Mahavir Prasad, a Dronacharya awardee and former national coach in wrestling, takes stock of what the nation can expect from the seven wrestlers at the Tokyo Olympics.
India’s freestyle wrestlers have had podium finishes in three successive Olympics Games, beginning Beijing 2008, so we can expect the momentum to continue at the Tokyo Olympic Games starting July 23.
The report card of the seven-member wrestling contingent makes for impressive reading since the 2019 season, and has raised hopes of a good show in the rescheduled Games.
Bajrang Punia, who has qualified in men’s freestyle 65kg, is considered the best bet for a podium finish in Tokyo on account of his record in international competitions since the 2019 Olympic qualification period.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya in men’s 57kg and Deepak Punia in 86kg freestyle too enjoy good reputation at the global level. In the final phase of Olympic preparation, all three wrestlers have trained in Russia to polish their skills.
In the women’s category, Vinesh Phogat who has qualified in 53kg freestyle event is the most respected name at the world level.
Vinesh is hungry to show her skills as she missed out on a possible medal in Rio 2016 due to an injury in the quarterfinals. Post Rio, she has emerged stronger and wiser.
Last month at the Warsaw World Ranking Series in Poland, Vinesh won gold without breaking a sweat. This gives the impression that she is prepared for the major tournament starting next week.
There are two teenage women wrestlers in Anshu Malik and Sonam Malik. Anshu will compete in 57kg while Sonam in 63kg.
Both girls are making their debut at the Olympics, and have a good track record in major competitions they competed in the recent past. Seema Bisla has also made the cut in women’s 50kg,
Despite the pandemic, the excellent performance of all four women’s wrestlers has raised hopes of a bigger haul in the sport in Japan.
At Rio, the wrestling team had won a bronze through Sakshi Malik in women’s 58kg category.
Expectations ares much more this time! I hope our wrestlers are aware that their families and friends are pinning hopes on them to bring glory to the nation and they should take each step wisely in the buildup.
Last month, Sumit Malik, who had qualified for Tokyo in freestyle men’s 125kg, failed a dope test during the World Olympic Qualifiers in Sofia. He was banned by the world body and Wrestling Federation of India dropped Sumit from the Olympic squad.
Such pre-Olympic controversy does not bode well for elite wrestlers, and that’s why I want all the wrestlers at the Tokyo Olympics to take each step with precaution on and off the mat.