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Indian wrestlers to have a shot at history at the Tokyo Olympics

Time for Indian wrestlers to create history at Tokyo Olympics
Time for Indian wrestlers to create history at Tokyo Olympics

The Tokyo Olympics is a ripe moment for Indian wrestlers to create history like never before. 8 wrestlers have made the cut for now, with 4 in each discipline. Following are the wrestlers who have qualified for the Tokyo Olympics -

1) Ravi Kumar Dahiya - Men's Freestyle 57 kg.

2) Bajrang Punia - Men's Freestyle 65 kg.

3) Deepak Punia - Men's Freestyle 86 kg.

4) Sumit Malik - Men's Freestyle 125 kg.

5) Seema Bisla - Women's Freestyle 50 kg.

6) Vinesh Phogat - Women's Freestyle 53 kg.

7) Anshu Malik - Women's Freestyle 57 kg.

8) Sonam Malik - Women's Freestyle 62 kg.

Wrestling is one of the few sports to have never returned empty handed since Beijing 2008. However, with 8 pahalwans in the fray, the time is ripe to create history. Since Sushil Kumar's bronze in Beijing in 2008, Indian wrestling has never looked back.

Individually, wrestling is only next to field hockey in terms of medals won for India. With 1 silver and 4 bronze medals, amateur wrestling is held in high esteem in India. It is also culturally and esthetically significant as well. However, there is no senior pro to guide the exuberant youth this time.

With no more Sushil or Yogeshwar to lead the brigade, it is time for the young guns to take charge. Interestingly, we have not one, but multiple wrestlers, who have the potential to bring back a historic Olympic gold.

Assessing the Indian wrestlers' potential at the Tokyo Olympics

On one hand, you have Bajrang Punia, who is the apple of India's eye. Then we have Ravi Kumar Dahiya, who surprised everyone with his bronze medal from the 2019 World Championships.

There is Vinesh Phogat, who is raring to go and add the coveted Olympic medal to the Phogat medal collection. Apart from that, there are dark horses like Deepak Punia, Sumit Malik and Sonam Malik, who are raring to go. Here is a look at their potential for the Tokyo Olympics.

Bajrang Punia, the apple of India's eye

Bajrang Punia - The Man with the Highest Expectations
Bajrang Punia - The Man with the Highest Expectations

India would want nothing less than a podium finish from Bajrang Punia. Hailing from Jhajjar, the young wrestler, is India's best hope for a historic Olympic gold. Bajrang is one of the few Indian wrestlers who has been extremely consistent in the international arena.

To his credit, he has hardly returned empty-handed ever since 2017, a rare feat for an Indian wrestler.

Ever since he won a silver medal at the Junior World Championships in 2017, Bajrang Punia has never looked back. The famed 'pupil' of celebrated wrestler Yogeshwar Dutt, Bajrang Punia made India take notice by winning a gold medal in the same discipline as his mentor.

Yogeshwar Dutt had clinched the gold medal at the Incheon Asian Games in 2014.

Though he missed out on the finals, Bajrang still became one of the few Indian wrestlers who made an immediate cut to the Tokyo Olympics with a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2019. As such, fans expect nothing less than an Olympic podium finish, even a historic Olympic gold medal if possible.

The only obstacle that he faces, however, is the Japanese challenge, in the form of world champion Takuto Otokuro. Bajrang has been able to beat every kind of wrestler till now, but Takuto is one challenge he has not been able to overcome.

If he does that, nothing on earth can stop him from achieving what every Indian yearns for : a historic Olympic gold medal.

Deepak Punia, the surprise package

Deepak Punia - The Surprise Package
Deepak Punia - The Surprise Package

Another guy whom one would love to look out for at the Tokyo Olympics is Deepak Punia. The junior world champion has surprised everybody with his swift skills on the mat.

Deepak had almost scripted history and would have been only the second Indian after Sushil Kumar to become the world wrestling champion in the 86 kg. category. It was an unfortunate injury that forced him to settle for silver at the World Wrestling Championships in 2019.

