Blog by: Suryakant Tripathi
The Phogat family has been in the news ever since the news of a biopic being made on them broke. It increased ten-fold after the release of the Bollywood movie ‘Dangal’. Where the film revolves around how a man trained his daughters to excel in a male-dominated sport like wrestling, breaking all societal stereotypes, the real story of Geeta Phogat’s life and career is far more inspiring.
Geeta was born in a Jat family to Mahavir Phogat and Daya Kaur in Balali village of Haryana’s Bhiwani district.
Geeta grew up in a conservative family where it was considered that male child brings more glory to the family as compared to daughters. For this very reason, her mother Daya wanted to have a boy and not a girl, according to the book ‘Akhada: The Authorised Biography of Mahavir Singh Phogat’ authored by Saurabh Duggal.
Her father Mahavir, a former wrestler himself, made Geeta fight male wrestlers as she was honing skills as there were no girls who took up wrestling as a sport in the village.
Her training in the initial years was very tough and demanding as her dad would ensure Geeta and her sister Babita would wake them up at 3:30 AM and practice in the akhada for three hours. After which they would go to school, come back and then train again for 2-3 hours in the akhada. Geeta, in a recent interview, said that the akhada and her father would be the only thing her sister and her saw would see at that time of their lives.
According to Geeta those 5-6 years were their toughest part of lives as her father demanded they keep working hard and the concept of slowing down ‘just didn’t exist in his dictionary’.
Competing in the 55kg freestyle wrestling category, her gold medal at the 2009 Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in Jalandhar, Punjab brought her to national limelight as she qualified for the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
She won India’s first ever gold medal in women’s wrestling category at the 2010 CWG beating Emily Bensted from Australia in the gold medal match. The win was the biggest feat in Geeta’s wrestling career.
Geeta’s 2010 CWG gold was followed by another gold medal at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championship in Melbourne in 2011.
In 2012, Geeta qualified for the London Olympics after winning the gold in the qualifying tournament at Astana in Kazaksthan becoming the first female wrestler from India to qualify for the Olympics.
At the Olympics, she earned a repechage bout after her opponent whom she lost to in the first round entered the finals. She lost her first repechege fight and exited the tournament, but the fact that she competed at the highest level resulted in a lot of girls taking up wrestling as a sport in the country.
In the same year, Geeta won bronze medal at the World Wrestling Championships in Strathcona County, Canada. Then, she won another bronze medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships.
Next year in 2013, Geeta won a silver at the Commonwealth Wrestling Championships in Johannesburg but in a higher weight category as she competed in the 59kg event.
In 2015, she clinched bronze at the Asian Wrestling championship at Doha, which was her last medal performance representing India.
Thanks to Geeta, Indian wrestling opened doors for girls to take the sport and excel at it from a young age. The last couple of years has a seen huge number of females taking up wrestling and winning medals for India at the age-group levels.
Earlier this year, Geeta tied the nuptial knot with Pawan Kumar, also a wrestler in the 86kg men’s category.
Female wrestling was taken by storm once Sakshi Malik clinched the bronze medal after winning the repechege bout and becoming the first Indian female wrestler to win an Olympic medal.