How does it feel going into the World Championships as defending champion and fighting in front of home fans in a new weight category?
It is challenging but I am prepared. I have trained well under our coaches. We have worked on my game and adjusted to the new weight category. I had actually started my career in this weight category and now I am back to the 50kg category. It is always challenging to cut down your weight but as athletes you have to sacrifice things for a larger goal. And with 50 being an Olympic category, it was but natural that I would do so.
That you have won the World Championships (Istanbul, 2022) and also the Commonwealth Games (Birmingham, 2022) gold, there is a lot more glare on you. How are you looking at this challenge?
I look at pressure as a major opportunity. I have finally got the chance to represent my country and I am not going to let this opportunity go. Yes, there is pressure but that’s the case with everyone in sport. Unless people expect from you, how are you any good? Having won the World Championships gold in 52kg and then the gold medal in front of a packed audience in Birmingham in 50kg, I now have the confidence of doing well in big events. To lose weight and compete wasn’t easy. That’s what gives me the confidence to fight in the 50kg category. My focus has always been on the gold medal and I am ready to sacrifice anything to get my hand on it. I want to win everything and the eventual goal has to be the Paris Olympics next year.
In Tokyo, we had a relatively underwhelming campaign. The only medal was from Lovlina Borgohain. Since then things have started to look better again. Thoughts?
We all have trained well. Each one of us is determined to do well and win. Speaking for me personally, I am determined to win gold and leave a mark. We have the potential and the ability to do well and it is time to deliver for India at every single event we play in. So, you can be rest assured we will do our best in the future as well.
You have mentioned Paris 2024. That’s the ultimate goal for you?
Yes, totally. In India we move from Olympics to Olympics. But you can’t just think about the Olympics. There is the World Championships, then there is the Asian Games. You need to follow the process. Hopefully, I will be able to do well in China (Asian Games 2023) and finally in Paris. While it means a lot to be recognised, I will not breathe easy till I win the Olympic medal.Given your background, the struggles you have undergone and the effort you have put in. How do you look at things at the moment?
Things haven’t come easy so when they come you know how important and valuable they are. We have reached here the hard way and life has been full of struggles and challenges. But that’s what allows you to enjoy success a tad bit more. I have waited for years to represent India at the biggest stages. Each day I went to sleep dreaming of playing for India. Each day was a wait. But now it’s over and that’s why we have to persist. If you are honest, you will get an opportunity. While I was at the CWG, I missed my mother’s birthday. I promised her I will bring back the gold medal for her and that will be her gift. I was delighted I was able to do it. To carry the flag of your country, to make people smile, to give people joy is a privilege. And that’s when all the struggle that I have been through seems fine to me. I am willing to work hard to be able to come to where I have and do something for India.
You have invited a special fan to come and watch you play in Delhi?
Rather I am his fan (referring to Salman Khan)! And yes, if I make the final, I’d love it if he comes and watches me play in front of a packed home crowd.