With only days left for the Tokyo Olympics to get underway, athletes across the globe are looking to put the finishing touches to their preparations and head for the showpiece event. The Indian contingent is no different as 127 athletes will look to give it their all and bring glory to the country. The wrestlers in the contingent are undoubtedly in contention for medals at the Tokyo Games. Indian wrestling contingent will field seven wrestlers, headlined by a very strong Bajrang Punia and determined Vinesh Phogat.
The other five Indian wrestlers who have qualified for the showpiece event are Ravi Kumar Dahiya (Men 57kg), Deepak Punia (Men 86kg), Anshu Malik (Women 57kg), Sonam Malik (Women 62kg), and Seema Bisla (Women 50kg).
Sumit Malik was another Indian wrestler who had won an Olympic quota in the 125kg category but was suspended by world body UWW for failing a dope test.
With five medals at the Olympics, wrestling is India’s second-most successful sport at the summer Olympics after hockey. After a below-par performance in Rio 2016, which saw Sakshi Malik grabbing a bronze in the women’s 58 kg, the Indian wrestling contingent would be hoping for a better outing this time around with Vinesh Phogat and Bajrang Punia leading the pack.
World No.1 Vinesh Phogat has been in sublime form in the run-up to Tokyo 2020 as the star Indian wrestler won gold in March by winning the Matteo Pellicone event.
After conquering Rome, Vinesh then clinched the gold at the Poland Open on June 11 by beating Ukraine’s Ekaterina Poleshchuk 8-0 in the final. It was after these wins, she jumped 14 points to become the No.1 wrestler in the world and was then also seeded number 1 in the women’s 53kg category.
For Vinesh, the upcoming Olympics will also be a shot at redemption after her disappointing outing at the 2016 Olympics when she was injured and disqualified from the showpiece.
Notably, the 26-year-old was the first Indian wrestler to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics when she grabbed a bronze medal at the 2019 World Championships.
In men’s, three-time world medallist and seven-time Asian medallist, Bajrang Punia will be the flagbearer for India in arguably one of the most competitive weight categories in wrestling which is the freestyle 65kg category.
India’s top hope for an Olympic medal in Tokyo, Bajrang Punia, is seeded second in the 65kg weight category by UWW, behind the top-seeded Russian Gadzhimurad Rashidov.
Since earning his qualification at the World Championships in Kazakhstan in 2019, where he had won a bronze, Bajrang won gold medals at the Rome Ranking Series in 2020 and 2021 and silver medals at two successive Asian Championships.
The 27-year-old is the only Indian to win three medals at wrestling world championships and is primed to make his mark on world’s biggest sporting stage.
In the 86kg category, Deepak Punia who is seeded second behind Iranian Hassan Yazdani is also a major medal hopeful. Deepak Punia won a silver medal at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships in the freestyle 86kg category and secured a place for the Tokyo Games.
The other Indian men’s wrestler, Ravi Kumar Dahiya is seeded fourth in the 57kg category for the upcoming marquee event, Ravi also won a bronze medal at the 2019 World Wrestling Championships to book his place.
Anshu Malik, Sonam Malik, and Seema Bisla are the other Indian women wrestlers who will be eager to dominate the mat at the biggest stage.
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