Scheduled after the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships, the wrestling competition at the 36th National Games in Gujarat was devoid of several top stars – including World and Olympics medalists Bajrang Punia and Ravi Dahiya, Olympic medallist Sakshi Malik and double Worlds bronze medallist Vinesh Phogat – primarily because of fitness issues.
Commonwealth Games 74kg gold medallist Naveen Malik entered the competition with an injury and gave a walkover to his opponents after taking part in a bout, while Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Pooja Gehlot (50kg) withdrew after entering her name. Due to the absence of these notable performers, wrestling lost a bit of sheen at the Games. Still, one could witness emerging talents producing some excitement at the Mahatma Mandir.
Two-time Commonwealth Games medallist Divya Kakran, who jumped to 76kg, World junior champion Antim Panghal (53kg), World junior bronze medallists Yash Tushir and Sagar Jaglan (74kg), and World Under-23 silver medallist Shivani Pawar (50kg) were some of the promising talents who asserted their class in the event. The presence of former World Championships bronze medallist Narsingh Yadav (74kg) provided some interest to the fans.
Antim showed her class to steamroller her opponents and claim the gold medal. “I followed my coach’s advice and did not let a wrestler from a lower weight (Priyanshi in the final) to seize initiative. It helped as I beat her ‘by fall’. I am fully prepared for the World Under-23 Championships,” said Antim.
Unfortunately, Antim and other Indian wrestlers could not take part in the World Under-23 event due to denial of visas by the Spanish Embassy.
Yash got the better of some formidable opponents, including Sagar in the final, to grow in confidence. “The 74kg weight class is very competitive and it includes several youngsters. It is good to win a gold here even though Naveen withdrew due to an injury. I had lost to Sagar previously. I worked on my attacks and performed better,” said Yash.
Among other talented wrestlers, Aman, hailing from the famous Chhatrasal Stadium in Delhi and a challenger of Ravi Dahiya, picked up the gold medal in 57kg. Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Deepak Nehra (97kg) and Dinesh, who upset Commonwealth Games bronze medallist Mohit Grewal in 125kg, also showed a lot of promise.
In Greco Roman, 2020 Asian champion Sunil Kumar (87kg), Deepanshu (97kg) and Sajan (77kg) gave a good account of themselves to win the titles.
The encouraging performances of the up-and-coming talents, who took advantage of the absence of the elite wrestlers, will spur them on ahead of next year’s hectic season. “In 2023, we have the Pro Wrestling League, the Asian Championships, World Championships and the Asian Games. The qualification for the Paris Olympics will start at the Worlds. The focus has now shifted towards the Olympic cycle,” Bajrang, who attended the Games as a guest, said, while regretting that he never got a chance to participate in the National Games.