The 2018 season turned out to be extraordinary for Pooja Dhanda. The international wrestler from Haryana capped the year with a bronze medal in women’s 57kg category at the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary. Earlier in the season, she had won silver at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games in Australia.
The phenomenal rise added to her confidence but 2019 saw a steady decline in her performance. The reason being recurring injuries. It spoiled her chances to earn a berth in 57kg in the 2019 Olympic cycle. “You have to be super fit. Otherwise it’s difficult to make the cut as the competition is getting tough at the domestic level,” the 25-year-old said.
Vinesh Phogat (53kg) had won the quota place in the 2019 Olympic cycle.
First a nagging shoulder injury, which she had sustained during the 2018 World Championships, flared up. “Then it was knee injury. It was bit difficult to progress. For the major part of the 2019 season, I was just busy undergoing rehab and couldn’t perform up to optimum level. It was big setback as I wasn’t able to click in the pre-Olympic year,” she added.
During the selection trials in January, the last chance to make the grade, Anshul Malik claimed the top spot in the 57kg group for Asian Olympic Qualifying event scheduled for March. The competition was cancelled due to outbreak of covid-19. The competition will now be held in 2021.
Dhanda says cancellation of international calendar and shifting of Tokyo Olympics to 2021, has given her one more chance to stay in the race. “The selection process will start all over again for continental and world Olympic qualifying cycle. It will be one big opportunity for me to bounce back,” she said of her future plans.
According to Dhanda, sports activities have resumed at the local stadium in her home town Hisar but she isn’t rushing back to outdoor training as the situation is not conducive. “The best place to train at the moment is inside the house and avoid getting infected by the virus,” the 2018 Commonwealth Games silver medallist said. “I’m doing basic fitness exercise and weight training at home to keep healthy. That’s all.”
Some wrestlers, says Dhanda, might have started training on mat but she isn’t keen. “I don’t want to grapple with local wrestlers as I’m not aware whether someone is maintaining social distancing after training or not,” she explains of training in isolation.
For mat practice, she believes, it will take six to eight weeks to tune up body and mind to polish skills. “Slow and steady is the norm at the moment as there is no competition this year. My main focus is to stay healthy and gradually build up for challenging domestic trials next year,” she said.