'Chal Geeta’ (Let’s go Geeta Phogat), the famed chant from the Bollywood movie Dangal based on her life, reached a crescendo on Friday. The veteran wrestler stepped on the mat for her first national wrestling final in four years. Although she settled for silver against the tactically superior Sarita Mor in the 59kg division, it was an inspiring return to the mat.
Geeta Phogat, who returned to competition post-motherhood, was charged up to show why she is one of the pioneers of Indian wrestling. There is no shortage of achievements for the 32-year-old. As per her, the silver medaler is the first amongst many in the build-up to the 2024 Paris Olympics.
“I am not sure if this medal is important or not. I am not satisfied with my performance here but it has given me an idea of where I stand. The focus is on the Asian and Commonwealth games and the main goal is Paris Olympics,” she says.
The silver was the first medal by Geeta Phogat since 2017, where she incidentally faced the much younger Sarita. She defeated Sarita 9-5 to win gold.
Notably, she is not the first wrestler to return to high-level competition post-partum and win a medal. Internationally, Ukrainian and Azerbaijani wrestler Mariya Stadnik has won a couple of Olympic medals since becoming a mother of two. In India, Anita Sheoran (68kg) and Gursharan Kaur (76kg) have won national medals after embracing motherhood.
Geeta Phogat says these wrestlers were an inspiration to her during her journey to make the comeback.
“I had put on a lot of weight after pregnancy. I was nearly 75kg last year. I knew getting back would not be easy and a lot of hard work will be needed to make it possible. But with all the support from my family,” she says.
On Friday, although there were hiccups during the final against Sarita, she was a romping tank throughout the competition. During the semi-final against Bhagyashree, there were glimpses of old Geeta Phogat.
She was aggressive, changing gears as per the situation and keeping pressure on her inexperienced opponent. She did not concede a single point and advanced to the final 10-0 on technical superiority.
“I tried many techniques but she was very good with her defence. I wasn’t able to perform as I thought but managed to get past her. In the final, I just could not pick up the pace,” she says.
Geeta Phogat’s plans for future
Despite the loss to Gonda, Geeta Phogat has qualified for the Commonwealth Championships. She will have to pay for her own travel since the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) will only fund the gold medalist.
However, she is ready to fund her trip as the focus is on getting as much competition under her belt before next year’s marquee event.
“I will definitely go to the Commonwealth Championships. The focus is to get as much competition as possible before the CWG and Asian Games and also the Paris Olympics,” she says.
Although it is just a national win, it has made the 57kg division in women’s category one of the coveted brackets. Currently, 2021 World Championship silver medalist Anshu is the number one in the category. Meanwhile Sarita and Geeta Phogat will move to the Olympic weight category for the Games.