Five Tokyo-bound wrestlers will get a reality check ahead of the Games when they lock horns with the top continental grapplers at the Asian Wrestling Championships, beginning at the Baluan Sholak Palace of Culture and Sports in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this Tuesday.
In addition to the soon-to-be Olympians, several other Indians, including the 2016 Rio Olympics Bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, will also take part in the meet that concludes on April 18. However, Sonam Malik, who recently qualified for the 2021 Tokyo Games, will skip the event owing to an injury.
India’s 30-member squad for the 2021 Asian Wrestling Championships:
Freestyle: Ravi Kumar Dahiya (57kg), Ravinder (61kg), Bajrang Punia (65kg), Karan (70kg), Sandeep Singh Mann (74kg), Narsingh Yadav (79kg), Deepak Punia (86kg), Sanjeet (92kg), Satyawart Kadian (97kg), Sumit Malik (125kg)
Greco-Roman: Sandeep (55kg), Gyaneder (60kg), Neeraj (63kg), Ashu (67kg), Kuldeep Malik (72kg), Gurpreet Singh (77kg), Harpreet (82kg), Sunil Kumar (87kg), Ravi (97kg), Naveen (130kg)
Women's wrestling: Seema (50kg), Vinesh Phogat (53kg), Pinki (55kg), Anshu Malik (57kg), Sarita Mor (59kg), Sonam Malik (62kg), Sakshi Malik (65kg), Nisha Dahiya (68kg), Divya Kakran (72kg), Pooja Sihag (76kg)
Now, let us have a look at how the Tokyo-bound wrestlers have fared in the recent past and how the upcoming 2021 Asian Wrestling Championships would be used by them as preparation ahead of the Tokyo Games:
Bajrang Punia (Men’s 65 kg – Freestyle)
It was back in 2019 that Bajrang Punia qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics by claiming a bronze medal at the World Championships in Nur-Sultan, Kazakhstan. The COVID-19 pandemic meant he was out of action for almost a year, following which he made a comeback in the Matteo Pellicone tournament at won a Gold medal in the same.
With medal hopes resting on the wrestler, the Asian Wrestling Championships will be of great help to check where he stands ahead of the Tokyo showdown.
Deepak Punia (Men’s 86 kg – Freestyle)
The Indian wrestler also qualified for the Games during the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in the 86kg event, while he followed up with a bronze medal at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championship, in New Delhi.
He skipped the Matteo Pellicone tournament in Rome last month due to fever, which is why the upcoming tournament is going to be a huge opportunity for the grappler to gauge his strengths and weaknesses ahead of the mega-event in July.
Ravi Kumar Dahiya (Men’s 57kg – Freestyle)
The Haryana-based wrestler almost missed out on a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships and also on a Tokyo Olympics berth, but eventually he was through. Ravi Kumar Dahiya won a gold medal in the 57kg category at the 2020 Asian Wrestling Championship. The Tokyo-bound athlete would be taking the mat in the upcoming event with two targets - defending his gold medal and also prepare himself for the quadrennial event that begins on July 23rd.
Vinesh Phogat (Women’s 53 kg)
Arguably the most decorated Indian wrestler on this list, Vinesh Phogat has won medals at multisport events regularly, including the CWG and the Asian Games. Though she aimed for the top-prize at the 2016 Rio Olympics, she suffered an injury that disqualified her from the mega-event. But, she’s gearing up once again to achieve what’s missing from her cabinet – an Olympic medal. She’s going into the Asian meet in top form, having claimed a gold medal at the Matteo Pellicone last month.
Anshu Malik (Women’s 57kg)
One of the latest additions to the list, Anshu Malik only had an Asian Championships Bronze medal to boast of before she featured in the recently concluded Asian Olympic Qualifiers in Almaty, a few days ago.
But that did not stop her from claiming a silver medal and book a berth for the Tokyo Games. As she is relatively new to the senior circuit, Malik will have the opportunity to use the Asian Championships to gain some big-match experience and a learning curve ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
Sonam Malik (Women’s 62 kg)
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Sonam Malik will skip the upcoming event event owing to a knee-injury suffered during the Asian Olympic Qualifiers a few days ago.