Despite the unfortunate miss, Deepak Punia's name was enough to send even the best of the wrestlers into jitters. This also includes reigning Olympic champion Hassan Yazdani, who was merely lucky enough to survive a thrashing at his hands at the World Championships, thanks to Deepak's unfortunate injury.

As such, Deepak will be more than eager to pummel the Olympic champion on his road to a historic gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics. If he does that, Deepak Punia will not only create history, but also become the first Indian to win an Olympic gold medal on debut.

Vinesh Phogat, an underrated member of the Phogat clan

Vinesh Phogat - The underrated champion from the Phogat clan
Vinesh Phogat - The underrated champion from the Phogat clan

Who doesn't know about the iconic Phogat clan? However, the wrestler, who is not as celebrated as her famed cousins, is Vinesh Phogat. The female wrestler has been the talk of the town ever since she sprang back from a career threatening injury at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

One of the top contenders for a podium finish, Vinesh was unfortunately injured by Sun Yanan of China in the quarterfinals, despite being the more aggressive one in the entire match. Her injury could've destroyed her hopes of creating history in women's wrestling.

However, the headstrong woman from Bhiwani refused to give up, and sprang back into action within a year.

At the 2018 Asian Games, Vinesh Phogat scripted history when she won a gold medal for India in women's wrestling, defeating Yuki Irie of Japan in her pursuit of history.

Though she couldn't supersede her older cousins, she added another medal to the Phogat collection by clinching a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2019, for which she was even nominated at the Laureus World Sports Awards, considered the Oscars for sports.

As such, if there is someone who can add a glorious Olympic medal to the medal collection of the illustrious Phogat clan, it is ultimately Vinesh Phogat.

If she manages to overcome her challengers, the one man who would be the happiest will undoubtedly be Mahavir Singh Phogat, her uncle. He gave it his all to make his daughters and his adopted daughters achieve the pinnacle of glory in wrestling.

Sumit Malik, the dark horse

Sumit Malik - The Dark Horse
Sumit Malik - The Dark Horse

A man who could be the biggest surprise package from India could be Sumit Malik. He is the first Indian wrestler to make the cut to the superheavyweight category of freestyle wrestling ever since Rajeev Tomar last made it to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Sumit Malik is not exactly the champion you deserve, but who has the potential to become one such person. He is a rare superheavyweight wrestler who has the potential to give even the best a run for their money.

He is also one of the rare wrestlers who has won the silver medal at the Asian Wrestling Championships in the same category. He also has the potential to create upsets in his category and clinch an Olympic medal that was missed by Subhash Verma in the 1992 edition.

If Sumit Malik makes the best use of his abilities, he can spring surprises just like Sushil Kumar did in Beijing in 2008, and Sakshi Malik did in Rio in 2016. It is up to Sumit to make this chance count and land himself a coveted Olympic podium finish, which is otherwise just a dream for many Indians.

Sonam Malik, the Trump Card

Sonam Malik - India's trump card who shocked Rio medalist Sakshi Malik
Sonam Malik - India's trump card who shocked Rio medalist Sakshi Malik

When Sakshi Malik saved India the ignominy of returning empty handed from Rio with a historic bronze medal, everyone expected her to repeat her success in Tokyo. However, to everyone's shock, it is not Sakshi, but Sonam Malik, who will represent India in Women's Wrestling [62 kg.] at the Tokyo Olympics.

But who is Sonam Malik? She is a junior stalwart who has won multiple gold medals at the national level. She has also won two gold medals at the Cadet World Championships, the junior-most category of the World Wrestling Championships.

However, the Haryanvi wrestler shot to fame in 2020, when she defeated Sakshi Malik not once but twice - once during the trials for the Asian Championships, and once during the trials for the Asian qualifiers.

Having won her ticket to Tokyo at the Asian qualifiers, Sonam Malik will now test her luck at the Olympics. If everything goes right, she could be as much of a dark horse as Sakshi Malik proved to be at Rio.

Whether or not the Indian wrestlers succeed in landing a podium finish is another issue altogether. If they succeed, it will be nothing less than absolute glory, and one shouldn't be surprised if India gets a huge chunk of Olympic medals in wrestling itself.

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Edited by Rohit Mishra
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