Olympic-Wrestling-India's Phogat returns stronger, smarter to fulfil medal dream

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Five years after being stretchered off the mat with a twisted knee in Rio, India's Vinesh Phogat believes she has grown mentally stronger and technically accomplished as she resumes her bid for an Olympic gold in Tokyo.

Phogat's dream of a medal in her first Olympics was cruelly cut short in 2016 when she hurt her ankle during her quarter-final bout against a Chinese opponent and left the mat in tears.

"I now have the experience of playing one Olympics. I know what to expect, how to prepare and how to conduct myself," the 26-year-old told the Times of India newspaper on Saturday.

"All these setbacks helped me become stronger, and I feel I enter Tokyo as a much stronger athlete mentally.

"I want to finish what I have started."

Currently training in Hungary, Phogat is the world number one in women's 53kg category and also the top seed in Tokyo.

She has been training under Hungarian coach Woller Akos since 2018 and the partnership had worked wonders for her, said the Commonwealth and Asian Games champion.

"People won't understand from outside but earlier my game had technical flaws.

"I can see that now I'm smoother and display clean wrestling on the mat. I don't feel stuck on the match anymore. There is motion in my game."

As for motivation, Phogat said she never forgot her pain in Rio.

"...every time I go on the mat for a match, that injury motivates me," said the wrestler from Haryana.

"It was one of the lowest points of my career. There was a lot of negativity from within.

"But I was able to come out of it and in hindsight, it has helped me become mentally strong."

(Reporting by Amlan Chakraborty in New Delhi; editing by Kim Coghill)