As the women’s freestyle competition gets underway at the 2022 Wrestling World Championships, India’s squad seems slightly depleted. Not only is Anshu Malik, the 2021 silver medallist, missing out due to injury, but four of the six members of the Commonwealth Games team are also skipping the competition. As things stand, India will look to Vinesh Phogat and Sarita Mor to give the country something to cheer about.
Vinesh has had a difficult past 13 months after a disastrous Olympic campaign and injuries, which have required surgery. However, a favourable draw and an open field at the 2022 Worlds suggests the former world bronze medallist might have a tournament to remember in Belgrade.
With gold medal favourite and defending champion Akari Fujinami pulling out of the championships due to a freak injury suffered just days before the start of the competition, the women’s 53kg division that begins on Tuesday has suddenly been thrown wide open. In the Japanese’s absence, Vinesh has a decent chance of going all the way.
Vinesh, seeded 10th, has to overcome Asian silver medallist Khulan Batkhuyag of Mongolia in the first round. If she does, she will take on Kazakhstan’s Zhuldyz Eshimova, who won a bronze at the 2022 Asian Championships. Vinesh will back herself to beat the two of them. That result will likely set her up to face 2021 World silver medallist Iulia Leorda of Romania.
While Leorda had an impressive tournament last time around, Vinesh has beaten her the only time the two competed against each other – at the XXIV Outstanding Ukrainian Wrestlers and Coaches tournament in 2021. A win here would put Vinesh in the semifinal.
Should seedings hold true, Vinesh will likely face 2022 European Champion Joana Malmgren of Sweden for a place in the final. While Malmgren, 21, is an upcoming wrestler, she has only been competing in the 53kg weight division for a year. A match against her for a place in the final of the World Championships is a prospect Vinesh would happily take.
On the other side of the draw, the victor is likely to be either Canada’s Samantha Stewart, who won a bronze at the 2021 Worlds or USA’s Dominique Parrish, gold medallist at the 2022 Pan American Games. Vinesh will be confident of taking on either. She had pinned Stewart inside the first minute of their clash at the Commonwealth Games. Parrish, meanwhile was beaten by junior Indian wrestler Antim in the Tunisia Ranking Series. Antim, in turn, was beaten 7-0 by Vinesh in the selection trials for the World Championships.
While the Indian could not have got a more favourable draw, how Vinesh does at the Worlds will depend on how she manages her weight cut for the event. Vinesh has said in the past that she’s never felt the same way for any two tournaments. She might be in great shape for one competition while a bad weight cut may result in blurry vision and weakness in another competition.
Vinesh though has made it clear she’s focused on doing well in Belgrade – it was one of the reasons she didn’t take a break after CWG like every one of her compatriots did. “At the start of the season, the major tournament was the World Championships. I won the CWG, but I didn’t need to get into the shape I was in for that tournament. This preparation is for the World Championships. I have wrestled for over 10 years, but I’ve only got one medal at the Worlds (bronze in 2019). I think I have another three-four years in my career. By the time I retire, I should have some more medals,” she had told Sportstar a couple of weeks back..
Sarita Mor – bronze prospect
The women’s 57kg spot in Indian roster has always been a tightly contested one.
In the past, Sarita has always been a contender for the Indian spot in the women’s 57kg category but has in the past lost out on a place to Anshu, who won silver at the 2021 Worlds and Pooja Dhanda, who won bronze at the 2017 Worlds.
Sarita has had her share of success at the World Championships, winning a bronze in 2021. But that medal came in the 59kg category.
At Belgrade, Sarita will be competing for only the second time in the 57kg category. While her path to the final will be exceedingly hard – she is in the same bracket as reigning world champion Helen Maroulis – it also opens up the possibility of competing for a bronze medal through repechage.
For that to happen, Sarita will have to get past Canada’s Hannah Taylor, bronze medallist at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and Poland’s Anhelina Lysak, a gold medallist in the 59kg category at the 2021 U-23 World Championships.