How an Indian wrestler defied gender taboos
Geeta Phogat, who grew up training on a mud floor and was told girls don't compete in such sports, goes to London as India's first female Olympic wrestler
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Still, it hasn't been an easy journey. Besides the lack of training facilities, Geeta spent her teenage years doing something unthinkable in India – wrestling boys – because there were no girls to compete against. To get her into competitions, Mahavir had to borrow money from friends and family.Skip to next paragraph
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After she started winning, the Indian government and Mittal Champions Trust, a sporting initiative bankrolled by a wealthy Indian family, provided some help. But he says India's resources still lag far behind other nations. The country has only won 20 Olympic medals.
"The Indian government has been asleep to sports for a long time," says Mahavir. "Unlike other countries, such as China, they invest virtually nothing in their athletes."
Yet he vows to continue to trumpet the sport – and women's participation in it. "When you have a country that has had a female prime minister and now has a female president, how can you not have winning female wrestlers?" he asks. "My goal is to share the message that if you give love to your daughters, they will prove to be better than the boys."
In fact, dozens of parents are now asking him to teach their daughters to wrestle.
Geeta, for her part, has come a long way since competing on mud floors. Leading up to the Olympics, she has been training with the American and Canadian female wrestling teams in Colorado Springs, Colo. As she prepares for the biggest competition of her life, she is, as with everything else, taking her dad's advice.
"I'm not going to think about a medal," she says. "I'm going to give the world the wrestling match they have come to watch."
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Geeta Phogat: How an Indian wrestler defied gender taboos