The last two years have seen extreme swings in Pooja Dhanda’s career. The Haryana wrestler had capped 2018 with a 57kg bronze at the World Championships in Budapest following silver at the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast.
And just when her confidence was sky high, she suffered shoulder and knee injuries in 2019, which spoilt her chance of earning a berth in the national squad for the continental Olympic qualifiers. With some of the best grapplers in her category, Dhanda lost to Anshul Malik in the national trials for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in January this year. And, with it her hopes of going to Tokyo were all but over.
But the postponement of the Games to next year has rekindled her hopes of making the cut for Tokyo. The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) will most likely hold fresh trials next year to select the best team for the Asian Olympic Qualifiers, which too were postponed this year in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“The cancellation of the international calendar and shifting of the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 has given me one more chance to stay in the race. The selection process will start again. It will be one big opportunity for me to bounce back,” says Dhanda.
On the forgettable 2019 when she suffered a spate of injuries, Dhanda says, “It was a shoulder injury I suffered during the World Championships in 2018 which flared up. Then it was the knee. So, it became difficult to make much progress. I was just busy undergoing rehab last year. It came as a huge setback in pre-Olympic year.
“You have to be super fit, otherwise it’s difficult to make the cut as domestic competitions are getting tough,” the 25-year-old says of her loss to Malik in the trials.
Dhanda says sports activities have resumed in her hometown Hisar but she isn’t keen on outdoor training as the “situation is not conducive”. “The best place to train right now is home. I’m only doing basic fitness and weight training.”
While some wrestlers may have started training on the mat, Dhanda says she isn’t keen. “I don’t want to train with local wrestlers who I am not sure have maintained social distancing.”
She says it will take 6-8 weeks to tune up her body to be ready for practice on the mat. “I want to go slow as there is no competition this year. My focus is to stay healthy and prepare for the challenging domestic trials next year.”