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India’s quest for gold: Wrestling

The Indian squad looks good enough to bring in at least a couple of medals from the Tokyo Olympics
Bajrang Punia.

Elora Sen   |   Published 21.07.21, 02:46 AM

The seven-member Indian wrestling squad looks good enough to bring in at least a couple of medals from the Tokyo Olympics.

The sport has given India the maximum number of individual medals in Olympics till date. With one silver and four bronze in the nation’s medal cabinet, focus is always on the mat whenever the quadrennial sporting extravaganza comes around.

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Vinesh Phogat has emerged as one of the best medal prospects in Tokyo. One of the most disturbing images of Rio 2016 was the sight of Vinesh writhing in pain on the mat, having suffered a career-threatening injury that ended her 2016 Olympic campaign.

But she made it back to the competitive arena and earned the right to fight in Tokyo, winning a bronze in the 53kg category at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships. The

Commonwealth and Asian Games gold medal winner also won the 53kg gold in the 2021 Asian

Championships. She seems to have had a measure of the competition she may face in Tokyo and a podium finish is very much possible.

Bajrang Punia is another medal hope, being one of India’s most experienced wrestlers in the 65kg category. The 27-year-old Commonwealth and Asian Games champion also has three World Wrestling Championship medals under his belt.

“Vinesh has a great chance of winning a medal. She has shown tremendous guts having recovered from the Rio injury and then going on to defeat top wrestlers in international tournaments,” Vinesh’s uncle and coach Mahavir Phogat told The Telegraph.

The much-respected wrestling coach, who had guided his daughters Geeta, Babita and niece Vinesh in their international careers, said: “This time the Indian team is very strong. Vinesh is sure to win a medal. Even Bajrang (Punia) should have a podium finish. I will not be surprised if we get multiple medals from wrestling this time.”

Teen sensation Sonam Malik also has everything to gain in Tokyo, competing in the 62kg category. In 2020, she defeated Sakshi twice, once in the trials for the Asian Championship and later for selection to the Asian Olympic Qualifiers in February.

Tokyo team 

Men: Ravi Kumar Dahiya (freestyle, 57kg), Bajrang Punia (freestyle, 65kg), Deepak Punia (freestyle, 86 kg)

Women: Seema Bisla (freestyle, 50kg), Vinesh Phogat (freestyle, 53kg), Anshu Malik (freestyle, 57kg), Sonam Malik (freestyle, 62kg)

Best bet

Vinesh Phogat

⚫ Gold (48kg) at 2014 Commonwealth Games, Glasgow

⚫ Gold (50kg) at 2018 Commonwealth Games, Gold Coast

⚫ Gold (50kg) at 2018 Asian Games, Jakarta

⚫ Bronze (53kg) at 2019 World Championships, Nur-Sultan

⚫ Gold (53kg) at 2021 Asian Championships, Almaty

Expert eye

The chance of getting wrestling medals from Tokyo is very high. Indian wrestlers have finished on the podium in the last three Olympics. This time I feel our wrestlers will bring home three to four medals.

I feel Vinesh has the best chance to win a medal. I will also back Bajrang (Punia) to get a podium finish. But I won’t be surprised if we bag more.

I am saying this because four from this team earned their Olympics qualification in World Championships. That is the highest competitive arena. So I am confident we will get multiple medals this time.

A lot is being said about Covid-19 protocols in Tokyo. While in wrestling you need to stay focused, I don’t think regular testing and other regulations will affect the grapplers.

We have a bunch of talented young wrestlers. I just want to tell each of them, dil se khelo. Don’t let anything take away your focus. This is a huge opportunity. Make the most of it. Give your 100 per cent.

Sakshi Malik 

Bronze medal winner (58kg freestyle wrestling) at the 2016 Rio Olympics



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