of advice, it can be the difference maker in wrestling.
“If I keep my hand outside then the opponent will get a grip and can go into attacking mode. But if my hand is inside then it will be difficult for them to attack,” Sangeeta Phogat explained after winning the final 9-5.
The youngest of the famous Phogat sisters last competed in 2018 in 59 kg in the Asian Championships. However, she changed the weight category on her return.
“Competing in an Olympic weight division makes sense,” said Bajrang.
Sangeeta Phogat excited about World Championship
Sangeeta Phogat feels having Bajrang as her husband has come as a blessing in disguise, especially in the last year. Although she struggled to find the right training partner or center to train, seeing Bajrang’s determination kept her on track for a comeback.
“It was certainly difficult during the lockdown because there were not many training centers or sparring partners. Even when I came to IIS in Bangalore, there were not many wrestlers here. So, it was tough. But I am lucky to have Bajrang with me. Watching him always kept me going,” she said.
Sangeeta Phogat is excited to compete at the world championships scheduled to take place from October 2 to 10 in Oslo, Norway. For her it will be a good testing ground before preparing for marquee events like the Commonwealth Games and Asian Games next year.
“I am excited to be back. Bajrang is keeping me on my toes. Let’s wait and watch,” she said.