How Dangal girl Babita Phogat scripted her wrestling legacy

Babita Phogat won a bronze medal at the world wrestling championships and was also a Commonwealth Games champion.

By Ali Asgar Nalwala
Picture by 2014 Getty Images

Babita Phogat is the second oldest member of the famed Phogat sisters. Though the eldest Geeta Phogat was the first wrestler who rose to fame with a gold medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games, Babita Phogat wasn’t far behind either.

Babita Phogat won a silver medal at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and a bronze at the world wrestling championships two years later.

Just like Geeta Phogat, Babita too won a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in 2014. She also represented India at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Babita fetched a silver at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and joined the elite club of Indian athletes with three CWG medals to her name. 

It was a fitting reward for Babita Phogat, who credits her success to her taskmaster coach and father Mahavir Singh Phogat. 

The Aamir Khan-starrer Bollywood movie Dangal in 2016 further immortalised Geeta and Babita and made them poster girls in India for overcoming odds and changing perceptions. 

“The hostility towards us was far worse than what is shown in the film but father gave us inner confidence,” Babita told The Guardian. “He taught us, as young girls, never to be scared.

“We were two teenage girls who, according to custom, should have been draped in loose clothes to disguise our curves but instead we were running around the wheat fields in shorts and lycra tops and cropped hair,” Babita added.

Where is Babita Phogat from?

Babita Phogat was born on November 20, 1989, in Bhiwani, Haryana. Her father Mahavir Singh Phogat was an Indian amateur wrestler and coach who trained her girls to become world beaters. 

Babita has three siblings. Apart from Geeta, Babita has two younger sisters, Ritu and Sangeeta. Priyanka and Vinesh Phogat are Babita’s cousins but were raised by Mahavir Singh Phogat after their father died when they were young.

Babita started training at a very young age. Due to the lack of girls taking up the male-dominated combat sport in her locality, Babita travelled to nearby akharas (mud pits) with her father and sister and wrestled mostly with boys.

Being a year younger than Geeta, Babita wasn’t as popular, particularly growing up in the shadow of her elder sister. 

Babita, however, gained the confidence to make it big when she defeated Geeta for a title.

“Usually, she would beat me hands down. I think the day I beat Geeta was the day people started taking note of me,” Babita told wrestler-turned-actor Sangram Singh on his Instagram page.

“The next day, it made it to the local newspaper as well. It’s very funny back home. Everyone was behind Geeta, teasing her that she lost to her baby sister. I think that gave me a lot of confidence that even I would win and probably make it big.”

Babita Phogat’s achievements

From 2009 to 2014, Babita Phogat managed to win at least one major medal each year.

Babita shot to fame with a gold medal at the Commonwealth wrestling championships in 2009 in Jalandhar, Punjab in the 51 kg women's freestyle event.

She had to be content with silver at the Commonwealth Games the following year after losing to Nigeria’s Ifeoma Nwoye 7-4 in the final. Babita, however, defended her Commonwealth championships title in 2011.

Babita Phogat failed to book a place on the Indian wrestling team for the London 2012 Olympics. But at the world championships in the same year at Strathcona County, Canada, she bagged a bronze medal.

Babita Phogat bulked up to compete in the women’s 55 kg at the Asian championships in 2013 and clinched a bronze. It was her first continental medal.

Gold at Commonwealth Games 2014 

Babita Phogat’s biggest achievement came in 2014 with a gold medal at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland. Her biggest test, however, came even before wrestling in her first bout. 

“I remember, I injured my knee a day before my bouts. It was a ligament injury,” said Babita Phogat recalling how events unfolded in Glasgow.

When Babita consulted the doctor, she was informed that It was a Grade II tear, which meant she would have to pull out of the Commonwealth Games to not risk further injuries. 

“But then, I just couldn’t bear the fact that I was there in Glasgow and I couldn’t compete. I was like, it’s better to compete and lose than to not turn up. Especially when you are representing your nation.”

Babita Phogat set aside the challenge from the home favourite Kathryn Marsh in the quarter-finals with a 13-2 victory and edged past England’s Louisa Porogovska with a 2-0 win in the semi-final.

Up against Canada’s Brittanee Laverdure, a world championships bronze winner, for the gold medal, Babita Phogat won 9-2.

“I think it’s that passion to play for the flag that drove me and today I have a gold medal to show for it,” Babita Phogat said after the final.

Babita went on to make her Olympics debut at Rio 2016 but crashed out in the first round after losing to then-upcoming Greek wrestler Maria Prevolaraki 5-1.

After clinching another Commonwealth Games silver in 2018, Babita got married to wrestler Vivek Suhag the following year and also joined politics.

Babita Phogat medals

Event Edition Medal
Commonwealth Championship Jalandhar 2009 Gold
Commonwealth Games New Delhi 2010 Silver
Commonwealth Championship Melbourne 2011 Gold
World Wrestling Championships Strathcona County 2012 Bronze
Asian Championships New Delhi 2013 Bronze
Commonwealth Games Glasgow 2014 Silver
Commonwealth Games Gold Coast 2018 Silver

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