Stubborn by her own admission, trailblazing Indian wrestler Vinesh Phogat doesn't mind being called arrogant for it since the attitude comes in handy to intimidate rivals on the mat. Speaking to PTI in an exclusive interview, India's first woman wrestler to claim an Asian Games gold medal dwelled on the perceptions about her, life after marriage to fellow grappler Somvir Rathee and her Olympic dreams. "I am very stubborn, since childhood. If I feel something is right, even if that is wrong, I will be very stubborn about that and I make sure people agree with me even if I am wrong sometimes," she laughed. But would she call it a virtue, to be steadfast even if wrong?
"If someone explains with love and proves that my thought process is wrong and I also start to realise that, then I concede and step back," she said. And what about the perception of being arrogant for being so headstrong?
"Yes people say that (arrogant) but I know what's inside me. And if it helps me on the mat, I don't bother," she said. "It helps me on the mat. People say it's over-confidence but for me it's belief. I don't get intimidated and your opponent also notices the body language. Some people work on it but for me, it's God gift," she added.
The 24-year-old Commonwealth Games champion recently got married and is now determined to end the stereotype of women's career getting affected by their marital status.
"People say that after marriage, we lose spark and fire but I want to break this myth. I want to take this fear out of girls that marriage is a barrier. I want to be an example, so I decided to marry early," Vinesh said.
"Of course you need support of your partner. There are a few in our society who do not believe in (love) relationships (without marriage) so they will ask why don't you get married and some will say why marry so early? Now Olympics is a major competition and I have all the support of Somvir," she said. Vinesh, the first Indian athlete ever to be nominated for Laureus World Sports Award, also insisted that the mindset of Indian wrestlers have greater self-belief.
"I feel India have 4-5 strong contenders, who can beat any wrestler in the world. I won't take names but we can win 2-3 Olympic medals. The mindset has changed," she asserted.
"Earlier people used to just look for participation or win a round at the Worlds but now medals are a possibility for all. I know these girls. After Sakshi's bronze, girls are now targetting gold at the Olympics.
"We have started becoming technically smart while earlier we just played a power game, it's giving results." The significance of getting a nomination for the prestigious Laureus awards has still not dawned on the Haryana grappler.
"Honestly I still don't know what this nomination is about. I just know that my name has been put for voting. I had not even heard of Laureus. And if no Indian athlete has been nominated before, I can only be proud of it. "...it's definitely huge for wrestling in India because it is still struggling for recognition," said Vinesh.
The winner of multiple international medals says her comeback from a career-threatening injury, sometimes has even her amazed.
"I have seen athletes struggling so badly after suffering injuries. Sometimes I get shocked to see what and how I have achieved this success. It's nothing but God's grace."
Will she not give credit to her own hard work? "It's not just hard work because innumerable athletes do that. This is something which I don't know. I beat even the formidable Japan wrestlers after injury, it's God's grace only."
Vinesh said Somvir has played a huge role in her success.
"If Somvir was not there, Vinesh would not be what Vinesh is today. He is one person who has contributed to my success more than my family. The way he motivated me, no one did. I believe more in him than myself.
"He has videos of all my opponents in his phone. He knows them all, who attacks better, whose defense is solid. He devises strategies for me. He is more focussed on me than on himself. He has lot of belief in me," she explained.
How did this bond develop? "I don't know," she laughed. "I just know that there is trust."
Vinesh happily noted that there is lot of improvement in system and credits WFI President for that.
"Four years back, there was not much respect for athletes but not anymore, it has gone up. Now it's up to the wrestlers to benefit from the good system in place. They need to push their limits."