The ongoing turmoil in Indian wrestling, including wrestler protests and absence of a properly elected national federation for six months, has created an unfavourable environment leading up to the Asian Games. Assessing its immediate impact is challenging.
The ad hoc committee appointed by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to oversee the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) has struggled to form teams for international events. It has faced criticism for poorly managing selection trials, especially for the Asian Games and World Championships.
The committee’s decision to exempt prominent wrestlers Bajrang Punia and Vinesh Phogat, who were at the forefront of a protest against outgoing WFI president Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, from Asian Games trials caused controversy, leading to legal action and protests in Hisar and Delhi.
The chaotic situation has led to the scheduling of two selection trials within two months, putting some wrestlers at risk of injuries due to back-to-back competitions. For instance, Antim Panghal, a promising two-time World Under-20 champion and Asian silver medallist, is set to compete in five events, including trials for the Asian Games and the World Championships, all in just three months. Similarly, Asian champion Aman Sehrawat will participate in four competitions during the same period. Nevertheless, because of the wrestlers’ sheer talent and hard work, the country could still land medals in Hangzhou.
In men’s freestyle, Aman, also a 2022 Asian under-23 champion, will be a contender for the gold medal in 57kg. World and Olympic medallist Bajrang began his training late, and his chances of defending his title in 65kg would heavily depend on his fitness. Former Worlds silver medallist Deepak Punia (86kg) will also be among the medal hopefuls. Experienced wrestler Sumit Malik (125kg), who is competing in both the World Championships and the Asian Games, has an outside chance.
In the women’s section, Antim, who replaced Vinesh after the two-time Worlds medallist pulled out due to knee surgery, would vie for a medal in 53kg. Commonwealth Games medallist Pooja Gehlot (50kg), Mansi (57kg), Sonam Malik (62kg) and Radhika (68kg) can claim podium finishes.
In Greco Roman, former Asian champion and current bronze medallist Sunil Kumar (87kg) is a bright prospect. Gyanender (60kg) and Naveen (130kg) need a bit of luck to taste success.
The focus will be on Aman and Antim, as both have to deal with the challenge of staying fit while taking part in two elite events: the World Championships in Belgrade, Serbia, followed by the Asian Games, in consecutive months.
The overall competition level at the Asian Games will be high, as strong nations such as Kazakhstan, Japan, Iran, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, China, Mongolia, and Korea are expected to field some world-class wrestlers. India, which collected 14 medals, including one gold, in this year’s Asian championships, would find the going tougher. The country had managed three medals, including two golds, in the Jakarta Games five years ago. With under a year left for the Paris Olympics, it will be a matter of interest to see how Indian wrestlers perform in spite of all the distractions.
Stats & Facts
Asian Games 2022 Weightlifting Schedule
Every day begins with weigh-in at 4:30 AM, with qualification repechages at 7:30 AM and bronze and gold medal matches at 2:30 PM
Venue: Lin’an Sports Culture & Exhibition Centre Hangzhou Gymnasium
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