Anshu Malik (57 kg) and Sonam (62 kg) recently qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Olympics by virtue of some career-defining performances during the Asian Wrestling Qualifiers in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Sonam, at the age of 18, became the youngest female wrestler from the country to secure an Olympic berth.
With dual qualifications, the Indians now have a strong contingent at their disposal. The likes of Bajrang Punia (65 kg, freestyle), Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57kg, freestyle), Deepak Punia (86kg, freestyle), and Vinesh Phogat (53kg) have already secured their tickets to Japan.
There’s no doubt that the grapplers are carrying high hopes when the spectacle gets underway in Tokyo.
Wrestling has always been India’s forte, with the nation bagging five medals in the discipline, the most for an individual sport. Moreover, the contingent has returned with at least one medal in wrestling for the past three editions.
As we look forward to the current contingent of Indian wrestlers continuing the country's winning streak in Tokyo, let us also have a look back at the Indian wrestlers who have already made the nation proud at the Olympics:
India’s 52-year wait for an individual Olympic medal finally ended at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, when Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav claimed a Bronze medal in the Men’s Bantamweight category. It was also India’s first individual medal as an independent nation, which made the occasion even more special.
Having stormed past Adrien Poliquin (Canada), Leonardo Basurto (Mexico) and Ferdinand Schmitz (Germany), he lost to eventual Gold medal winner Rashid Mammadbeyov of the Soviet Union to halt his progress into the final.
Unlike Khashaba Jadhav, Indian wrestler Sushil Kumar’s Olympic glory came during his first appearance at the mega-event, during the 2008 Beijing Games. The Delhi-based athlete had earned several accolades and was even an Arjuna Awardee by the time he hit the mat to secure honors at the Beijing Olympics.
The grappler was pitted against medal contender Andriy Stadnik (Ukraine) in the pre-quarter-final, which the Indian eventually lost. But Sushil showed immense resilience in the repechage rounds to overtrump Doug Schwab (USA), Albert Batyrov (Belarus) and Leonid Spiridonov (Kazakhstan) to claim the Bronze medal.
Four years later, in London, the Indian wrestler scripted history by becoming the first athlete from the country to win multiple individual medals. Not only did he replicate a podium finish, but also bettered it by winning a Silver medal in the 66kg category. It was only Japan’s Tatsuhiro Yonemitsu who managed to get the better of him in the final with scores of 1-0, 3-1.
Yogeshwar Dutt qualified for the London Games by virtue of a Silver medal win at the Asian Qualification tournament, in Astana, Kazakhstan. His spirited comeback against Bulgaria’s Anatolie Guidea in the qualification round was overshadowed by a heavy defeat at the hands of Besik Kudukhov (Russia), leaving his medal aspirations hanging by a thread.
But luck favored him as Kudukhov entered the title clash, with the Indian getting a second lifeline in the repechage rounds. The Haryana-based athlete leapfrogged Franklin Gomez (Puerto Rico), Masoud Esmaeilpour (Iran) and Ri Jong-myong (North Korea) to bag a Bronze medal in the 60kg category.
Sakshi Malik made a late entry into the 2016 Rio Olympics. She qualified for the mega-event after defeating China’s Zhang Lan in the semi-final of the Olympic World Qualifying event.
But that did not stop her from breezing past opponents and entering the quarter-finals of the women’s 58kg event. She faced Russia’s Valeria Koblova in a last-eight clash but surrendered hands down, only to see her back in contention for a medal after Valeria made it to the final.
Malik was just two wins away from a Bronze medal and without much hiccup, she was able to outwit the likes of Purevdorjiin Orkhon (Mongolia) and Aisuluu Tynybekova (Kyrgyzstan) to claim a third-place finish and script history by becoming the first ever Indian female wrestler to win a medal at the Olympics.