Hyderabad: Wrestling has been India’s second-most successful game after hockey at the Olympics. While hockey fetched a total of 11 Olympics medals out of India’s total tally of 28, Wrestling stands second with five medals.
It is also a wrestler – Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav – who won India’s first ever individual Olympic medal after Independence. Jadhav won a bronze in the 1952 Helsinki Games. India had to wait till 2008 Beijing Olympics for another wrestling medal which was a bronze from India’s most successful wrestler Sushil Kumar.
Sushil, who fell from the grace after being charged in a murder case, etched his name in the history books in the 2012 London Olympics as the only second Indian athlete after Norman Pritchard with multiple Olympic medals by bagging a silver. Sakshi Malik became the first female wrestler to win a medal with her bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
In Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, India has a chance to win multiple wrestling medals in Tokyo. Bajrang is the reigning World No.1 in the 65kg category and enters the field as top seed. Bajrang, who has a gold each in Asian Games and Commonwealth Games and several medals at World Wrestling Championships and Asian Championships, is itching to bag the Olympic medal on his maiden outing. He made it to the Games after winning a bronze in the World Championships in 2019. Going into the Tokyo Games, he won a gold in Rome and achieved World no. 1 ranking again. He suffered a leg injury a few days ahead of the Olympics but regained full fitness.
Vinesh Phogat too is a strong medal contender in the women’s 53kg category. The 26-year-old wrestler, who lost in quarterfinal stage after suffering an injury in the Rio Olympics in 2016, has a stellar season having won three back-to-back gold medals at the international events in 2021. She enters the field as No.1 seed in Tokyo Games and likely to return with a medal. The gold medalist from Asian Games and Commonwealth Games in 2018, is a prime contender.
Deepak Punia, competing in 86kg category, is another wrestler who can take a shot at the Olympic glory. The former sub-junior world champion has impressed everyone in his short career winning a silver in 2019 World Championships to book an Olympic berth.
Meanwhile, teenager Sonam Malik too can spring a surprise. The 19-year-old talented youngster is a dark horse in the field with impressive performances at the domestic and international arena.
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