From Rio agony to shot at history in Tokyo: The story of Vinesh Phogat's epic comeback

Talking Tokyo: Could Vinesh Phogat's Tokyo campaign end with a smile? (2:11)

The wrestler will look to overcome her heartbreak at Rio as she heads to Japan with high expectations (2:11)

Disgruntled ex-wrestler in Haryana decides to live his dream of winning an international gold through his daughters defying social conventions and age-old gender-discrimination. Said daughters rip apart their competition at every level, the eldest of them winning a first Commonwealth Games wrestling gold by an Indian woman. The second winning it in the next edition.

That, for the most part, is the script of Dangal that everyone knows. The next bit isn't as well known.

Ex-wrestler's brother is tragically killed, and he takes his niece under his wing too. She does everything the daughters do, and more. She too wins a CWG gold, then an Asian Games bronze, and later an Asian Championships silver. As she enters her first Olympic Games she's in the form of her life. And then... an ACL tear in a close quarterfinal. Minutes away from a historic Olympic medal, her body gives way. It threatens to be a career-ender. Tears, pain and struggle ensue. A year goes by in battling her way back to the mat.

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But within two years of the injury, she wins another Commonwealth gold. A few months on, she becomes the first Indian woman wrestler to win an Asian Games gold. Her comeback from the brink is so massive, she becomes the first Indian ever to be nominated for a Laureus Award. She builds on this -- winning a bronze in the World Championships and a couple more in the Asian Championships.

Then a virus causes a global pandemic -- pushing her Olympic Games return another year. She gets infected, but it doesn't stop her. She recovers, trains even harder. The year of the postponed Olympics, she goes 12-0... 12 bouts fought, 12 bouts won.

And now, five years after a ruptured ACL almost ended her career, Vinesh Phogat goes into the Olympics one of the favourites for a medal.

That injury was career-defining. She had been a mess, initially, inconsolable and distraught. But the way she buckled down and became even better, is the stuff of legend.

Going into the Tokyo Olympics Vinesh is supremely confident, and it's not just her unbeaten record. What her rehabilitation taught her was just how much she was in love with the sport. It's brought her peace of mind, and success on the mat. So much success, in fact, that's she's now ranked no.1 in the world in the women's 53kg division.

"Earlier even if I had a finger injury I would feel disheartened and wonder, 'why me?'," she told ESPN a few months ago. "I used to break down emotionally if I lost. I used to worry about what people would say."

"Now I am mature, I can handle defeats and I'm ready for anything. If I win a medal in Tokyo, it's not like I'm going to stop wrestling. So, even if the Games don't happen, I will still continue doing what I do. I'm now in the sport for myself, for the joy of wrestling."

The maturity has happened not just mentally, but technically on the mat as well. She has been training with Belgian Wolker Akos for three years and that's made for a big change.

"Earlier I would consider it a sign of weakness to study games of opponents. I would attack relentlessly during matches, even if I was losing," she told ESPN. "I time my attacks well now. There is a strategy in place for every single rival. We study games of all my opponents on Saturdays and pre-bout, not just the big names. I never used to do any of these things earlier. I now realise it makes a big difference."

This is important, because her main rival, Mayu Mukaida, is a Japanese super wrestler, a counter-attacking force of nature who's favourite for gold. And she's got Vinesh's number - she's won all three of their bouts, conceding just two points. Her unorthodox left-hand attacks, low stance and patient approach are perfect against Vinesh's bare aggression.

Vinesh has had to tweak her natural game to make sure she'll be able to deal with Mukaida, and other counter-attackers.

"After I began working with my coach, I have begun using my hands better and I'm not in a hurry now. Earlier I was a front-on wrestler but now I do a lot of movement and I'm smoother and cleaner in technique."

None of this comes from a top-down approach. Coach Akos spoke to PTI about how it was often Vinesh who comes up with gameplans, identifies problems and potential solutions and argues about everything and anything.

It makes him confident. "Her head is clear. She has got better on leg attacks and counter attacks. The strategies devised outside the mat are now executed on the mat because of a clear head. There were times when she could not do it but it's much better," he says.

Now, come August 5 and the competition, it's a clear head that Vinesh will be hoping for. All the pressure, all the talk about becoming Phogat #1, all the talk about 'Dangal' will melt away, it'll just be her, the mat, and the opponent in front of her. History beckons.