Fresh from her UWW World Championships medal-winning performance, Pooja Dhanda has switched her focus to Mission Olympics. The vision is clear and resolve to succeed in the mission stronger than ever before. There is a purpose to fuel this burning desire and confidence oozes from the new-found success in Budapest, Hungary, where Indian girls made a strong impression in challenging the mighty opponents.
In a line-up that boasted of Olympic and World Championships medallists, three Indian girls were in contention for a medal. Pooja returned with a bronze. The each of ten girls in the squad showed potential worth qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. There were stronger contenders like Vinesh Phogat and Divya Kakran – both Asian Games medallists in Jakarta – who missed the Budapest bus due to injuries.
Indian girls are an inspired lot now. The conversations now extend to winning Olympic medals. “We are capable of that (winning at Olympics). There cannot be a bigger achievement for an athlete than her coach being commended for her performance. Having seen our performances (in World Championships), even US team management came up to our coaches not just to congratulate but to ask them about our training and look for opportunities to practice with us,” Pooja told insidesport.co form Budapest.
“Tata Motors’ (Wrestling Federation of India’s Principal Sponsors) support has played a crucial role. It is not just about the sponsorship money. You gain in confidence when a brand like Tata Motors poses faith in you. You show stronger resolve to repay that debt. You are regarded as a professional bunch,” adds Puja. “There have been Olympic medals in the past. But this recognition by Tata Motors is a big reward to the system the WFI has created. It is a professional and personalised commitment of our president Mr Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, who got a professional partner like Sporty Solutionz in the system to create commercial value for the sport. This joint effort and recognition is a shot in the arm for the wrestling fraternity.”
A seasoned performer, Pooja has struck form after a series of surgeries and long rehabilitation process. Wrestling comes to her before anything else in life. She was not the one to get destructed even by the prospect of doing a movie alongside Aamir Khan. Stardom to her has to be real, like the pride in her performance. “More than the medal, which remains the dream of each player who gets the honour to represent her country, the confidence we will be carrying from these World Championships is more meaningful. Our entire squad has got a belief that women’s wrestling in India has gone up by several notches. We have announced our arrival at the world stage. It was a big stage and we proved that belonged to this.
“Please don’t judge our performance by this one medal. Each of the girls has been an amazing performer here (in Budapest). Each and every girl has given us the confidence that we can beat any wrestler on our day. Agar aap draw dekhenge to samne World Champions or Olympic champions the. Mat par jaate waqt hamare andar ek confidence tha ki hum bhee jeet sakate hain (The draw was full of world champions, but we were confident that even we can win). This is our best performance so far,” said Puja.
The Haryana girl had prevailed over European champion Grace Jacob Bullen in the 57kg category bronze medal bout. The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games silver medallist had made the grade via repechage round. An optimistic Pooja takes pride in her performance while also inspiring her teammates to value India colours. “Champion banne ke liye har tarah ki situation men survive karna padta hai. Aap jab country ko represent kar rahe hain to fir wahan koi excuse nahin ho sakta. Hamne jab apne pool dekhe to samne world ke best wrestlers the. Olympic aur world champions the. Is championship ke baad har ladki mein ek confidence hai ki hum in men se kisi ko bhee hara sakte hain. Hamen pata he ki hamen kya karna hai. (There cannot be an excuse when you are representing your country. To be a champion one needs to survive in all situations),” says Pooja, who now believes that the Indian wrestlers need more international exposure and training.
“International exposure se bahut help milati hai. Olympics ki taiyari men aur international exposure, videshon men training aur competition chahiye. Hamare coaches aur federation ke paas wo vision hai. Hamen confidence hai ki hum Olympics ke liye qualify bhee karenge aur performance bhee pehale se behtar hee hogi. Jo log hamen support kar rahe hain hum unhain nirash nahin karenge (We need more international exposure now. Our coaches and federation is taking care of that. We are confident of Olympics qualification and a better performance there. We won’t disappoint the people who are supporting us),” added Pooja.
The 24-year-old Hisar Diva has been a giant killer. In the Indian Wrestling League she had toppled the World and Olympic champion Helen Maroulis of the USA twice, World Championship silver medallist and Olympic bronze medallist Odunayo Adekuoroye of Nigeria and World Championship silver medallist Marwa Amri. Now, a world championship medallist, she is not ready to sit on the laurels. For her defeating a world and Olympic champion is just a consolation, being the world and Olympic champion is what she has been gunning for.