Asian Games: Bajrang, Vinesh favourites to win wrestling medals

The two will lead the Indian charge at the Games in Jakarta when the freestyle competition begins on Sunday.

Awaiting success: While Sakshi Malik (left) will aim to gain her first Asian Games medal, Vinesh Phogat will hope for more success than in 2014, when she won bronze.   -  PTI

Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat will lead the Indian charge on the wrestling mat when the freestyle competition at the Asian Games begins here on Sunday. Sushil Kumar will have a point to prove, and Sakshi Malik will gun for her first medal at the Asian Games.

Five of the six Indian men’s freestyle wrestlers will be in action on Sunday — Commonwealth Games gold medallist Bajrang opens his campaign in the 65kg category against Uzbekistan’s Sirojiddin Khasanov.

The men’s Greco Roman and women’s competition will begin from Monday.

Bajrang is coming into the Asian Games after having won three consecutive gold medals — at Commonwealth Games (Gold Coast), at the Tbilisi Grand Prix (Georgia) and at Yasar Dogu International (Istanbul) — and will be an outright favourite to claim gold.

In contrast, Sushil, India’s only athlete with two individual Olympic medals, is entering the field after having the first bout of a competition in four years — at the Tbilisi Grand Prix in Georgia last month. Sushil will open his campaign with a bout against Adam Batirov of Bahrain.

‘Tough’ competition

The competition at the Games will be “very tough,” according to men’s freestyle national coach Jagmander Singh. “You have to make a decision about your move and attack in split second. It will be very tough. But our boys and girls have prepared well. They have trained hard in the last one year. No rest, no gap,” he told PTI. “It’s never easy at the Asian Games. It’s of the same level as in Olympics. The Japanese girls mostly lift the World Championship title and they are all here,” he added.

Read: Problems 'all in the past', says Sushil Kumar

According to India’s Greco Roman coach Kuldeep Singh, Harpreet Singh (87kg) is India’s best medal bet in the category. “Harpreet has got a good draw. He has worked really hard and showed immense improvement during training. He should get a medal this time,” he said.

Kuldeep was also confident about the chances of Bajrang, who had won a silver in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon. “Japan and Iran have strong wrestlers but they are in the other half. Bajrang has defeated the Iranians before but he will not clash with them before semifinals. It will all depend on his defending skills in the later stages. Sushil has got a tough draw but he is a strong and smart wrestler. It will not be easy for him but he will manage,” he said.

Favourable draw

Women’s coach — also named Kuldeep Singh — said Commonwealth Games gold medallist Vinesh Phogat, who competes in the 50kg category, has a good draw at the Games as her strong Japanese rival Yuki Irie is in the other half of the draw. However, China’s Sun Yanan, her nemesis at the Rio Olympics and against whom she had suffered a terrible leg injury, is in her half.

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“Pinki  should do something this time. She just has to beat the Mongolian girl (Sumiya Erdenechimeg) and she can win medal. Sakshi has to deal with just that Korean (Jong Sim Rim) initially since [the] strong Mongolian and Japanese [wrestlers] are in the other half,” Kuldeep added.

In the last edition of the Asian Games, India had returned with five medals, with Yogeshwar Dutt being the lone gold medallist. “We will have a better medal tally this time,” asserted men’s freestyle coach Jagmander.

Indian Squad
  • Men’s Freestyle Team: Sandeep Tomar (57 kg), Bajrang Punia (65 kg), Sushil Kumar (74 kg), Pawan Kumar (86 kg), Mausam Khatri (97 kg) and Sumit Malik (125 kg).
  • Greco-Roman: Gyanender (59 kg), Manish (67 kg), Gurpreet Singh (77 kg), Harpreet Singh (87 kg), Hardeep Singh (97 kg) and Naveen (130 kg).
  • Women’s Freestyle Team: Sakshi Malik (62 kg), Vinesh Phogat (50 kg), Pinki (53 kg), Pooja Dhanda (57 kg), Divya Kakran (68 kg) and Kiran (72 kg).