How Vinesh did crazy stuff to reduce weight and win Olympic quota

Vinesh Phogat with Viren Rasquinha and others
Vinesh Phogat with Viren Rasquinha and others (PC: Viren Rasquinha/X)

There are two faces of Vinesh Phogat as well as two phases.

If one has tracked her in the last 16 months, one can relate to her persona. The first is of an elite athlete out on the streets, taking on the establishment, fighting the police, and seeking justice. In this, she is in anger and shedding tears. Sports fans have wanted to see Vinesh Phogat the athlete, someone who dares, dreams and delivers.

That’s what this 29-year-old has done, clinching an Olympic quota for India. If this sounds simple, hang on, there are many twists in this tale, stories of how she fought major fitness issues and stood up to be counted.

After all, when Vinesh underwent a left knee surgery under Dr Dinshaw Pardiwala at a well-known Mumbai hospital in August 2023, she was in familiar zone. An ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear during training was traumatic. But then, Vinesh had faced similar issues in the past. At the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016, she was in pain and tears, as her campaign ended in the quarter-finals, after her knee was busted. She had to be stretchered off. And when she was on a long flight to India from Rio via Sao Paulo, with bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, Vinesh cried non-stop.

It was hard to walk up to her and interview her on that flight. She, however, kept saying she wants that Olympic medal. Post-surgery in 2016, her return after long rehab was a hard one. That she could smile at the Asian Games in Jakarta in 2018 when she won gold was great relief. But then, in Tokyo, three years ago at the Olympics, again Vinesh could only make it to the last eight.

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Vinesh Phogat for India
Vinesh Phogat for India (PC: Viren Rasquinha/X)

Indeed, from 2023 till last week, Vinesh has decided many things her own way. To recover from a surgery last year and train again has been a systematic plan, laid out by OGQ (Olympic Gold Quest). Of course, the Sports Authority of India has also backed her. When it comes to asking for support and voicing concerns, Vinesh has been vocal, with social media a tool at her disposal.

What people will not know is how she battled against bodyweight. She was 59kg after the surgery last August. The team of doctors and rehab specialists for her was top class. “We had to ensure she would be back on her legs and in best shape,” said Viren Rasquinha of OGQ.

It is important to mention, the OGQ had planned everything in detail. Dr Pardiwala (orthopaedic surgeon), Wayne Lombard (sports scientist), Yatin Bhatkar (head of Olympic Athlete Management), Ashwini Patil (physio), Tajinder Kaur (nutritionist), Mayank Singh Garia (strength and conditioning) and Woller Akos (coach from Hungary) have all been part of Vinesh’s recovery process.

“The first day she was on the mat after rehab, Vinesh was screaming in pain. But then, she was not going to give up,” Viren told RevSportz. The entire plan for her comeback had been chalked out by Bhatkar. Given Vinesh’s resilience and willingness to come back strongly, she was doing stuff which was unthinkable.

Weight reduction looks easy on paper, not in practicality. Then, when an athlete loses weight, he or she is going to have muscle loss. How was the team going to convince Vinesh there was only one level till which she could drop weight and compete on the mat?

Vinesh Phogat
Vinesh Phogat (PC: Viren Rasquinha/X)

“Vinesh was adamant she would bring her bodyweight down to 50kg. We all tried to convince her, but she wanted that Olympic quota in 50kg,” explained Viren. Method in madness or possessed, you decide. To come down from 59kg to 50kg was dangerous, using natural means.

She would apparently cut her food intake to minimum, reduce water intake to just about half litre a day, so that at weigh-in she was mot tipping the scales. To be doing such stuff was madness minus a method, but Vinesh wanted to go through this to realise a goal. When she weighed in at Bishkek for the Olympic qualification event, her weight was an incredible 49.5kg.

There was worry, how she would cope with it physically? A fear lurked, that she would be too weak. Vinesh proved everybody wrong and won the quota place. She knows, this is her best chance, even though she may have to again go through trials before Paris.

RevSportz spoke to nutrition specialists, sports medicine gurus and others. All of them concurred, what Vinesh has done is crazy. “Only she could have attempted this kind of weight loss, battled all the odds and come out trumps. It’s a story of inner will,” said a sports medicine doctor, who did not want to be named.

What is it which has pushed Vinesh to this level? It certainly has to do with an obsession. She wants to go to Paris and win a medal. This is her third attempt, at the age of 29. Nothing can stop her, it seems. That’s the story so far, which is fascinating for anyone who understands a thing or two about pushing the limits.

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